Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Nursing


Background: Whilst quantitative evidence on the potential mental health benefits of therapeutic recreation for persons living with a mental illness has grown, there remains a need to increase insight and understanding on the advantages for mental health from the perspective of persons with a lived experience. The aim of this study was to explore how persons with a lived experience realise their recovery through the use of therapeutic recreation (TR). The TR program under investigation was an immersive nature-based adventure camp, known as Recovery Camp, which simultaneously acted as an atypical clinical work placement for undergraduate nursing students to gain insight from the lived experience of persons with a mental illness.

Research Design Methodology: This study has used a qualitative methodological approach to inquire on the meaning of an immersive therapeutic recreation experience for persons living with a mental illness. The underlying assumptions of new interpretative phenomenology informs the philosophical basis of inquiry.

Methods: A purposive sample of twenty-five persons with a mental illness (n=25) attending Recovery Camp were invited to participate in the study. The narrative data were collected from individual in-depth semi-structured interviews. The transcribed verbatim narratives were analysed using van Kaam’s Psychophenomenological Method (PPM) devised by Andersen and Eppard (1998). Structural elements, themes and an overall essence of meaning were identified from the participants’ narratives.

Findings: Drawn from the participants’ narratives 13 elements were identified and lead to the formation of five themes and an overall essence of meaning. These themes are Connections with nursing students; Mentoring connections; Connections with myself; and, Enabling environment. The core essence of meaning reflects the significant connectedness that was experienced on many levels and was identified as Meaningful connections.

Discussion: Conceptual knowledge with reference to the use of TR to facilitate meaningful engagement for persons with a mental illness by Iwasaki et al. (2018), and notions on personal mental health recovery by Leamy et al. (2011) and Glover (2016) were drawn upon to discuss the findings.

Conclusion and implications for practice: Therapeutic recreation presents a community-based means to promote personal mental health recovery. The findings of this study corroborates the existing research undertaken on Recovery Camp and adds to the growing body of knowledge on nature-based TR. An important finding was the participants’ use of their lived experience to educate the undergraduate nursing students with the purpose to reduce stigmatising attitudes. This research and TR program gives voice to individuals with a lived experience of mental illness who are often stigmatised, unheard and underrepresented. Over nine years, Recovery Camp has grown into a service which offers regular opportunities for residents in Australia to participate. As such, this study reveals that Recovery Camp is a worthwhile community-based initiative. The dissemination of the PhD study’s findings will serve to increase the reach of programs like Recovery Camp to a wider audience and include a greater scope of mental health researchers and practitioners as well as those interested in nature-based TR.

FoR codes (2008)

111005 Mental Health Nursing



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.