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Susan Potts – Recreation Services Supervisor, Howard County, Maryland (Part 2 of 2)

By Admin | May 31, 2008

In the second part of her interview, Susan Potts tells us about the current state of recreation therpay.

What are your main duties for Howard County?

Main duties here are researching, designing, implementing, and evaluating leisure programs for individuals with disabilities and inclusion services. I serve as the department liaison with community groups.

Also, I do personnel management including recruiting, hiring, training, supervision and evaluation of full-time and part-time staff. We hire about 200 staff a year for inclusion services.

Are you involved in the business end of running the recreation programs?

I do fiscal management, including preparation and submissions of annual budgets, budget reports and fiscal and program analysis.

I also represent department/county through participation in county committees, national and local presentations at conferences. I also provide assistance and direction on ADA and disability issues within the department.

Day to day, it is ensuring needs are met of my participants, staff training and managing behavior plans. As well as I serve on several committees outside of my job role for my department and I do a lot of working with community interest groups as well. The short of it is I love my job!

What attributes do you need to be a top flight recreational therapist?

Well, that is a great question. They call this the “helping profession”. I am ok with this, but it tends to attract people that need help themselves.

I tell people that a lot of recreation therapists are co-dependent, like 80%. So a top flight therapist needs to know themselves and be grounded.

We work with a variety of people with physical, mental or emotional illness or all of them. You have to have a level of knowledge on the human functions but see people as holistic, not just as the one legged man.

You have to be empathetic – this keeps you from getting dragged into their stuff. You have to define your boundaries as well.

I call these soft skills that are hard to teach. The hard skills are the ADA standards, adaptive equipment (you do need some level of creativity here).

Knowing how to assess someone is important. You have to have insight and a good perception of others, be able to read people. I don’t know how I learned or if I had it, it comes very naturally for me.

Do you find it difficult ever to work with people with special needs?

A therapist must be comfortable working with people who are ill or disabled. Be patient, tactful, and persuasive when working with people who have a variety of special needs.

Ingenuity, a sense of humor, and imagination are needed to adapt activities to individual needs, and good physical coordination is necessary to demonstrate or participate in recreational activities.

What do you dislike most about your job?

Right now my commute home. I still live in Virginia. Other wise I don’t think I can say one thing or another. I feel very privileged to work for the residents of Howard County.

Who is your chief patient group?

We work with individuals with disabilities both children to adults. Our niche group here is cognitive or intellectual disabilities.

We do mostly inclusion here. This is where you pick a recreation program we are offering and say help me participate. Do we need staff training? Equipment? Interpreters for Sign Language or a companion to assist in the participation?

Than we make it happen as reasonably as possible.

What groups are undeserved recreationally in the United States?

The disabled population is underserved. Consider secondary illnesses due to inactivity and boom you have a health crisis. Even with ADA there is not the same opportunities for an individual with a disability as for my or you.

We have to do more, there are fewer employment opportunities, fewer housing opportunities. But, yet it is the fastest growing population, and the membership is open to anyone regardless of ethnic background or income status.

How would you rate the recent governors of Maryland in terms of supporting recreation therapy?

We are in a difficult situation here. We have 17,000 people on the wait list for DDA waiver for services, we are one of top income states but fund disabilities 44th in the nation.

IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) continues to be an unfunded mandate by the federal government by only supporting it at 19% of what they should.

It is hard to blame the state or one person. It is a value issue. Until it hits you on a personal level you tend not to see the need.

Do you think that the state maintains that these are issues that should be dealt with primarily by families?

A family can be hit hard with a member that has a disability. It cost a lot for care and their time. I am not sure that I have an answer but I am trying to be part of the solution.

I am trying to work with a foundation to employ individuals with disabilities but it is a long process to get where I think we could be. We all need to be part of the solution and care for individuals and families.

What are the career prospects for going into recreation therapy?

Employment of recreational therapists will grow to meet the therapy needs of the increasing number of older adults.

In nursing care facilities—the largest industry employing recreational therapists—employment will grow slightly faster than the occupation as a whole as the number of older adults continues to grow.

Fast employment growth is expected in the residential and outpatient settings that serve people who are physically disabled, cognitively disabled, or elderly or who have mental illness or substance abuse problems.

Employment is expected to decline in hospitals, however, as services shift to outpatient settings and employers emphasize cost containment.

Health care facilities will support a growing number of jobs in adult day care and outpatient programs offering short-term mental health and alcohol or drug abuse services. Rehabilitation, home health care, and transitional programs will provide additional jobs.

What type of certification or licensing do you need to become a recreational therapist?

Some states regulate recreational therapists through licensure, state registration, or regulation of titles. North Carolina, Utah, and New Hampshire required licensure to practice.

Certification is usually voluntary but preferable. There is a specific degree in therapeutic recreation. To sit for the national exam you have to graduate with a bachelor’s or graduate degree from an accredited educational institution, pass a written certification examination, and complete a supervised internship of at least 480 hours.

You have to also maintain your certification on an ongoing basis.

How does the US stack up against other Western countries in terms of recreational therapy?

This is a good question that I have not spent much time looking at. Canada is good, they in some way are more progressive.

One of the problems for this still very new field is that we have in fighting. A group of therapists left NRPA/NTRS in the mid 80s because of several issues that today’s students don’t care about.

The split divided the profession and old timers don’t seem to want to let it go. NTRS has maybe 1200 members and the spinter group number is unknown, but there are something like 16,000 of us certified.

We have focused on getting the brand CTRS (certified therapeutic recreation services) out there but nobody knows what it is we do and the occupational therapists have been moving into the world of therapeutic recreation.

Why do you drive clear across the state of Maryland to teach a course at Forestburg State one night a week?

Because students are our future. If we don’t invest in them who will? We all have a role to play as mentors.

I read the book Courage to Teach as a young instructor. It made me challenge myself to give back to student and to take action. I would attend conferences and sit there saying I am getting nothing out of this.

Take action – present, be on the planning team, teach! And, I love working with students and teaching others. It is the one thing I do that challenges me everytime. Keeps me fresh.

What do you do for recreation when you are not working as a recreational therapist?

I read, play golf when my back is well, love live music, volunteer with NRPA on our national conference in Baltimore, go to the movies, garden and camp and hike when I can.

Copyright 2008 DailyInterview.com

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