On Getting Advanced Specialization in Recreation Therapy

Guest blog post submitted by Rebecca Halioua

In June of this year, I obtained my Specialty CTRS in Physical
Medicine/Rehabilitation. Acquiring a Specialty CTRS has been a wish of mine since
NCTRC implemented this type of certification. However, I was never really sure that I
could do it, which I’m sure is a feeling many other Recreational Therapists have, so I
never committed it to my list of career goals. Mostly, I didn’t think I could do it because I
didn’t really know enough about it, and I never took the time to reach out to NCTRC to
find out what my options were other than reading the information on their website.
I attended the Southeastern Recreational Therapy Symposium in April where
representatives from NCTRC lead a session on Specialty Certification. I got so much
out of this session that it ignited the spark in me that said “I can do this!” In the weeks
following the conference I printed all the materials from the website and determined that
Path B was the best route for me, as I had already completed my Master’s Degree in
Recreational Therapy Administration and I took specialty courses in Physical Medicine. I
still had questions about the process so I reached out to NCTRC. The staff was
amazingly helpful. I had phone calls and emails with their staff to guide me on things I
wasn’t sure about, they made the whole process very easy.

When I mailed off my application I felt confident that my paperwork was complete
and that I had the appropriate documentation needed, it was just a matter of the
committee determining if I qualified or not so I was still a little nervous. Flash forward to
the day I received that beautiful brown envelope in the mail, I was so excited because I
knew based on the size of it that there was a certificate in there. The first thing I did was
post a photo of it to Facebook of course. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that I
really needed to refuel my tank. I was excited to share the news with my coworkers the
next day, I had not told any of them that I had applied so they were all surprised and
happy for me as well. I am the only one in my workgroup with a Specialty Certification,
and I have been encouraging my peers to take continuing education courses to get
My suggestions for anyone who is even remotely interested in getting a Specialty
Certification of their own is to contact NCTRC directly by calling them and see what your
options are. Their staff is incredibly helpful and you may qualify for one without even
realizing it. They will work with you on ways to adjust your regular CTRS renewal and
your Specialty renewal so you can get them on the same renewal date even. If you
don’t qualify for it yet, set a goal for yourself and take the required CEU’s to get yourself
to the qualification standard for Path A. Danny has several courses that can get you
there, and NCTRC can help give you guidance on the types of courses you can look for
to meet the criteria as well. I didn’t do anything special to get this certification, I just
decided that it was something I wanted, so if it is something you want you can do it too.
Good luck!

ATRA opening general session:


Photo: Dawn Devries (current president of ATRA) and Dr. Aaron Bunnel

Dawn DeVries, the current President of ATRA had spoken during the opening general session.

She had several people to stand in the audience for recognition, including:

  • Peg Connolly student scholarship winners
  • All students that were in attendance (and there were many of them)
  • The ATRA Board of Directors – what a wonderful group of people. They are from all over the United States, in places like: Virginia, Illinois, Georgia, and New Mexico.
  • The President of the Canada Therapeutic Recreation Association was present!
  • There were internal guests too from not only Canada, but Japan as well.


The Keynote address:

The Keynote address was given by Dr. Aaron Bunnel from Harborview Medical Center and University of Washington.

His story: he took a year off before going to med school.

He woke up from sleeping on the beach with his friends (at age 22). He ran and dived in the water and suffered a neck injury that paralyzed him. His friends thought he was playing around while he was drowning in the water. He couldn’t move. He wondered about how he would live and if he could still go to Med School and do the things he wanted to do.

He was grateful for recovery but was also stuck at home with little to do.

He had love for nature, friends, competition, and endurance.

He didn’t have a rec therapist during his initial rehab.

He said physical therapy worked well. It was just hard and painful.

I [Danny Pettry] know PT is painful things. I had PT when I was young after dislocated my shoulder form a skateboarding accident. I’m very lucky I dislocated my shoulder and not my neck.

He said there is only so much PT one can do in a day.

He worked at getting back to life. – he couldn’t g hiking and nature or do mountain climbing too well at first. Kicked soccer ball around some, started golf.

With time he increased endurance and strength and decreased his pain!

Danny Pettry comments: Way to go active lifestyle!

He still had the desire to become a doctor. It was his dream and passion

He used adaptive recreation to get back to life: cycling, yoga, swimming.

Benefits for him: decreased falls, better sleep.

He decided to go for med school and it worked out. He did the 30-hour shifts required.

Now – maintaining functioning abilities as he aged. He didn’t want to be on couch at age 60. He wanted to make sure he’d still be working.

Photos before accident – grinning and smiling

After incident – didn’t’ smile too much

A little while later – after adaptive sports – smiling again.

Exercise is good!

He cited benefits of physical activity:

  • Reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke. No medication can get that result
  • Reduce risk of mood disorders, depression
  • Reduce risk of cognitive decline
  • Less pain
  • Increase strength
  • Increase quality of life



Adaptive sports are beneficial:

Those people with disabilities that participate in adaptive sports are twice as likely as the general populate to be employed!


So what is the strongest predictor that a person is in adaptive sports one year after incident? It is the number of therapeutic recreation sessions during inpatient physical rehab.


There are also positive associations and social integration with adaptive sports.


Dr. Aaron Bunnel argues that recreational therapy hasn’t been given its due.

“Recreation is fun! Social bias kicks in.”

“but it is serious, too”


Dr. Aaron Bunnel argued the importance of advocating our profession.

  • He discussed H.R. 1906 Act of 2015, which will give access to inpatient rehab treatment to more people. It would restore reliance on the professional judgement of a physician. Write your representative.
  • Advocate our profession to get our voice heard.
  • Educate physicians about outcomes of our services and how it increases (good benefits) and decreases (bad target symptoms).
  • Join ATRA. Please note that, I [Danny Pettry] am a lifetime member of ATRA.
  • Provide hospitals with educational seminars
  • Build on the evidence because policy is influenced by this.
  • Work towards advanced degrees – doctoral or masters. I, Danny Pettry have two graduate degrees – rec therapy and mental health counseling. He argued your graduate degree could be in a similar field as well.
  • Keep at it. Be persistent and don’t give up

He said research is a great way to advocate for what we do.


He validated that what we do is important and really matters .


My thoughts about Dr. Aaron Bunnel:

Here is a guy who could have easily given up and used all the excuses in the book for not trying.

However, he was determined, persistent, had dreams and passions. He didn’t give up.

He got back to functioning through adaptive sports and he went on to become a doctor and does so much more! What a great guy! Glad I got to hear his talk today.