RT / TR, RPG Therapy vs. Therapeutic RPG

by RPG Research Admin published 2015/01/15 03:55:00 GMT-7, last modified 2022-11-12T09:26:49-07:00
I was attending the Professional Issues in Therapeutic Recreation course today, we were going over a chapter regarding the history of Recreation Therapy and Therapeutic Recreation, and the ever-recurring battle over TR vs. RT. This triggered some thoughts regarding the use of a role-playing game (RPG) as a therapeutic intervention modality, namely "Role-playing game Therapy" versus "Therapeutic Role-playing gaming"...

The Recreation Therapy / Therapeutic Recreation profession has been (and continues to be) riddled for decades with debate over philosophical, professional, and even such basics as terminological issues as this relatively fledgling profession continues to grow and develop. The TR/RT debate could arguably be considered in key circles to be shelved for now, but it flares up in many conversations.

One (of many) current distinctions between RT and TR, is whether the focus/background is more from a recreation background versus more of a clinical background.

From one perspective, the distinction between RT (Recreation Therapy), and TR (Therapeutic Recreation) can be (overly) simplified as a means to an end (RT), or an ends to a means (TR)  or an end in and of itself (Messina 2015) respectively.

Those from a more National Parks and Recreation Association (NRPA) and the the now (around 2010/2011) defunct National Therapeutic Recreation Society (NTRS) background would be considered more on the Therapeutic Recreation side, noting that participation in recreation inherently has therapeutic benefits, and a recreation therapist knows how to optimize those activities for different populations to achieve various needs of the client toward a holistically  improved outcome, using recreational activities as the tool. Holistic in this context refers to the approach of "the whole of the client", rather than a more classical-medicine diseased-based approach to care.

Those from a more clinical background, more in the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) camp (rather than the unrealized ARTA camp), take more of a clinical-goals-oriented approach, assessing functionality, and finding the best recreation interventions adapted to those specific goals.

Both approaches have merit, and those recreation therapists wishing to comply with the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) standards for recreation therapists,  Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) requirements (or even un-certified recreation therapy professionals), are trained on many different approaches to using recreation for specific targeted interventions.

As I continue my research to find out the effects that participation in role-playing games (RPGs) have upon participants, and progress toward the development of program plans looking at the uses of RPG for targeted therapeutic interventions, this distinction between inherent effects of participation, versus structured adaptation, is also applicable to RPG, especially since I am approaching it from an interdisciplinary, but mostly TR-focused, approach.

As researchers have debated for decades, and as the main premise for the existence of RpgResearch.com, the noted research results about regular participation in RPG is mostly correlative and unfortunately does not establish causality in most of the research I have found (between 50-100 projects depending on how formally defining the information as appropriate "research).

Did those participants in RPGs, role-playing gamers (RPGers), already have the distinctive traits noted in the research, or did the participation in RPGs create/develop those traits, or somewhere in between?

Among many results, these often include indicators of better problem solving skills, better cooperative social skills, better communication skills, lower rates of "meaninglessness", lower rates of suicide, etc.). Is this because the inherent nature of RPG develops these skills?

Or are these correlations found because people with these skills are drawn to the game, appealing to them as an opportunity to use their existing strengths in this distinctive activity?

If the latter, then developing RPG Therapy might not be very effective, and more of a focus on Therapeutic RPG would be appropriate from a Therapeutic Recreation perspective.

If the former, then development of RPG Therapy from the Recreation Therapy approach is an excellent match in using RPG as a therapy that uses RPG as the intervention modality to achieve specific client goals for various populations.

In this discussion I am mostly focusing on the tabletop form of RPG, but there is much applicability in Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP), and to some degree in computer-based RPG.

I am mostly just musing out loud here, but would welcome comments from others regarding your thoughts when reading this posting.

Whether you are Recreation Therapist / CTRS, someone from the RPG background, or some other relevant profession, your insights are appreciated.

Meanwhile, Happy Gaming!


Additional References

  • Stumbo, N. J. (Ed.). (2009). Professional Issues in Therapeutic Recreation. Champaign, IL. Sagamore Publishing.
  • Email from Professor Emily Messina (January 16th, 2015), correcting my inversion of the meanings of TR vs. RT.


Excerpts from Professor Messina's email:

"I'm not pleased with the way the chapter phrases it as I've commonly referenced it as "a means to an end or an end in and of itself" (instead of how the book phrases it).
In the more clinical approach (recreation therapy), recreation is viewed as the means to an end (that end being a clinical change). The focus here being on the noun THERAPY - recreation only serves as an adjective. Recreation is our means.
In the Therapeutic Recreation approach, recreation is viewed as an end in and of itself. It has therapeutic benefits but the focus is on the noun RECREATION - therapeutic just serves as the adjective.
The means vs. end debate is mentioned in a few of these links and may help expand on the point (more than the text does).
http://www.gvsu.edu/cms3/assets/C72BC698-F314-D0A8-BAC33D2D689AF9CF/therapeutic_recreation_practice_models_-_ilrta_2014.pdf(slides 7-9)
http://quizlet.com/26404657/therapeutic-recreation-test-1-flash-cards/   (Look for Leisure Orientation to therapeutic recreation and Therapy Orientation of Therapeutic recreation)"

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