Atlanta, GA,
09:57 AM

Recreational Therapist Explains the Role of Recreational Therapy at Shepherd Center

"We're very much an equal player at the table," says Liz Thrush, CTRS.

Liz Thrush, CTRS, lead recreational therapist, didn’t know what she wanted to be. Then she flipped through a course catalog at the University of Tennessee and saw recreational therapy. “I discovered a job where I help people, which I love, and I play all day long,” she says. “Perfect.” Liz, 34, came to Shepherd Center four years ago. Her days run the gamut: teaching patients woodworking, how to operate a hand cycle, how to play cards with a mouth stick and how to board an airplane, among many other things. We caught up with Liz after she’d returned from bowling with patients.

Q: How do patients respond to going out to do things they did before their injuries?
A lot has to do with where people are emotionally. Some are in the denial stage, they say, “I don’t need any of this.” Others have that ah-ha! moment of thinking, “I thought I was just going to go home and sit in the house all day, and now I can do these things again!” I meet patients where they are and help them through the process.

Q: What’s the role of recreational therapy at Shepherd?
We’re very much an equal player at the table, which you don’t find everywhere else. We’re one of the only hospitals in the U.S. where every patient who comes through the door gets recreational therapy.

Q: How does recreational therapy fit in with Shepherd’s interdisciplinary approach?
We take all the things patients are working on with other therapists in the hospital, take their goals – feeding themselves, pushing their wheelchair – and translate them to a real-world scenario. We’ll take them to a restaurant where maybe they don’t have all the equipment they use to eat, or tables that raise up and down, and say, “Now what?”

Q: Is teaching patients to advocate for themselves part of that?
It’s huge. In a lot of ways, it’s through advocacy that people get what they need. What we find is that when patients get out into the community, people are happy to help but they don’t know what to do. A lot of education is needed.

Q: What’s the most satisfying part of your work?
I love seeing patients make progress, even with the small things that lead them in the right direction. And I love getting updates — they’ll send pictures from vacation or ASW (Adventure Skills Workshop). There are patients who first said, “No, no, no,” and then you see them at camp water skiing. That’s really exciting.

University of Tennessee

  • B.S. in therapeutic recreation
  • Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist

Thrush enjoys running (she won a half marathon in 2016), hiking, working in her vegetable garden and hanging out with family and friends.

Thrush moved frequently growing up but calls Decatur, Illinois, her hometown. Its claim to fame: The soybean capital of the world.

Interview by Drew Jubera

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.