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.

Demonstrate Your Professional Commitment


Take 100% responsibility for your life.

– Jack Canfield





Do you want to be more successful?

Are you taking 100% responsibility for our own life and choices?

Are you taking responsibility for everything?

People who demonstrate professional commitment take 100% responsibility for their own lives. They don’t blame other people or make excuse for where they are in life. They are where they are because of their own actions. The most successful people don’t sit idle hoping and wishing. They take the most effective actions to get to where they want to be in life.


You might want to check out this formula for responsibility:

My mentor and trainer, Jack Canfield teaches the E+R=O formula. It means Event + Response = Outcome.

Start with the outcome you want to achieve? What do you hope to accomplish?

We can all determine the best possible outcome we want to achieve.


Let’s pretend our desired outcome is:

to enjoy today.


Several events happen, including:

  • It rains and you were planning to enjoy the outdoors.
  • your friend doesn’t call you, and
  • A stranger on the street says something insulting to you.


Are you still able to enjoy the day? Some people would say “nope, not now, this day is over. It’s ruined,” but the truth is… it is still possible to enjoy your day.


Events happen all the time. They are out of our control. We can’t change the weather, or make a person call us, or control what another person said or thinks. Marshal Linehan teaches a concept called “Radical Acceptance” in her Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It means to accept the reality of the situation to avoid prolonged suffering. You don’t have to “like” or “love” the event. You just accept the event as it is so you can feel better about it.


Have you ever seen a person fall down, get mad, and yell at gravity? Laugh aloud. Probably not. Why don’t people complain about gravity? Radical acceptance. It can’t be changed. It just is.


Change what you do have power to change, which is your responses.


An instant reaction could be, “it’s true, my day is over,” and the result would be a bad day. However, people like you (and me) have the unique power to change our response.


We can choose to:

  • Think an attitude of gratitude about the rain. Some places are in droughts. Enjoy it the rain. Embrace the rain. Play in the rain.
  • We can choose to call our friend to see why she hasn’t called yet.
  • We can choose to have empathy and concern for the person calling us names knowing they must have something terribly wrong going on in their life right now that is making them so miserable.


Better responses = better outcomes

By choosing these responsible responses, we can take control over the outcomes.


The real event: other people (co-workers, supervisors, administration) may not appreciate you and recreation therapy as much as you do. Radical acceptance.


The real responsibility for you, your life, and your professional commitment is only in your hands. It is your responsibility. Only you can choose to make you, your life, and your profession great. You choose to advocate for what you do. You choose to learn everything you can in life. You’re the one who chooses your path.  You choose to make things happen.


The real results: your commitment and action will make things happen. And as the famous Dr. Seuss said, “Out there things can happen, and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.”


Smokey Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires!” Smokey is talking about responsibility. My favorite motivational speaker, the late Jim Rohn often said, “You can’t hire someone to do your push-ups for you.” I’ll say, “Only YOU can demonstrate your own professional commitment to your own career and profession.


Do You Really Want to  Demonstrate Your Professional Commitment?

Solution: take our advanced specialty course.

Who this course is for:

It is designed for people with the CTRS credential who are seeking advanced specialty certification in behavioral health. NCTRC requires the CTRS to have at least three advanced certificates in behavioral health (along with other requirements) to gain the advanced specialty certification. (Disclaimer: always contact NCTRC for official information).

Who these advanced certificate courses are NOT for:

People who are not really motivated in learning more

People who already have a Master’s degree in recreation therapy (or possibly a related field) because a person with a Master’s degree can select another path to certification without gaining the three advanced specialty certificates.


About my NORTH Advanced Behavioral Health Certificate Courses


  • Each course is wroth ten clock hours of continuing education.
  • Session content is CE Pre-approved by NCTRC, so you know they count.
  • Requirements include:
    • Read an interesting text book
    • Write at least three comments about the book in our member’s group
    • Watch a one hour webinar on the topic
    • Pass a written test with a score of 80% or better. You’re guaranteed to pass or you can retake the quiz for free (as many times as you want or need).
  • As a bonus I mail you the required book!
  • You’ll get access to network with other students in our exclusive facebook group.
  • The Standard Price for my Advanced Certification Courses is $647.
  • These courses have a special discount ($200) off most of the time, so they’re only $447

check it out —–> http://www.NORTHadvanced.com <—- check it out

Interview answers about Rec Therapy and mental health

A student asked me 19 questions about recreation, recreation therapy, and mental health.

I posted my answers below so more people could read them.


Questions for Issue Paper: Interviews


  1. What is your current occupation?


(I provide a mix of mental health counseling and recreational therapy services)


  1. Describe your place of work.

Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF). I provide services for three residential units for children and adolescents with various mental/ behavioral health needs.

These three residential treatment programs are housed/ located in a psychiatric hospital.


  1. What is the general age group of the people under your care?

Typically 7 to 17.

Sometimes, bur rare 6 or 18.


  1. Do you typically work with individuals who suffer from mental health issues?



  1. What kinds of mental health issues do you see as being more common today?

I’ve heard from a speaker (can’t recall name) that there is a growing number of adolescents with anger issues in our country (United States). I put U.S. because I wasn’t sure if you’re in U.S. or Canada.

Substance abuse issues seem pretty baseline (based on own personal experiences)


  1. What role (if any) do you see yourself playing with respect to treating people/patients suffering from mental health issues?

My role consists of:

  • Providing a humanistic approach that consists of: unconditional positive regard, empathetic listening, and validation.
  • I provide a mix of assessments.
  • I work with patient to create a treatment plan to address her (or his) needs as well as address and promote strengths
  • I provide a mix of treatment interventions (individual sessions, group sessions, sometimes family sessions) to assist the patient with meeting goals
  • I write progress evaluations of goals that were met.


  1. Are there any types of programs set up in your workplace to help people who suffer from mental health challenges?

We have three different residential treatment programs, including:

The Bridge Program for children (7 to 12) with abuse-reactive needs. This is my main focus area. I have additional training and experience with this population.


We have two other residential programs. I assist their units by providing group interventions/ skills training sessions:



The Road Program for adolescents male and female with dual diagnosis (substance abuse and mental health needs

The Roundtable Program for adolescent males with sex offender needs


  1. If so, are those programs experiencing success?
  • Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT) is the main intervention for the children with abuse-reactive needs. There is a lot of research evidence that shows TF-CBT is an effective treatment (for most children). This is the program that I primarily provide services for.


  • Our therapist for the substance-abuse unit (dual dx) has a lot of experience working with that population. They also have a 12-steps program (is not a treatment) and there is no research on it for evidenced-based outcomes, but it appears to be helpful.
  • There is no cure for the adolescents with sex offending behaviors. The therapist go to intensive training. Outcomes for those adolescent who receive treatment are not 100%, but they are less likely to offend compared to those who don’t receive treatment.


I can connect you to those people who have additional training and experience with those two areas (substance-abuse) or (sex offending) if you’d like to have access to more information.



  1. Are there programs in other areas of the community (other than where you work) that focus on recreational activities to target individuals suffering from mental health issues?

We do have one outpatient recreation therapy program that uses horse-therapy.

One of my friends also offers online services at: http://www.MyRecreationTherapist.com

There are several outpatient and community-based recreational therapy programs across the United States.


  1. Given that mental health constitutes an important component of health care, do you feel it receives as much support as other areas of health care? Why? Why not?

I feel it gets a lot of support because there are a wide-range of professionals who work in mental health, including: psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors, clinical case managers, and recreational therapists. We’re not alone in promote mental health.


  1. What do you think would be the biggest challenge in using recreation programs to help patients with mental health issues?

Possibly advocating the importance of it. I do think having a good education component (Leisure Education) or sometimes (Psycho-Education) or sometimes life skills training is good to teach the importance of recreation with mental health and overall health and well-being.


  1. Are there any interventions that you are aware of that focus on recreation programs?

We use recreation as a treatment at our facility.

It isn’t so much about the recreation activity.

The focus is more on the outcomes.

In example- two different recreation activities could help a patient to achieve the outcome.


  1. What do you think would be the biggest challenge in using recreation programs to help patients with mental health issues?

Based on personal experience: safety concerns. Close supervision is required. A patient with mental health needs could steal recreation supplies to use for self-harm at a later point, or attempt to run-away on a community outing. There are so many more possibilities too.


  1. Do you think that physical activity could help people that suffer from a mental health problem? Please explain.

There is a lot of research that shows physical activity helps with promoting mental health benefits as well.

Psychiatrics often suggest physical activity and exercise help mood-stabilizers and other medicines to work.


  1. Do you have any knowledge of recreation therapy being used to help psychiatric patients?

Yes – we use recreation therapy at our psychiatric hospital.

The greatest number of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS) work in mental/ behavioral health settings. Contact the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) for more information.


  1. How do you think the use of recreational therapy has evolved over the years?

It has evolved along with technology. I’ve worked in the field for 15-years.

There are Wii video games that help promote physical health and wellness.

The internet allows for patients to build a support system through sites like facebook.

There are good apps like fitbit that keeps track of how much a person has walked and calories burned.

One thing that has stayed consistent in our field is the APIE process of assessments, program/ treatment planning, implementing the activity-based/ recreation as an intervention, and evaluation the outcomes.


  1. Do you think there has been a shift in society’s attitudes/perception of people with mental illness? Explain.

One of the shifts is “people-first language.” Based on my experiences, I’ve heard people identified by their disorder, in example, “Here comes a borderline” for a person who has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Would you say: “here comes a cancer? For a person who has cancer?” People first language example: Meet Sue. She is a person. She happens to have xyz.”

I do think there is less stigma. Years ago, in the U.S. there was a politician who wanted to be President and he was considered “un-electable” because he had talked to a counselor or psychologist. Of course, today, there are more rules about confidentiality and privacy. Overall, I think there is less stigma and concern about a person who talks to a mental health professional.


  1. How do you see the role of physical activity evolving over the next few years with respect to its use in the area of mental illness?

I’d recommend looking into information from WHO, The World Health Organization. They appear to have a greater focus on prevention of illness. I personally believe that we, recreational therapists have a great opportunity to intervene and be the leaders in preventative medicine.


  1. Could you comment on why there seems to be more young people today suffering from mental health issues?

There could be a lot of reasons. Some of them:

  1. Child suffered from abuse or neglect at an early age
  2. Child exposed to drugs/ substance abuse at an early age
  3. Increase in digital technology could be a concern if the child is spending too much time online and not enough time with real friends. Or if the child is being exposed to material online (violence, porn) or if parents are too busy on electronics and ignore child.

Those are just my ideas.



[Video] – NEW Book: Management Functions in Recreational Therapy

I always enjoy seeing videos of Dr. David Austin (my professor from graduate school) at Indiana University.

Below is a brief video of Dr. David Austin talking about his new book, “Management Functions in Recreational Therapy.” He has co-written it with two really wonderful people.

I [Danny Pettry] am attending a training on management of recreational therapy departments at the 2016 ATRA conf. in Chicago on Sun. 9/10/16. I imagine they’ll discuss this book!

I had taken a general management course at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia one summer that counted towards my degree in therapeutic recreation at Marshall University. I really enjoyed that course. It focused on several key concepts that Dr. Austin discusses in his video. however, that course didn’t focus on the specific management of recreational therapy or about healthcare.

I like that it is in paperback! I’m getting a copy soon!

Here is Dr. Austin’s video:

–> Click here to get a copy of this book <–