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February is Recreation Therapy Month

Here’s why recreation therapy is so important to people with spinal cord or brain injury.

By Kelly Edens
Recreation Therapy Manager, Shepherd Center

Take a moment to imagine yourself doing the thing that you love to do the most – gardening, playing cards, painting, water-skiing, fishing, playing ball with your child, going out with family or friends. Think about how doing that makes you feel. Think about the importance and relevance it has in your life. Think about how it helps to define you as the person you are.

Now, take a moment to imagine how you would react if you thought you never again could do that activity you love the most. How would that affect your life? How would that affect the way you feel?  How would that affect your concept of who you are and the essence of your being?

This scenario is one that many people encounter when faced with the reality that they now fall into the category of someone with a spinal cord or brain injury. When an individual first sustains their injury, they are faced with many issues about how they will manage their lifestyle and daily schedule. Recreation therapy gives people leisure counseling and skills to increase their overall wellness of in the emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual, vocational and social aspects of life.

Many times, a person will return home after rehabilitation and find they have extra time that leads to sedentary lifestyle. To prevent that, recreation offers people the confidence to continue the leisure skills they did before their injury or to cultivate a new interest. Any leisure skill also gives the person the ability to gain functional mobility.

Leisure counseling is also a key element to problem-solving any accessibility issues –along with knowing one’s rights outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.  People with life-changing injury also need to cultivate assertiveness so they have a voice in their communities. Thus, Shepherd Center’s Recreation Therapy Program strives to get people out in the community to experience a realistic environment before discharging home where they may face some barriers. Taking a trip to the grocery store, strolling through the mall, going on an outing to the airport, a restaurant or the rifle range are just a few places we venture out to explore.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Each discipline addresses specific skills to meet the needs of each patient. Recreation therapy puts the whole puzzle together to make the overall picture realistic. The ultimate goal is to assist each person with developing a healthy, active lifestyle. 

George Eastman summed it up best when he said:  “What you do during your working hours determines what you have. What you do during your leisure hours determines who you are.”

For more information on Shepherd Center’s Recreation Therapy Program, see

KELLY EDENS is manager of Shepherd Center's Receation Therapy Program, a position she has held since 2008. She joined the Shepherd Center staff in 2000 and worked in various positions within the Recreation Therapy Program. She is married to Matt Edens, Shepherd Center's sports teams coordinator, and they have two daughters.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.