Therapeutic recreation (TR) is not a major or career that many have heard about.
It is a career focused on helping people who have a disability or have been injured and need a bit of assistance integrating themselves into their communities. In order to see how this is done, I interviewed associate professor Sandra Klitzing and senior therapeutic recreation major Rachel Krumm.
Kayla: Tell us about the therapeutic recreation major and what it has meant to you.
Rachel: We specialize in making programs for people with cognitive, emotional, physical and affective disabilities. I love it. It is so much fun and I love working with our huge client base. I can work with babies and I can work with someone who is very old.
K: Tell me about what you have been working on while at ISU.
R: I have worked with the Special Olympics. I have done volleyball, basketball, bocce ball and track and field. But I want to focus more on the rehabilitation aspect of TR. I am hoping to get an internship at a rehab hospital. I like to focus mostly on physical disabilities. I have been working this semester at Sugar Creek with Alzheimer’s patients, creating activities to help them with memory.
K: Has therapeutic recreation always been something you wanted to do?
R: I like to be active, which is why I got into the School of Kinesiology and Recreation, and my mom is a special ed teacher, so helping people who have disabilities is something I have always enjoyed. I was originally going to go into nursing, but then I talked to my counselor and found out about TR and it sounded absolutely perfect. I am glad I had this opportunity. I love thinking of different programs for people and the creativity in it.
K: Tell me about the type of internships and professional work you have done thus far.
R: We are required to do 400 volunteer hours, so those would be like clinical hours, and then we have two internships and the amount of time we spend there is not added to the 400 volunteer hours. We have to do a 108 hour internship for junior practicum and a senior level internship, which is 560 hours. Then we take our certification exam.
K: Where have you been doing your volunteer hours?
R: I have worked at a school for kids with Autism, an aquatic therapy program at Metcalf for three people, I went on an Alternative Spring Break for people with developmental disabilities, and I have worked in Waukegan with its special recreation service. Now, I am at Sugar Creek Alzheimer’s facility, so I’ve kinda worked all across the board! I am excited to graduate and create activities in order to help people rejoin their communities. This work makes me feel good and makes me happy.
K: Could you tell me about the major in general and what therapeutic recreation specialists do?
Sandra: Therapeutic recreation is also known as recreational therapy, so you might hear those two terms, but they are talking about the same thing. What TR does is use leisure recreation and other interventions to let people with disabilities have better functional skills and better quality of life. We work with people of all ages with any type of disability, illness or condition. Our clients might be someone with a spinal cord injury or they might be someone with Alzheimer’s. They could be someone suffering from substance abuse or they might have a learning deficiency.
The neat thing about TR is that we are a bachelor’s degree profession at this point. Some other professions you need to have a masters or a doctorate, but our entry level is a bachelor’s degree, and with a bachelor’s degree you are qualified to sit for certification. You could become a certified therapeutic recreation specialist and the neat thing about that is that there aren’t many states that have licensure which means this certification is portable.
K: What’s the difference between physical or occupational therapy and TR?
S: Physical therapy lots of times works on gross motor skills like walking and fine motor is a lot of the times occupational therapy. I always tell my students, we are the quality of life profession. Let’s say you’re in the hospital with a spinal cord injury, and they get you up, they get you moving, but until you want to get back into the community so can you feel comfortable going out shopping at Walmart or eating at a restaurant, that’s what quality of life is. So what we do is help people return to the community and feel comfortable in the community.
K: Before this, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as therapeutic recreation, I thought it was all covered by physical therapists.
S: Typically, TR is a discovery major. People find out about us after being at ISU for a while. We are beginning to get freshmen — we have about 25 freshmen and 95 TR students in total, so we are a pretty good size — but we used to never get freshmen just because no one knew about the major – you didn’t know about it before you were here — and people would find out when they were on campus and then they would transfer in. But more and more people are beginning to learn about us.
K: What are the different types of tasks that someone with a TR certification does if employed at a rehabilitation center?
S: At rehab centers they might do co-treatments where they are working on gross and fine motor, but mainly they would be focused on community reintegration. We are there to help people who are newly disabled answer questions like “Where do I get a hang tag for my car?” or “What adaptive sports and equipment are available to me so I can be active in my leisure again?”
If a TR specialist were working in a situation involving substance abuse, we might do some values clarification exercises or work on social skills, so that especially young people can learn to recognize that when they hang with certain groups of people they do things that get them in trouble, so maybe they should work to make some new friends, or maybe they have a friend who brings beer when they go fishing, so they need to find a way to enjoy fishing without alcohol present.
K: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
S: I was a practitioner for many years before I was a professor. I worked in a VA (Veterans Administrative) hospital with older adults who had psychiatric issues. I have worked in long-term care, in a nursing home with folks with Alzheimer’s, in a children’s home with kids who had severe or profound disabilities, in a Special Rec association as the director and at U of I when they had a TR program, but they don’t have it anymore. I was an academic advisor there, and then several years ago I decided I was going to get my Ph.D., so I did and this is where I have been teaching since.