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In this blog post, I explore the concept of the four stages of competence and how they relate to the field of recreational therapy.

These four stages, which are crucial for professionals seeking to excel in their roles, were coined by Martin M. Broadwell.


1. Unconscious incompetence: At this stage, an individual does not understand or recognize the skill or knowledge gap. They may be unaware of the existence or importance of a specific ability within their field. In the context of recreational therapy, this could be a therapist who is oblivious to the potential benefits of a certain intervention or technique.

Example:  Consider a newly hired recreational therapist who is ilacking training, skills, knowledge, and experience in therapeutic interventions. They aren’t nationally certified in the profession.  This therapist may overlook critical client assessments and struggle to develop and implement effective treatment plans. Without an understanding of the APIE process, their approach to therapy could be ineffective and potentially harmful to clients, hindering their progress.


2. Conscious incompetence: In this stage, individuals become aware of their lack of skill or knowledge in a particular area. They acknowledge the need to learn and have a desire to improve. Recreational therapists in this stage may recognize the need to enhance their understanding of certain therapeutic modalities or population-specific interventions.

Example: Picture a recreational therapist who has been introduced to the concept of adventure therapy but has not yet developed the skills and knowledge to effectively implement it with their clients. They acknowledge the potential of adventure therapy and how it can benefit their clients, yet they recognize that they need to undergo training and gain experience in this area to become proficient, so they dont harm their clients from well meaning intentions with incompetent skills.


3. Conscious competence: At this stage, individuals have acquired the necessary knowledge and skill, but applying them requires conscious effort and concentration. Recreational therapists here may demonstrate proficiency in utilizing specific interventions, but it still requires deliberate focus and attention to execute effectively.

Example: Consider a seasoned recreational therapist who has received specialized training in art therapy and can effectively facilitate art-based interventions to address emotional expression and stress relief in their clients. While they are highly skilled in this area, it still requires deliberate effort and focus to ensure successful implementation during therapeutic sessions.


4. Unconscious competence: In the final stage, individuals have mastered the skill or knowledge to the extent that it becomes second nature. They can perform the skill effortlessly and often without consciously thinking about it. In the context of recreational therapy, this could be demonstrated by a therapist seamlessly incorporating a variety of interventions tailored to individual client needs without needing to actively deliberate on each step.

Example: Envision an experienced recreational therapist who has mastered the use of recreational activities to address the specific needs of clients with various conditions, such as using structured group games to improve socialization and communication skills in individuals with autism. This therapist has achieved a level of expertise where they seamlessly integrate these interventions into their practice without needing to actively think about each step, allowing for natural and effective client engagement.


Understanding these stages is crucial for personal and professional development within the field of recreational therapy. It allows therapists to identify where they are in their journey toward mastering various skills and interventions, and it provides a roadmap for continuous improvement and growth.