Recreational Therapy Alumni Spotlight: Crystal

Name:  Crystal Hardy 

Degree & Graduation Year:  BS in Recreational Therapy from East Carolina University  

Graduation Year:  2006 

 How did you become interested in this field? 
I knew that I wanted to go into some sort of health field where I was going to be able to help people in some way. I met with my advisor and she introduced me to Recreational Therapy. I went to my first class that summer and we got to visit various places that a therapist could work. I really liked the medical and hands on aspect of the field, this is the area that sparked my interest. I was able to participate in two practicum experiences and then complete my internship. These experiences really helped me understand the full picture of Recreational Therapy.  

What were some of your favorite recreational therapy courses at ECU?
I enjoyed the practicum courses that were offered at the time I was in school. I had to complete two practicums at different locations. I completed one semester in Rehab at Pitt County Memorial Hospital and another semester at Cherry Hospital, in a long-term Psychiatric unit. I enjoyed these experiences because I was able to narrow down the population that I enjoyed working with most. I was able to observe various interventions and even lead an icebreaker during that time. I ended up doing my 15 week internship experience in Behavioral Health and Pitt County Memorial Hospital and got a job there shortly after.  

Describe your job/role/current employer? 
I currently work at ECU Health in Behavioral Health. I have worked in this unit for the last 16 years. I work with patients with various diagnosis including Depression, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Anxiety and Personality Disorders. We are lucky to have 7 Recreational Therapists and 1 Recreational Therapy Assistant on our unit. We are able to provide various groups and individual sessions for our patients. We utilize various interventions such as: Stress Management, Coping skills, Relaxation, Self Esteem, Anger Management, Assertiveness Training/Communication, Exercise, Range of Motion and Heartmath, just to name a few. We are really able to use our creative skills throughout our planning of our groups and facilitate the group we feel fits best for our patients needs at that time.

What is a typical day like for you?
As I previously said, I am lucky enough to work with a team of other therapists. With that being said, our responsibilities are split between us on a given day. We serve a 53-bed unit with 4 units based on the patient population. On a typical day, we have new patients admitted over night that we need to complete assessments for. This could be two patients, or it could be eight patients, every day is different. Once we are written an order from the Doctor, we have 48 hours to complete the assessment and get the patient involved in treatment. This could be getting them involved in groups sessions or individual sessions, depending on how they are functioning at that time. We may see someone individually if they are unable to focus and tolerate groups due to psychosis or a cognitive decline at that time. I then may need to plan for 1-2 groups that day, if that means creating something new for that group or just thinking about what the patients need at that time. I will spend some time documenting from the assessments and groups that I have completed that day. We also participate in treatment team meetings with the Attending physicians, Residents, Nurses, Pharmacists, Marriage and Family Therapist, Substance Abuse Coordinator and Care Coordinator where we discuss each patient’s progress with their treatment. We discuss their goals, group participation and discharge planning options for the patients. Throughout the day I also may work with Patient’s individually on Heartmath or grief and loss interventions if this is a specific need for them. We also work with patients while boarding in the Emergency Department awaiting placement into psychiatric facilities and also patients on a medical unit in the hospital as well. I also often take interns and provide a 14-week internship experience from various universities. Providing this mentorship experience has been big part of my job over the years and I love making connections with students and watching their growth during and after their internship experience with me.  

What has been your favorite experience working in recreational therapy so far?
I have always loved working in Behavioral Health. I love that we are able to provide so many interventions to patients through challenging their mind as well as incorporating leisure and social interactions. When I started as a young, just out of college graduate, I was very intimidated as to how some people would react with me leading groups and helping them in their darkest moments. I have been able to grow within myself of being more confident and assertive throughout my job as a Recreational Therapist. I have been able to almost “grow up” with some of my patients. Working in this field for so long, I have seen patient’s often get readmitted and being a familiar face is sometimes just what people need. I enjoy just making small talk and being a light in people’s day when they may be feeling very dark.  

Where do you see the future of recreational therapy headed?
I hope that we continue to grow our field. Growing in jobs offered, growing in patients served and growing in people knowing more about the field. I have seen over the years here at ECU Health how we have continued to grow in various units that we are working and serving patients. Also growing in offering new and creative interventions such a Heartmath to patients we serve.

What is the greatest challenge recreational therapists face?
I think one of the greatest challenges is just helping people understand the benefits of recreational therapy and also what we do. People outside of recreational therapy often don’t even know what we do or where we work. I hope we can continue to grow and promote the field and just what we have to offer. 

What advice would you give to students who wish to enter this field?
 I would say to just “get out there.” If that means volunteering at locations where a therapist may work and even shadowing if that is an option at a facility. Having that hands on, practical experience really helps to put the whole picture together. This will only benefit you when it comes time for an internship experience. Hopefully it can help you understand the area that you enjoy working in as well.  

This year’s theme for recreational therapy month is “finding your place.” Can you share your experience(s) that helped you find your place within the field or certain area (or population) of RT?  
I would say I definitely feel that I found my place working in Behavioral Health. I feel respected and valued within the unit that I work. If that’s with the Doctors, Nurses or other Recreational Therapist that I work with. It takes a team to make things work and I value that so much about my job. I feel over the years, I have been able to emerge as a leader in some ways with the confidence I have been able to build over the years. I hope I can continue to foster that in years to come with my patients, co-workers and students that I have the chance to work with in the future.