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Staff Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Enhancing life with meaningful activity

Recreation therapy is playing an important role in helping Valynn recover from anxiety and depression.

The 35-year-old Toronto artist has been in and out of hospital for the past 10 years and found that a piece of the treatment puzzle was missing; one that medications and talk therapy were not addressing adequately.

“I felt I had so many avenues of therapy,” Valynn says . “Some were working and some were not. I was getting well but I still felt very isolated in my illness. I lost my creative spark and felt blocked. I had no motivation.”

New Treatment Plan

During a recent stay in the Women’s Inpatient Unit at CAMH, Valynn added Recreation Therapy (RT) to her treatment plan.  RT promotes play, recreation and leisure and other activity-based interventions as a means to psychological recovery.

Working with Recreation Therapist Julianna McLeod, Valynn took part in leisure education and counselling programs focusing on healthy living and participated in a variety of activities, including art and music.

Valynn and Recreational TherapistValynn proudly displays a painting she made after leaving CAMH. “It was my transition piece from feeling like I couldn't cope to knowing today I can now manage. It is a celebration of the tools I have gained working with Julianna.”

“RT lets clients explore enjoyable activities that they can later use to quickly and safely reduce strong emotional responses,” says Julianna. For clients like Valynn, “distress tolerance is a particularly important skill to develop.”

Valynn says RT is providing her with benefits that medication and medical support alone could not provide.

“Physical activity is helping reduce my symptoms of depression and anxiety. I am feeling more motivated and am accomplishing things that I thought were not even possible. I’m also feeling more of a sense of belonging in the community.

“Through Recreation Therapy I was able to reconnect with my creativity and passions, which were often lost to my depression and anxiety”.

“RT played a big role in Valynn’s current recovery because it gave her the opportunity to explore coping strategies,” Julianna explains. “Through play, connecting with the community in a safe way that involves gradual exposure to anxiety-producing situations, and art, she was able to replace maladaptive coping strategies with constructive ones.”

Road to Recovery

Valynn believes Recreation Therapy should be a mandatory part of any treatment plan.

“Leisure is an extremely important part of our overall well-being; but it is often overlooked or dismissed as unimportant.  I have been in and out of hospital for ten years.  This is the first time I feel like I am living.  I believe it was because of Recreation Therapy.

“Many people like me are used to isolation due to stigma and illness. I am now filling time with things I enjoy and not sitting around with empty time left open for negative thinking and worry.

“I am taking out time to do what feels good. I’ve incorporated fun back into my life.  It is a huge awakening.”

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