As I make my way on this journey that is my life, I realize that I have always believed in the fundamental worth of all humanity and my responsibility as a fellow human being to respect this premise and also to support individuals, as much as I am able, to help unearth it should this basic truth become hidden to them. This is a guiding principle for me and I believe that many of the constructs of the field of Therapeutic Recreation (TR) are congruent with this philosophy. Making the decision to obtain a Therapeutic Recreation Specialization (TRS) degree offered a theoretical rationale in which to further explore the concept of leisure, define my professional philosophy and an opportunity to reflect critically on the field which I have chosen and my evolving role within it.
Perhaps one of the more perplexing conditions of offering leisure to all is choosing how I define it. Leisure, by modern standards, is commonly measured and understood in relation to freedom of choice, and time, especially time away from work (Kelly, 2009; Stebbins, 2006; Barrett, 1989). Reading, for example, only becomes a valued leisure choice when it is freely chosen or an “uncoerced behaviour” (Stebbins, 2004).
Sayers (1989) however argues it is contextual, ie, not merely freedom from work, but its import based in contrast to what we perceive as work; how then, do we help someone with little basis of comparison to define what leisure means to them ? The question becomes, do they need work to experience leisure? Sayers (1989) posits this to actually be the case; people not only need leisure, they need work in order to effectively value leisure; that is, without having the contrast of making a meaningful contribution to society or work, they cannot truly appreciate leisure.
Certainly, work does help me to personally define leisure, but how, as practitioners, can we operate within this epistemological framework if the clients with whom we interact cannot “work”? How can they contrast work and leisure? This is a broader philosophical question that goes beyond the scope of this paper and warrants further exploration, but in general, I believe there are ways of achieving this.
When choosing to work with adults living with severe dementia, many people often ask me how or why I do it. It’s simple. Not only do I believe that all people have value, I likewise believe that all people can contribute to society. The client who can no longer articulate their thoughts or needs or desires is teaching me to listen and find alternative means of communication. In essence, they are teaching me to be a better communicator. I think this is congruent with Sayers concept of meaningful contribution. There are still so many things about the brain that we do not understand that I would find it arrogant of me to assume that the person with dementia does not feel they are still contributing to society in some way.
This improved communication skill, from my...