Why I went for a Master’s degree in Recreation Therapy


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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.

Should Rec Therapy require a Master’s degree to practice?


Photo credit: Canstockphoto

Should RT require a Master’s degree as entry level?

I had the opportunity to attend a training session titled, “What next… is it time to move towards a master’s degree as an entry level degree [in recreational therapy] – is this the way to?”

This session was on Sun. Sept. 11, 2016 at the ATRA conference in the Chicago-area.

It was co-presented by several wonderful people, including:

  • Fran Stavola Daley, Ed.D., CTRS
  • Teresa Beck, D., CTRS
  • Deb Hutchins, Ed.D., CTRS
  • Anne Richard, M.S, CTRS; and
  • Candy Ashton, Ph.D., CTRS

And the big news is: NCTRC is now requiring a master’s degree. [JUST KIDDING, they didn’t say that].


They presented a chart to show what our allied professional require as an entry level position:


Nurses:                                                associates degree, bachelors, or master’s degree

Physical therapy:             moving to a doctorate

Occupational therapy:   masters or doctorate

Speech language:            masters (since 1965)

Social worker:                   bachelor or masters

Counselors:                        masters

Child Life                            moving from bachelors to masters

Art therapist:                     masters (since 70s)

Music Therapist:              bachelors: moving to masters

Dance/ movement therapist: masters

Drama therapist:              masters

Psychology:                        masters or doctorate

Rec therapy:                      bachelors


  • Please note: OT and PT make more than a psychologist who require a Ph.D. to practice.
  • Requring a master’s degree in Rec Therapy may not increase pay/ salary for RTs
  • A Master’s degree in Rec Therapy would provide greater protection to the public/ consumers of services.


  • One problem: Our profession lacks the current doctorates to teach courses to prepare students for a master’s degree.


Who would mandate that a master’s is required?

Anne Richards (with NCTRC) said that they are “glad to be on the bus [driving towards a master’s degree] but they aren’t going to be driving the bus.” NCTRC won’t mandate this.

The mission of NCTRC is to protect the public/ consumers by promoting quality.

The three things needed for practice consist of: skills to do the job, knowledge to do the job, and ability.

Those with a bachelor’s degree are trained in those three areas.

Danny Pettry comments:

There is a debate about requiring a master’s degree to practice Rec Therapy. Some argue because many of our allied professionals require an advanced degree to practice.

I personally think that a bachelor’s degree to practice is right for rec therapy (at least right now). Here are a few reasons why I think this:

  • Affordability of degree: there are many people (students) who can afford to get an undergraduate degree and by raising the bar, we could be losing professionals.
  • Marketability to employers: other allied professional require a higher degree to enter and are often higher salaries. We, RTs, can argue to hire several RTs at a more affordable rate opposed to one higher paid – master’s degree professional in a related field.
  • Not quite possible: our profession is currently lacking the number of doctorates to provide the training for master-level degrees.


I [Danny Pettry] think:

Bachelor’s degree with license to practice should be the entry level. I’d argue that the CTRS exam should be used as the exam for the license as well. We don’t need to have two exams. Why reinvent the wheel?

Master’s degree is bench mark for those who earn a specialty certification (by NCTRC). Those with a master’s degree provide a higher quality of service that is more specialized for better outcomes and higher patient protection. Those with a master’s degree can go on to teach as adjunct faculty, be mangers of departments, consult, train, and provide online courses (like I do): DannyPettry.com

Doctorate: Be professors at a university. Conduct research. (Altough people with bacehlors or masters could do that too – the doctorate is more capable (based on their experience). The doctorates can also be practitioners (bachelor’s degree) or do services provided by master’s degree and possible charge more.