Dr. Sienna Caspar is an associate professor in the Therapeutic Recreation program in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Among the many lessons she imparts to her students, she stresses that relationships are the foundation in any helping profession.

Where are you from? What is your background?
I’m always a bit envious of people who have a simple answer to this question! I was born in Nelson, B.C., raised in New Mexico, and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of South Alabama. As soon as I was able to choose my ‘home’, I moved back to Canada. I moved to Lethbridge from Victoria, B.C. (the look of confusion on people’s faces when I tell them that is quite comical!). I have close to 20 years of experience working as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist in long-term care homes. My area of expertise is dementia care.

What drew you to therapeutic recreation?
I was drawn to therapeutic recreation because I knew I wanted to work with people in a helping profession. Therapeutic recreation is a discipline that views wellness as significantly more than the absence of illness. Accordingly, we focus on a wholistic approach to wellness — one that incorporates and addresses the full range of peoples’ needs including those that arise from their social, emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and physical domains.

What drew you to the U of L? What’s the best part of your job?
It was not an easy decision to move away from my home and family in Victoria. However, I was drawn to the U of L because of the extraordinary people I am privileged to call my colleagues — my dean, our associate dean, the administrative staff in our faculty, everyone in our TR program, and the faculty and instructors in Health Sciences — they truly are an amazing group of people to work with! I was also drawn here because of the opportunity to build a new program from the ground up in a field that I am incredibly passionate about. The best part about my job is visualizing all of the people with disabilities who our students will help, touch and be of service to.

What are the essential teachings you pass along to your students?
I teach them that relationships are the foundation of any helping profession. Thus, essential teachings include listening skills, responsive leadership skills, motivational interviewing, and self-compassion. And, of course, I teach them about essential processes, techniques and interventions specific to therapeutic recreation.

Given January 18 is Blue Monday and it’s typically dark and cold — and add the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic this year — do you have any suggestions for how people can cope?
Embrace radical self-compassion! Aim to develop a new relationship with the voice in your head that can be so judgmental when you or others are less than perfect. Learn to turn down the volume of that inner critic and invite a stronger, louder voice in your head that is compassionate and kind. This journey must start with being more kind to yourself.