Powerful work terms in Therapeutic Recreation

Co-op students walking in suits.
Written by Kimberley, student

Meet Haley


Through a powerful work term at an important Canadian community organization, a Therapeutic Recreation student greatly improved her communication skills.

Haley recently completed a volunteer work term at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). She worked as a support line listener and took up flexible four-hour shifts to assist on a 24-hour support line.

To have a work term experience that was best suited for her chosen career path, Haley exhibited strong initiative, opting to arrange her own role at the CMHA.

Program helps prepare Haley for the workforce

“The program has provided me the skills that I need to work with people with disabilities,” Haley says. “Being empathetic, as understanding as you can and being patient especially. Each person takes different amounts of time to process things or be receptive to different things.”

Developmental and Emotional Disabilities, a course taken as part of her program curriculum, helped to prepare her for some of the calls, Haley explains.

As support line listeners are not trained therapists or psychologists, they do their best to provide advice, suggestions, validation, encouragement, and try to help people help themselves. If needed, Haley passed the call over to their crisis line.

Haley logged each call with information such as what the caller likes, what they dislike, what their triggers are and what makes them happy, to have a better handle on how to provide support.

“It takes a lot to be able to do this, and it’s definitely been a learning curve,” she says.

“My supervisors and my other management contacts have been great, I can reach out to them and ask them for help and clarification, they provide me with resources and advice I can share with the callers.”

Haley communicated with other volunteers and debriefed calls with them virtually, an act that would normally take place in-person at the call centre. This position also helped Haley learn better coping mechanisms in her own life, and taught her the importance of self-care, especially during the current state of the world.

Communication, listening, interpersonal skills are all at the forefront of this position and they're going to help carry me through my next co-op term and my career.

Haley, Therapeutic Recreation student

Meet Jonathan


With COVID-19 limiting face-to-face interactions and outings, remaining social and active is increasingly important – but how do you create opportunities like this for seniors with dementia staying at a mental health inpatient unit?

This was the challenge faced by Jonathan, a third-year Therapeutic Recreation student at the University of Waterloo who recently completed a co-op work term at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.


Building relationships

As a recreation therapist in a senior’s mental health unit, he recognized that building relationships with the seniors was key, a task made more challenging because of the required face masks.

“It takes building rapport with the patients that you’re working with, and that way they trust you,” he says.

Normally, seniors can go out for dinners and day trips. Jonathan was restricted to planning programs within the property boundaries, and with limited numbers of participants per activity.

These were obstacles he faced every day.

“COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape for how I could provide programming,” he says. Jonathan and his co-workers did their best to limit face-to-face interactions to ensure everyone’s safety. “I needed to be considerate of how COVID-19 plays a role in how I structure my programs.”

To provide social activities that would be impactful to his clients, Jonathan worked with patients to learn about their previous careers and interests. He then used this knowledge to prepare activities such as watching films, colouring, or even just scheduling long conversations with them individually.

Jonathan’s daily tasks also consisted of helping the nursing team serve meals and support the seniors while they ate, which further helped him establish stronger relationships.

Where Jonathan worked

Jonathan's pathway to success

This was not Jonathan's first experience working with patients with cognitive impairment or mental health challenges.

In winter term, he landed a co-op position as a support worker for the acquired brain injury program at St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph. He leveraged this experience to help him successfully qualify for the role in a senior’s mental health inpatient unit at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton in fall term.

I was confident I would be able to get the position that I wanted because I had done my best to craft my experiences around things that I might want to do in the future.

Jonathan, Therapeutic Recreation student


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