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A recreation therapist stands in portrait
August 2, 2019

Introducing… a behavioural health recreation therapist

Jean Riley is a recreation therapist at St. Peter’s Hospital. She has worked at Hamilton Health Sciences for 25 years, most recently in the behavioural health unit caring for patients with dementia.

What does a recreation therapist do?

All therapeutic recreation programs take place with the goal of finding non-pharmaceutical ways of reducing responsive behaviour. Examples of responsive behaviour include making strange noises, grabbing onto people, repetitive questioning or verbal aggression.

Most of our patients require a lot of assistance to get involved in social and leisure activities.

I help run an art group, which allows patients to connect with their creative outlets or complete a task-oriented function. And once a week I run a reading group where patients take turns reading out loud and we all discuss the topic we’re reading about.

A recreation therapist helps a patient with painting in an art group.

We tailor our interventions to the needs, interests and abilities of each patient. Many of our programs fluctuate as a result.

Recreation therapists also supervise and mentor many volunteers to assist with programming. We visit with patients who cannot leave their rooms, thus feel more isolated. However, they benefit from interaction and stimulation.

I think knowing their loved one engages in a meaningful recreation activity eases their stress level.

What do you love most about your job?

No matter which unit I work on, I love working with the patients as well as interacting with their families.

Many caregivers can’t be there 24/7 with a family member in the hospital, which is a hard thing to grasp.

I think knowing their loved one engages in a meaningful recreation activity eases their stress level. They love to hear when the intervention we provide is a breakthrough.

Who inspires you?

The thing that inspires me most about my work is the wonderful group of colleagues we have.

At St. Peter’s, we pride ourselves on being a family—one unit specializing in different areas but working towards providing patient-centered care.

I started my placement here while I was a student and it felt very natural to come into this position. I have many friendships that I still hold onto today.