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


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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.