Part I: The undergraduate degree process:
Recreation Therapy became my career goal after doing a volunteer experience in 1999 at a rehabilitation hospital. I believe you can relate to having that same experience where you discovered recreation therapy and wanted to become a recreation therapists, too!
I graduated in August 2002 with a B.S. in Park Resources and Leisure Services with an emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.
Careers opportunities were often far away. I sent applications and resumes to nearly 100 agencies in both of the Virginias and Carolinas.
Surprisingly, I got offered a position at a psychiatric hospital right in my own town of Huntington the very day after I completed my summer internship. It couldn’t have been any smoother. It was just perfect.
I worked part-time the first year and was able to secure a full-time position one year later in August 2003.
Part II: The graduate degree process:
I wanted to be the best recreation therapists that I could be. I wanted to learn more. I had hopes and dreams. I thought I’d even like to be an instructor for an undergraduate course at Marshall University! I searched online for graduate degree programs in recreation therapy. I discovered that Indiana University had a distant education program. Dr. David Austin was a professor there. I immediately knew I had to train and learn from Dr. Austin.
I was very fortunate, I was in the last class he had taught before he retired. It was a course on social psychology.
I completed my Master of Science degree in Recreation Therapy from Indianan University in December 2006. Marshall University closed their Therapeutic Recreation program that same semester, so I didn’t have an opportunity to teach in TR at Marshall. I started my online CEU program, DannyPettry.com (Rec Therapy CEUs) several months after I completed my graduate degree.
Some thoughts on getting these degrees:
- I felt that my undergraduate degree (from Marshall University) had adequately prepared me for an entry-level position as a recreation therapist. I am very grateful Marshall University offered this program while I was a student there.
Here are some things I learned from gaining a graduate degree in Recreation Therapy:
- Smart people aren’t necessarily the ones who earned a graduate degree. Based on my experiences, a graduate degree demonstrates that a person had determination and persistence. I knew people with undergraduate degrees in recreation therapy who I believe are smarter than I am (despite having a graduate degree). I often seek out those Recreation Therapists for consulting.
- Graduate school is fun if you like reading, writing, lectures, and learning. I understand that many people are not fascinated by those topics. But I am, so that made it easier for me.
- Consulting and training was covered in graduate school. I did internal consulting for the hospital where I worked full-time. I’ve also did volunteer consulting for a few other agencies. That is a good skill to have.
- Professional networks are formed in graduate school. It is a great place to meet and network with other likeminded individuals. I’ve kept in contact with those friends for many years.
- Recreation therapists are applied social psychologists. Dr. Austin had made a reference in one paper (which I can’t recall or I would pay attribution and cite the source) claimed that those of us in recreation therapy are applied social psychologists. This isn’t just for those recreation therapists working in behavioral health settings. Social psychology can be applied to community therapeutic recreation settings, physical rehabilitation, and for geriatrics.
- Statistics is difficult for me. However, it is very important for research. Health care in the United States is expensive. Third party payers (like insurance companies) want to make sure that patients are getting results from treatment. They want outcomes. Research and statistics can help give evidence that recreation therapy interventions are successful at bringing about specific pre-determined outcomes.
- Income might not immediately increase with a graduate degree. I didn’t get an immediate increase in salary for earning a graduate degree. This was covered in one of the courses I had taken in graduate school. Short-term gain might not be much. However, it plays a huge role in the long-term. Graduate degree + additional years of experience opens the door to many supervisor positions (if a person is wanting to advance in their career). Me? I don’t want to be a supervisor. I want to be a practitioner, doing the work. I had once applied for a supervisor position at a V.A. Hospital and was offered the position. It paid more too. I believe it would have been a rewarding job to help the Veterans who have done so much for our country. However, I felt I was at the right place, being a Recreation Therapist for children and adolescents with mental health and behavioral health needs.
Some thoughts about Recreation Therapy and Entry-Level Requirements:
Currently, a Master’s degree is not required for entry-level practice as a recreation therapist. It is noted that many of our allied professionals require a master’s degree to practice.
I personally think having an undergraduate degree as an entry-level requirement could make marketing our undergraduate programs easier. In example: Get a career helping people (as a Rec Therapist) with a four-year degree opposed to getting a career helping people (in another field) with six-year-degree.
Of course, the undergraduate degree program must adequately prepare the student for entry-level positions. I’d argue those programs should be accredited by the Committee on Accreditation of Recreational Therapy Education (CARTE).
Graduate degrees in Recreation Therapy are geared more towards preparing people to:
a.) become specialized in an a focus area (in example: behavioral health, physical rehab),
b.) become managers and supervisors; and
c.) preparing people to become consultants and trainers.