It takes a special person to be a diversional therapist. 

A day in their working life requires infinite patience, creativity, compassion and energy. And diversional therapists make it their business to ensure residents continue to live a real life, filled with joy. 

One definition of the role reads: "Diversional therapy is a client-centred practice and recognises that leisure and recreational experiences are the right of all individuals. Diversional therapy practitioners work with people of all ages and abilities to design and facilitate leisure and recreation programs. Activities are designed to support, challenge and enhance the psychological, spiritual, social, emotional and physical wellbeing of individuals." 

The description doesn't do justice in portraying the type of work Rhonda Neilson and those like her do.

As a diversional therapist (or DT) at BlueCare's Millbank aged care home in Bundaberg, Rhonda is responsible for organising activities and outings for residents. But the way she describes it, she's "just got to be there for them". 

She is a BlueCare fixture, having started at Millbank as a 17-year-old fresh out of school. 

"I started out doing house-keeping," said Rhonda, who turns 59 this year. 

"Then I was a kitchen hand, helping the cook." 

After a break to have a baby, she was lured back to work in the laundry, and never left. Rhonda began helping out the centre's other DTs and then trained to become one, and for the past seven years has worked tirelessly to bring joy to residents.

"I just love it. I love the interaction," she said. 

BlueCare knows that everybody is different and different things will ignite their interest. Excursions, concerts, games, visits to restaurants, spiritual care, exercise and crafts are all part of the mix, and the DTs work tirelessly to make life interesting and fulfilling.

Some residents receiving palliative care also choose Millbank instead of being in hospital, and the DTs offer support to them and their families. But as Rhonda explained, their most important role is to listen. 

"It's just to be there for them, to sit and chat and have that one-on-one," she said. "It's important for them to know that there is always someone here for them. 

"Every day is different. Every day is a challenge."

Published: 17/12/2018

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