People told Danielle Barrett that Heartwood Centre for Women was a magical place. After a year of working there, "They weren't wrong," she asserts.
Located in Vancouver, Heartwood provides integrated treatment for adult women, including trans women, who struggle with severe substance use and mental health challenges.
"The team at Heartwood are all incredibly intelligent, kind, and passionate people," says Barrett. "Everyone works extremely hard and goes above and beyond for each other and the clients. The clients at Heartwood are just as amazing and are very supportive of each other. That sense of community creates such a magical atmosphere to work in."
As a recreation therapist, Barrett harnesses the power of purposeful leisure activities to build therapeutic relationships with clients and expand their knowledge and skills. Recreation therapy helps clients meet their goals and supports their recovery.
An example is working on a client's self-esteem and confidence through art projects or fitness activities, like walks. Depending on their interests, activities could also include cooking, listening to music, community outings, education, and much more.
"You get to experience joy with your clients while they participate in a variety of leisure interests," says Barrett. "Recreation therapists are able to connect with clients in a different way than any other practitioner or professional. We are often able to build rapport quickly, as clients may feel more comfortable to share or open up while engaging in activities."
On any given day, Barrett may be meeting with new Heartwood clients to better understand their interests, barriers, needs, and goals. If a client demonstrates a need for 1:1 support, she'll schedule individual sessions to work on various skills. She also runs multiple group sessions every day. These connections have a big impact.
Barrett recalls one client who struggled to identify any leisure interests. This is common, she explains, as their time is often spent isolating and/or in active substance use before they come to Heartwood. During the first few individual sessions, the client either opted out of meeting Barrett or was downcast and not interested in exploring different activities.
"Now, she asks me daily when our next session is and is much more engaged in activities," says Barrett. "She engages in walks, art, outings and photography independently and with me. She has also been able to use leisure as a coping skill or healthy distraction."
Every three to four months, Heartwood alumni are invited to speak with current clients about their experiences at the facility and after being discharged. Alumni always mention the positive impact recreation and leisure groups had on them, and how their continued engagement in positive activities have helped significantly in their recovery.
"Recovery can be a difficult journey for many, so it's always important to ensure that clients are still enjoying themselves and experiencing moments of excitement, happiness, and connection," says Barrett.
Join us in celebrating Danielle Barrett and all recreation therapists throughout Therapeutic Recreation Month in February!