The Power of Passion: Discovering Joy Through Recreation Therapy

Across St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph's), recreation therapy is used to achieve the highest level of independence and quality of life. Therapeutic recreation staff work with patients, residents, families, and other health care professionals to create a seamless routine of leisure and recreation to support an individual's care journey. Judy Beitz, a therapeutic recreation specialist at St. Joseph's, shares why she is passionate about recreation therapy and how it helps patients and residents thrive.   

 What is the role of a therapeutic recreation specialist?  

A patient once told me that recreation therapy puts the ‘fun’ in functional. Recreation therapy provides patients with the opportunity to engage in meaningful activity as they learn to adapt their leisure interests to their abilities. Therapeutic recreation specialists work alongside occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech language pathologists, nursing, and other health care professionals to develop a comprehensive patient care plan. For instance, someone who loves to colour would work on improving their hand control. For patients who return to the community, we provide information on community leisure resources to connect with and engage in once they are home. For those whose care needs cannot be managed within the community and are supported within our Complex Care Program, we provide them with opportunities to maintain their quality of life.   

photo of judy

What inspired your career in recreation therapy and how has it evolved over the years?  

I was considering becoming a teacher when my high school guidance counselor suggested the relatively new and upcoming (at the time!) field of recreation therapy and I found my passion. Since graduating from university, I use leisure and recreation to educate patients on how to strengthen their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social skills.  The teaching moments go both ways as I learn a lot from the patients I work with too – one of my patients taught me how to play cribbage. Since starting at St. Joseph’s in 1989, I have had the chance to work with a variety of patient populations, including those from St. Joseph's Veterans Care Program and Complex Care Program. When I first started at St. Joseph's I implemented the pet therapy program, which is now adored by many of our patients and residents. I have also been heavily involved in my professional association over the years. During my three-year tenureship of President-Elect, President, and past President of Therapeutic Recreation Ontario, I, along with the rest of the board, oversaw the creation of a standalone professional organization in 1999.  I have also been a member of a few conference planning committees for Therapeutic Recreation Ontario. 

What is your favourite part of your role?  

In complex care I get to interact with a wide range of patients – all the way from those in their early 20’s to late 90’s. I get to work with patients with varying abilities and interests, encompassing a breadth of diagnoses. I love seeing patients rediscover the things that bring them joy and develop their skills so that they can transition into other programs. Hearing a patient say “I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do this again” truly brings a smile to my face.  

Can you share how patients benefit from recreation therapy?  

Being engaged in a bowling program or gardening club, for example, is so much more than a leisure activity – it helps patients build fine motor skills, social connections and develop their self-confidence. An activity such as completing a puzzle involves depth perception, cognition, hand grip, etc. It is often the littlest things, such as providing someone who loved playing cards with a card holder, that make the biggest difference. Recreation therapy helps patients connect with family, friends, and through being engaged in meaningful activity, it benefits their overall well-being.   

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