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


(C) CanStockPhoto

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.

The Time for Licensure in Rec Therapy is NOW!

By: Danny Pettry, M.Ed.,M.S.,  LPC, NCC, CTRS


Copyright by Canstockphoto

What is regulation?

Credentialing bodies regulate what various professionals can and can’t do.

There are three types of credentials regulate recreational therapy practice.

  • Registration: This is simply a list of people in a given state or area who are allowed to practice or are currently practicing.
  • Certification requires a bit more than registration. Certification is still voluntary process. It is not required by law for a person to have certification to practice in rec therapy. However, many hospitals and agencies may require national certification. Some agencies may hire an individual with certification over a person who does not have it. Currently, recreation therapy certification is earned through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). Those who have met standards are allowed to be recognized as “Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists.”
  • Licensure is the highest form of regulation. This is where a person is required by law to have a license in order to practice. Four states currently require a Recreation Therapist to be licensed in order to practice.


Why do we want to regulate our own?

Who else will do it if we, recreation therapists don’t regulate our practice? Would we want this left up to allied professionals like social workers, nurses, speech therapists, teachers, etc.? I don’t think so.

I believe we, recreation therapists are best suited to regulate our own profession.


Who else requires a license?

Everyone else is doing it! That may give some social proof.

Here are some professions that require license in most states (if not all states)

Teachers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, mental health counselors, psychologists,  social workers, physicians, psychiatrists, Dieticians, Respiratory therapists.

Food handlers in West Virginia require a license.

Hairdressers in West Virginia require a license.


Some activities require a license:

Example: Driving a vehicle requires a license.


However, Recreation Therapy doesn’t require a license to practice in most areas and that is disturbing.


What is the number one goal of licensure?

The purpose of licensure is to protect the public.

A person with a license has met minimum qualifications to practice their profession. A license says they are legally allowed to practice.

  • Would you want to be treated by a physician who has not met the strenuous requirements for licensure? No. Why? Someone might get seriously hurt or die.
  • Would you want to be treated by a nurse who has not met requirements for licensure? No. Someone might get seriously hurt or die.


Licensing drivers is to protect the public. If a person is too visually impaired, has seizures are not licensed to drive. A person can have her (or his) licensed revoked if she (or he) has had too many tickets or a Driving under the Influence (DUI). This protects the public so innocent people won’t get hurt.


An unlicensed person could cause harm.

My personal belief: most people are good people who want to do good stuff in the world. However, competencies are required to do certain professions.

I can admit that I’m not competent to be a physician. I’ve not been to medical school. I’ve not trained. I’ve not been through their testing. I know I’m not able to be a physician. Am I a good person? I like to think so. Does being a good person mean competent to practice? Nope.



Care and nursing care are different.

Physical fitness and physical therapy are different.

Breathing and respiratory therapy are different.

Talking and speech therapy are different.

Recreation and recreation therapy are different, too.


Recreation therapists provide services for people with illness and disabling conditions. Recreation therapists provide services for people with developmental disabilities, physical limitations and needs, mental health needs.

It is important that recreation therapists have the knowledge and skills to provide services so a person doesn’t get hurt.

Here is an example: Let’s pretend a good-hearted person overhears that outdoor adventure therapy is the big hit. He decides to open up an outdoor adventure therapy program that has white water rafting in the summer, skiing and snowboarding in the winter, rock climbing in the autumn, and off trail biking and paint gun activities in the spring. Sounds great. However, he doesn’t have the training and experience needed to provide therapy services for people who use assisted devices like wheelchairs, or who have autism and are non-verbal. His good-hearted spirit may unintentionally cause someone to get hurt or possibly die in one of these activities. Then it goes on the news. Recreation therapists kills someone. And yet – none of those in the recreation therapy profession has heard of this individual who is claiming to be a recreation therapist.

We, recreation therapists, must regulate our own practice. We must have a license in place to protect the public. The license demonstrates an individual has met minimum requirements to practice. No other person can show up (even with the best of intentions) and start a recreation therapy practice unless they are licensed to do so.


What states have already achieved licensure?

These states include: New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah, and Oklahoma. An individual is not allow to practice recreation therapy in those states without a license.

Congratulations to those states… they’re trailblazers who make it easier for future states. Recreation therapists in other states can talk to and model the systems used in those four states. That will save a lot of time and money and energy. You won’t have to reinvent the wheel.



What needs to happen now?

Groups of recreation therapists (in their own given U.S. state or Canadian Providence) must unite and start the process.

An easy place to start would be state recreation therapy associations. Get the message out there. And you, yes you, reading this blog post right now must be the person to get things rolling. Join your state association if you’re not already a member. Start the project.

Me: I worked hard on getting licensure in West Virginia for many years. I was surprised to find that the senior members of the former West Virginia Therapeutic Recreation Association (WVTRA) had got involved in legislation in the early 80s to get licensure for recreation therapists. However, it didn’t get completed for several reasons: finances, not enough rec therapists in the state, and who knows what other reasons. Bottom line: it didn’t get done. Please note that I do admire those professionals who came before me who attempted this process. There is a lot of learning that can happen from them.

I invited the representatives from North Carolina’s licensure board to speak at the West Virginia conference.

Despite many years of trying – we didn’t get a bill started.

I’m not giving up.

I’m determined and persistent.


Some states like Maine were real close to getting a license. First, Maine didn’t have an ATRA chapter. They created one for the sole purpose of getting a license to practice in Maine. The legislation passed all the way to the Governor’s office. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill.


If I lived in Maine, I’d be working to do it again. Persistence is the key.

Plus – it is ethically the right thing to do.

The license could save somebody’s life.

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.

Want to Succeed as a Recreation Therapist? Follow these simple steps.

Submitted by: Charlie Dixon, MS, CTRS, FDRT
Therapeutic Recreation Directory

  1. Smile, appear joyful.
  2. Recognize patients and staff each and every day by their name and greeting.
  3. Laugh.
  4. Listen as if each person you are talking to is the most interesting person in the world.
  5. Learn new things regularly.
  6. Get to know administration and doctors on a personal level.
  7. Write well… especially patient documentation. Make your notes invaluable to the team.

When I look to hire staff I look at personality 1st.  Motivation, joyfulness, character, creativity, and such are things that I want in staff.  Skills can be taught and learned but personality is difficult to shape.  Are there traits that you want to improve upon.  Start today… smile at the next person you see and say “hello” in a joyful way.  It’s a step towards a different inner attitude.  Come to work each day with a mindset that you are going do this – every day, even if you had a rotten day at home.


Charlie Dixon, MS, CTRS, FDRT
Therapeutic Recreation Directory