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The Future of Recreational Therapy

A summary of a panel discussion presented at the 2018 American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) Conference


Ward-Gardner, M. [moderator], Wagner-Heffner, D. Piatt, J., Richard, A., & Spahan, J. (2018, September). Meeting of the minds: the present and future state of recreational therapy. Panel Discussion presented at the American Therapeutic Recreation Association Conference, Grand Rapids, MI

By: Danny Pettry, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, CTRS-BHS


Danny Pettry has been a good-standing member of ATRA since 1999. Pettry is not a hired spokesperson for ATRA. Pettry does not serve on the ATRA board. Pettry is a Lifetime Member of ATRA. Pettry is an advocate for recreational therapy.


Moderator (up front) Panelist (in back)

I [Danny Pettry] had the opportunity to attend the general session at the 2018 ATRA conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This session was a panel discussion moderated by Miranda Ward-Gardner. The panelists included: Diane Wagner-Heffner, Jennifer Piatt, Anne Richard, and Joy Spahn.  The focus of this session was on the future of recreational therapy.

This article (at Rec Therapy Today) aims to summarize key points that I [Danny Pettry] personally gained from this session. Some of these key points were made by panelists or from people in the audience. My [Danny Pettry’s] thoughts on important topics from this panel discussion may not be in aligned with the individual panelist.

What do organizations do in our profession?

The American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA)’s mission is to: Empower Recreational Therapists.

The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC)’s mission is to protect the public. They have certification standards to ensure that practitioners have met the minimum qualifications for entry-level practice as a Recreational Therapists. Those who’ve met NCTRC standards are granted: Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credentials.

The Committee on Accreditation of Recreational Therapy Education (CARTE) is the accrediting body for education degree programs in Recreational Therapy. 

What do we need to do to establish our field?

Recreational Therapy is often unknown to those people outside of recreational therapy. Recreational Therapy needs a better identify. The profession isn’t established as a household (recognizable) profession yet. Many people don’t know what recreational therapists do and what outcomes are achieved through recreational therapy.

NCTRC was recently featured on the award-winning show, Innovations with Ed Begley, Jr. I nominated Ed Begley to win the ATRA’s 2018 Individual Citation award. I’m not sure if he’ll win this award. NCTRC’s mission isn’t to establish recreational therapy. It’s to protect the public. However, the segment on Innovations helps to make recreational therapy a household name. Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNXCqy1MAgA&feature=youtu.be


What challenges are we facing?

Coverage of services is a challenge.

There best approach is to demonstrate proven outcomes of services. This is a great opportunity for recreational therapy. Third-party payers don’t want to pay for recreation in general. They want to pay for outcomes. They want results. Of course, our interventions are (activity, recreation, and leisure-based.). However, we must articulate and use language in our documentation that focus on the outcomes recreational therapy produces. Outcomes get covered.

Educating and Advocating are Important

Access to recreational therapy often depends on the setting. It might be a parent who advocates that her choild gets recreational therapy. It might be a Director of Nursing who decides if recreational therapy is to be included. The best thing recreational therapists can do is to speak the language of the people who hold the purse strings. Recreational therapy (as an outcomes based) approach must make sense to them (people who decide). We, recreational therapists must advocate how our unique set of skills are best suited to bring about the outcomes for patients (clients).

Occupational Therapists Oppose Recreational Therapy

Chrissy Vogeley posted in December 2017 at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) web-site, an argument that Recreational Therapists encroach on Occupational Therapy Scope of Practice.

The penal suggested: we in recreational therapy (nor those in other disciplines) own anything. It is about who is best qualified to provide the service. A challenge is that Occupational Therapists have talked about moving to a doctorate for entry-level practice. The truth is, occupational therapists and physical therapists have more experience and training to be entry-level practitioners compared to those of us in recreational therapy.

It is noted that NCTRC has published in the Journal of Occupational Therapy. (I’m not sure when the article will be released).

What new opportunities are on the horizon?

There is a body of research that validates the effectiveness of interventions that are not directly related to Recreational Therapy. Recreational therapy can definitely use evidenced based practices when it falls into the legal scope of practice for recreational therapy.


More research is needed to demonstrate the evidenced-based outcomes it is thought that only those in academia do research. Practitioners can do research too. Practitioners can track outcomes and show evidence. I [Danny Pettry] recommend practitioners who want to do research to get in touch with their local college or university. It is vital that research is done ethically.


NCTRC goes to non-Therapeutic Recreation conferences too. It is nice to know that someone in our field is present at those conferences too. However, it isn’t up to NCTRC alone. Any recreational therapist can attend a non-TR conference and represent Recreational Therapy. That is an opportunity you have.


Recreational therapists can join allied professional associations. Recreational therapists can serve as committee members for those organization. It would be effective to have a recreational therapist on the board for other associations.


Recreational therapists have the opportunity to have conversations on a daily basis with other allied practitioners or people in the community. Recreational therapists can teach and educate about the outcomes we help achieve through recreational therapy. Educate everyone.


Pease note that it is not the responsibility of NCTRC or ATRA to advocate for recreational therapy. It is a myth that those organizations will do it for you (the recreational therapist). You must do it yourself.


My best tip is to join ATRA. Your membership dollars will go to help advocate for recreational therapy. You as an individual must make it happen. It is you who must go to congress to voice your thoughts.

Click here to learn more about joining ATRA



Vogely, C. (2017, Dec.). Protection OT’s scope of practice Vis-à-vis Recreational Therapy. American Occupational Therapy Association. Retrieved from: https://www.aota.org/Advocacy-Policy/State-Policy/Resource-Factsheets/Protecting-OTs-Scope-of-Practice-Vis-a-Vis-Recreational-Therapy.aspx

Ward-Gardner, M. [moderator], Wagner-Heffner, D. Piatt, J., Richard, A., & Spahan, J. (2018, September). Meeting of the minds: the present and future state of recreational therapy. Panel Discussin presented at the American Therapeutic Recreation Association Conference, Grand Rapids, MI.