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These recreational therapists are changing the lives of their clients while transforming their own.
Physical activity is a highlight of most children’s day, but when was the last time you heard, “I want to be a Recreational Therapist when I grow up?” Even most adults have never heard of the profession and those who have usually discovered it by accident.
“Like many of my friends and colleagues who are Recreational Therapists, I stumbled upon therapeutic recreation,” confesses Regis College Assistant Professor Alicia Pola, director for the only Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation program in Greater Boston. Pola first heard of the field while enrolled in an Inclusive Recreation class at San Francisco State University. There, she says, “I was taught that leisure, recreation, and play should be accessible to everyone since they are basic human rights.” As a volunteer at a community center, she worked with people ages four to 70 from diverse backgrounds, with varying diagnoses and “saw the power of recreation and play firsthand.”
Therapeutic recreation, also known as recreational therapy, uses activities such as aquatics, cooking, adaptive sport and horseback riding to help individuals with disabilities, injuries and illnesses rebuild strength and functionality and increase overall quality of life. Treatments address individuals’ unique physical, emotional, social and cognitive needs.
During a gap year, Pola worked and volunteered in various settings to determine if recreational therapy would be a good fit and “fell in love” with the profession. Pola obtained Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) certification from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation and an MS in Recreation Therapy from Temple University.
All students in the BS in Therapeutic Recreation (TR) program complete a 100-hour practicum and a 560-hour internship, under the supervision of a CTRS. Students can apply to intern at any facility of their choice. The program’s affiliations with organizations such as Burlington Parks and Recreation, Lexington Recreation and Community Programs, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Youville Place, and VA Caribbean Healthcare Systems (in San Juan, Puerto Rico) provides exceptional placement options. Two TR students completed 100 hours with Amp Surf, a non-profit organization which provides opportunities for individuals with disabilities to experience and benefit from the therapeutic benefits of surfing including strength and balance as well as psychological and emotional advantages. Regis’ Weston campus is ideal for adaptive sports, outdoor adventures and seasonal activities.
As of November 2022, the program also boasts a 100% pass rate for the exam from the National Council of Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC).
Today, Grace Phipps BS ’22 has the CTRS certification after her name but, she says, “I actually wanted to be a veterinarian growing up, so definitely different from recreational therapy.” Later, Phipps thought she might follow in the footsteps of her mother, who became a medical assistant hoping to help others like Phipps who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes as a young child. She enrolled at Regis because she “liked the idea of a smaller school rather than attending a bigger school where your professor may never actually remember your face or name in such a large classroom.” As a sophomore, Phipps was enrolled in the diagnostic medical sonography program but she learned about the TR program through a faculty member. While Phipps describes her mother as her role model, she realized she could make the same positive impact on others as a recreational therapist.
During an internship with Lexington Parks and Recreation, Phipps had an experience that confirmed her decision. Working as an inclusion aid for a boy with Down Syndrome, she says, “entirely shaped how I want to work with children with different disabilities, and he taught me a lot about myself and helped me grow into the CTRS I am today. His mom wrote me a card that I received on his last day of camp, and something quoted in the card said, ‘you have brought joy, confidence, and friendship to him.’ It was an entirely new feeling I have never experienced - which is making a huge impact on my participants lives. It made me feel like I was doing something right, and that I am good at what I do. When I have moments of doubt regarding myself, I always refer back to that card.”
In October, Phipps began her career as a Student Support Instructor at Lexington Children’s Place. She is applying experience in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) she acquired at Regis to a preschool classroom working with children who have autism. “I’m very excited to take both my background in recreational therapy and ABA and apply it to this new opportunity,” she says. “It feels like it’s where I belong.”
The play's the thing. Find your place in Therapeutic Recreation.