Shelterwood staff train fellow professionals at a local symposium

Therapy SymposiumThe 2015 Midwest Symposium on Therapeutic Recreation and Adapted Physical Activity, a regional conference, was held in St. Louis, Missouri this April. Shelterwood Academy’s Recreation Therapist, Karalee White, and Brain Balance’s Amanda Gunter presented to a large group on the benefits of the two treatment approaches and how they work in tandem on the campus of Shelterwood.

The field of therapeutic recreation is broad, as it is designed to serve all ages of clients and needs and as a result, recreation therapists typically need a hefty toolbox of interventions. Unfortunately, the study of left and right brain functioning has been reserved for patients with brain injuries, or severe cognitive impairments and processing disorders. This has meant that many recreation specialists working with teens at therapeutic boarding schools have overlooked the growing field of neurobiology, and the new discoveries regarding the plasticity of the brain that are being made.

In the session, Amanda introduced recent trends and discoveries in neurological research with stages of brain Therapy Symposiumdevelopment, and how our system responds to stress with fight, flight or freeze reflexes. She presented on the Brain Balance concepts of functional disconnection between the right and left brain, where one hemisphere is showing deficits in sensory, cognitive or psycho-motor processing. She then provided a breakdown of the characteristic strengths and weaknesses for each hemisphere.

Karalee provided the group with examples of specific interventions that she uses at Shelterwood to enhance the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. As she discussed the unique quality of motor movement, smells, colors and sounds required for improved functioning of each hemisphere, the room began to buzz with excitement as therapists started to whisper to each other with renewed excitement and intervention ideas.

The participants were invited to practice their understanding of the concepts by breaking into groups to design recreation and leisure programming that implemented hemispheric strategies to strengthen the weaker hemisphere and improve overall functioning. They were asked to assess a case and create a program based on hemispheric weakness, chronological age, brain age and problem area or diagnosis.  After a short time, each group presented their treatment designs with innovative detail and flourish, adding to the overall understanding of the group.

Responses to the session were numerous and some of the comments were:

  • “This is what Therapeutic Recreation needs to tie our wagon to.”
  • “Your session has been the talk of the conference.”
  • “These are tools I can use immediately!”
  • “I can’t wait to take this back and put this into practice.”
  • “I wish the session was longer, because I have so many questions.”
  • “This is something that we can do and do well.”
  • “The potential for this is exciting.”

Karalee and Amanda were encouraged by the response and have already been booked to speak again at the next symposium.

Karalee White, CTRS

Amanda Gunter