A new book by Illinois State University’s Sherri Hildebrand and Rachel Smith is redefining the approach to therapeutic recreation.

cover of book by Sherri Hildebrand and Rachel Smith “In therapeutic recreation, we work in a vast variety of settings. So we need to be able to train students who might work for a veterans’ administration, in a hospital, a camp for blind children, or for long-term care,” said Smith, who along with Hildebrand serves as an instructional assistant professor in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration in the School of Kinesiology and Recreation. “A recreation therapist has to be able to understand an individual, their unique strengths and challenges, and what they need to achieve.”

Smith and Hildebrand’s new book Case Studies in Therapeutic Recreation not only explores a multitude of diagnoses, but also in a variety of settings. “We present a case that you are the therapist. Here is an individual. How can you best serve them?” said Hildebrand.

Rachel Smith (left) and Sherri Hildebrand smiling, at a fundraising event

Rachel Smith (left) and Sherri Hildebrand

Illinois State’s Therapeutic Recreation Program teaches toward the goal of national certification for students. That means staying on the cutting edge in the field. It also means that current practitioners can also benefit from the new book, noted Hildebrand. “This is a tool practitioners can also use to keep themselves up-to-date on the latest knowledge of evidence-based practice for specific clients,” she said.

That idea of evidence-based practice—or backing up work with research—is a relatively new concept in therapeutic recreation, according to Smith. “So many times, research has been relegated to academia, but in the last 10 years there has been an awakening to the need of teaching practitioners to know how to do the research to forward the field,” she said. “That’s why we wrote Case Studies in Therapeutic Recreation in a very approachable way. It’s not just for people in white lab coats, it’s not just for academics.”

It’s not just for people in white lab coats, it’s not just for academics. — Rachel Smith

The book is also designed to be a companion to therapeutic recreation textbooks. Rather than including a set of instructions to follow, each case study ends with an open set of questions, prompting the reader to consider how to place the case within his or her knowledge base gained in other courses. Each case is broken down by diagnosis, and covers 40 possible scenarios, from a person living with Alzheimer’s dementia or blindness, to schizophrenia or traumatic brain injury. “We decided the best way to do this is to present a case, and then let the reader decide what the best intervention would be,” said Hildebrand.

Many of the cases were drawn from the work of Smith and Hildebrand, both nationally certified recreational therapists. “It was incredible to talk to people about their lived experience and how they work through their disabilities,” said Smith. “This book was a way to honor them, and show how recreation professionals can work with them and assist them.”

The next steps for Smith and Hildebrand will be to present the book at regional and national conferences. “We’re excited to share this teaching tool with students, practitioners, and faculty across the nation,” said Hildebrand.