Play With Purpose Helps Teens in Crisis

Sarah B, CTRS, works with children and adolescents every day at HealthSource Saginaw’s White Pine Mental Health Center. Her patients are in crisis — the kind that can’t be measured or quantified with a medical test. They are often completely closed off. Sarah’s job is to motivate them somehow to learn and practice skills for coping with emotional issues so they can function more fully when they leave inpatient treatment.

“Some people think we just play with the kids,” Sarah explains. “But everything has a purpose.”

Art projects, therapy dogs, exercise classes, games, and journaling are just a few of the activities HealthSource recreational therapists employ with their patients to build self-esteem and help kids cope, find emotional outlets and expression, and communicate more effectively.

“Everything we do sets them up so they can be successful when they leave us,” Sarah explains.

Stress is a common denominator for most patients and many who come to HealthSource have poor coping skills or inadequate support mechanisms. “All of us have stress,” Sarah admits, “but I am often working with patients who really struggle to deal with it and may face additional issues like abuse, trauma, or medication problems. We’re dealing with the acute of the acute here.”

Adult patients participate in recreational therapy as well. “Often, patients are depressed and just want to stay in bed,” Sarah explains. “Activities help motivate them to get up and get going. That’s a success in my book. Once we get them participating, they practice or even re-learn communication and social skills that are so critical once they are discharged. Everyone expresses themselves a little differently, so our activities provide a wide variety of outlets.”

Therapy dogs are particularly popular with adolescents and kids. “Kids are often very closed off and don’t talk much at first when they come here,” Sarah explains. “The dogs really bring them out of their shell.”

Recreational therapists at HealthSource are part of a multidisciplinary team of professionals caring for psychiatric patients that includes doctors, nurses, mental health techs, and case managers. “All of us are doing patient assessments within our particular area of expertise to help create a plan of care that brings each person the best possible treatment and outcome,” Sarah says.