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Algonquin College News

Therapeutic Recreation students help during COVID-19 through virtual placements

May 25, 2020
Algonquin College’s Therapeutic Recreation Program is leading the charge to bring virtual services to people isolated by COVID-19 and help students finish their year-end placements.

In its inaugural year, the Therapeutic Recreation (TR) Program had completed its initial two semesters when COVID-19 struck. With the final May-to-August field placements remaining for students to graduate, it was time for the team to get creative.

 “We had the students lined up in placements with a number of agencies. Then they had to promptly close their doors when the virus hit. How are we going to graduate these students was the big question,” said Patricia Robson, Algonquin’s TR Program Coordinator and faculty member.

Sandra McCormick, Algonquin’s Chair, Wellness Research and Innovation, asked the faculty if anything could be done virtually, and the team began devising a plan. The call went out via a website to build a volunteer client list of people shut-in due to COVID-19 and in need of TR. The call-out was so successful, there is now a waiting list for the service.

Through therapy methods adapted to virtual delivery, the students will complete their placements with the volunteer clients online. The TR services provided by the students, and monitored by faculty, are free of charge.

The project needed 80 to 100 participants to be successful. Only two weeks after launching the registration page, the placement program had reached its capacity. More than 75 diverse participants, some from around the world, were willing to participate.

 “A good number of community organizations, retirement homes and group homes have reached out and asked to collaborate with us to offer more programming to their groups of clients who are currently experiencing high levels of boredom and mental health effects due to isolation. This goes to show how much a virtual service like this one is needed in the community during these times,” said Tania Silletta, Part-Time Faculty and Project Lead.

TR is a relatively new profession that dates back to the late 1970s. It primarily uses recreation and leisure activities to help people be happy and healthy, improve cognitive function, and maintain community connection. Fitness programs, interactive games that stimulate the brain, arts and crafts, goal-setting exercises, diary writing, and community outings are only some of the activities Recreational Therapists use to help clients meet their objectives.

People from every walk of life and all ages benefit from TR. It’s delivered in both one-on-one and group sessions. It is typically associated with seniors, or people with developmental disabilities, or those living on the Autism spectrum. Caregivers are another group TR professionals help, offering them ways to improve self-care and monitor their mental health.

“The biggest stumbling block with the virtual TR is how can you build a relationship in an online setting. But when you think about it, we are all doing the same thing in Zoom meetings every day — building relationships. We may be somewhat limited in the activities we can use, but you also have the Internet at your fingertips, loaded with resources. It is just a different modality,” said Robson.

Each student will have a caseload between 10 to 15 clients. Along with providing the therapy, the students must do assessments, develop a therapeutic recreation intervention plan, evaluate sessions and client progress. The plan has been so innovative, that Therapeutic Recreation Ontario (TRO) has asked the Algonquin TR team for assistance.

“The executive director of TRO asked us if we would work with them to develop a protocol for virtual service delivery going forward, because it is becoming pretty obvious, pretty quickly, that this is the way of the future,” said Robson.

If you, or someone you know, could benefit from virtual TR and is interested in joining the waiting list, details can be found on their website: Main requirements include a good Internet connection, and being able access apps like Zoom from home.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning recently featured the program in a segment with Patricia Robson, which you can listen to via myAC here.

(Photo: Interactive games to stimulate the brain is one of the tools used in Therapeutic Recreation)