Violence and Barriers to Meaningful Relationships

A MSRT student at Temple University. shared that she had been introduced to Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk: What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.
Here is a link to the video:
The student shared, “His main point states that in life, our happiness is most influenced by meaningful relationships.”
She asked: “My question to you is how, in our practice, can we best promote meaningful relationships for our participants when there may be barriers due to violence? What kinds of interventions do you use to help various populations that may become more reclusive due to past abuse, gender violence, etc.? In what ways can we address this issue with participants?”
Here is my response:


I provide services for children (both male and female) between (ages 7 to 12) who have abuse-reactive needs. Children admitted to the unit have experienced some type of traumatic in their life.

 It is a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility. The typical stay is 6 to 9 months.

Some of the common needs among patients include:


  • Lack of interpersonal skills (possibly from learned behaviors)
  • Lack of assertiveness skills (often resorts to physical, verbal aggression)
  • Lack of a social support system (no identified foster family or adoptive family)
  • Lack trust in others
  • In addition, patients may have other conditions, like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Some children have Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) – this is where they had neglect at an early age and fail to learn how to have emotional connections and relationships


Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are the two primary treatment modalities. There is evidenced-based research that demonstrates that these two approaches are effective.

Both TF-CBT and DBT have a focus on interpersonal skills.

  • In the TF-CBT mode, there is a phase called, enhancing social skills
  • In the DBT model, there interpersonal skills are one of the four main skill sets taught.


We identify our intervention as “interpersonal skills training or social skills training.”

We in recreation therapy have a lot to offer in this domain.


We use a lot of recreation activities as means to achieve outcomes.

  • Sports: taking turns, good sportsmanship, being part of a team/ group
  • Board games: taking turns, being a good sport,
  • Social activities: ballroom party for Halloween or ice cream social
  • Education/ classroom settings: to teach skills. Using pictures of children in different social situations
  • The listening game: Teach what paraphrasing is. Get a book like “The conversation starts.” Read a question to a group member. Group member answers. Randomly select a different group member to paraphrase what the first group member said to indicate he (or she) listened and then ask that group member a question.
  • Assertiveness training: Teach the children to ask for what they want or to express their feelings with use of I-statements.
  • Cinema therapy card game: Play a movie. Ask children questions from the card game that get the kids to point out social skills, emotions in characters
  • Community re-entry outings: passes to local parks, zoos, water parks, mall, or other places.
  • Emotional support: being able to recognize emotions in others and be able to offer support
  • Family-based recreation therapy: with rec therapist: Mental health therapist/ counselor provide family therapy. and the rec therapist often supervise the community re-entry outings before a new family is on their own with a patient. The rec therapist can implement games and activities to help the family and child to get to know each other, and supervises passes in the community.


The recreation therapist serves as a role-model, a coach, a facilitator, and evaluates progress.

“Positive Thinking” alone – isn’t enough.

canstockphoto38610867A review of Gabriele Oettingen’s (2014) book, Rethinking positive thinking: inside the new science of motivation.

I often read books based on author reviews on the back of a book.

Two of my favorite authors, Carol S. Dweck, author of Mindset; and Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, had both provided reviews of Gabriele Oettingen’s book.

Here are some concepts that I enjoyed from Oettingen’s book:

  • Martin E. P. Seligman was the founder of positive psychology movement.
    • Danny P. comments: I think we, recreational therapists are applied positive psychologists.


  • Over 50% of new business fail in first five years.
    • Danny P. comments: My company, (Rec Therapy CEUs) is 10 years old!


  • Masolow’s hierarchy of needs was discussed in the book.  Oettingen points out that one level of need that all people have is “identifying with meaning or purpose in life.”
    • Danny P. comments: This reminds me a lot of existential psychology (finding meaning in life) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) creating meaning in life.


  • Positive wishes does not mean behavior changes occur. It also requires effort and work.
    • Danny P. comments: This reminds of me the documentary, The Secret, about the law of attraction. The secret focused on attracting good things through thoughts. I’d like to argue that the secret needed to go one step more and remind people to take initiative to make things happen.


  • Relaxation: imagining positive fantasies is a good way to relax. However, being relaxed is not the mood needed to achieve results.  The author points out research in 1990 that shows positive fantasies were not shown to bring out achieved results.
    • Danny P. comments: Effort is needed to make a result.


  • Expectations are important. Those who had high expectations of achieved outcomes were more likely to increase effort and the achieved success with wish. People with low expectations that wish would come to fruition were less likely to engage effort.
    • Danny P. comments: Realistic outcomes are important.


  • Mental contrasting: consists of a.) Dreaming/ wishing; and b.) Identifying obstacles/ barriers.
    • Danny P. comments: It helps a person to have a realistic idea on what behavior is needed to make the dream a reality.


  • Standardized testing:  there really isn’t a test for creativity. There are tests like IQ tests, and SAT, and ACT.
    • Danny P. comments: Problem-solving requires creative thinking.


  • Research on mental contrasting:  Creative potential scale (CPS). Mental contrasting was shown to be effective.
    • Danny P. comments: Simply providing positive feedback alone is not enough. The most effective, the mental contracting.


  • WOOP intervention consists of:
    • Wish (W)
    • Outcome (best possible you’d hope for)
    • Obstacle: something that could prevent it from happening
    • Plan: Action steps to get over the obstacle
    • If ___ then I’ll ______

Danny P. comments: the author’s WOOP intervention appears to be helpful.


Here is my amazon affiliate link:

Danny Pettry’s: Rec Therapy for Children presentation at ATRA.

I had the wonderful opportunity to provide a training session today (Mon. Sept. 12, 2016) at the American Therapeutic Recreation Association’s annual conference in Chicago.

I presented on: “Rec Therapy for children (ages 7 to 12) with abuse-reactive needs at a residential treatment facility.” This area has been my major focus and specialization area. I’ve worked with this population and setting for 14+ years.

I had created 50 folders with slideshow handouts and other promotional items. Over 50 people attended this session because we ran out of folders. A few people had written their emails on a sheet of paper for me to email the presentation slideshow to them.

By the way – Here is a link with the presentation:

NOTE: this slideshow alone just isn’t as good as the real presentation because I had added a lot additional information to each slide while speaking. Plus, I included recreational therapy group activity ideas.

Here are some pictures that were kindly taken by the room monitor, Ashley Martin who had won the Peg Connolly Scholarship to attend this year’s conference. She is finishing her degree at Indiana University! I thought that was awesome! I had completed my master’s degree at Indiana University. It is a really wonderful program.


ATRA Conference – photo by Ashley Martin

I appear to be raising my hand in that picture? Here is a joke: I must have said, “Raise your hand if you think Danny is awesome?” Umm. no hands are raised in the picture below. please insert a fake laugh aloud at that joke now.


I received a lot of praise from people after this session.

I didn’t receive any complaints, so that is always nice.

Several people that didn’t attend my session had spoken to me today saying they heard it was a good session, including: Colleen Cooke and Sydney Sklar and others that I can’t recall. But I do appreciate those people who passed along that it was a good session.