Recreational Therapy Alumni Spotlight: Tori

Name: Tori Huebenthal
Degrees & Graduation Years: BS Recreational Therapy class of 2013, MS Recreational Therapy Administration class of 2014.
Additional Certifications: Biofeedback Certification (within the graduate program), Nonviolent Crisis Intervention (CPI) Certified, CPR/First Aid Certified, Clinical Trauma Focused Therapy Training Certificate, Community Resilience Model (CRM) Coach, Certified HeartMath Practitioner (CHP), Therapy Dog International Training (continuous)   

How did you become interested in this field?
Recreation and sports were a vital part of my adolescence. Due to a sport related injury in high school, I attended physical therapy and believed this to be the career path I wanted to pursue in college. When admitted at ECU, I was disappointed to learn that physical therapy was a graduate program and not something I could choose for my undergraduate major. The academic advisor started to list off majors that would put me on track for Physical Therapy and I chose “recreational therapy” only because it sounded the closest! Through my experiences and opportunities during my undergraduate degree, I decided to follow my heart and stay within the field of Recreational Therapy. I loved the creative freedom of the field versus the more mundane tasks of physical therapy. I enjoyed seeing the excitement of client’s returning back to their leisure interests or finding new recreational passions despite various physical injuries or mental illnesses.   

What were some of your favorite recreational therapy courses at ECU?
My favorite courses at ECU were the hands-on ones! I felt the vast majority of RT courses strayed from obnoxious note taking and just regurgitating information. The way RT is taught, being hands-on and learning from direct application fueled my passion for the field and made it more engaging, and easier, to learn. A few that truly stick out are Mrs. Whisner’s Recreation and Leisure Planning, Dr. Loy’s Interventions and also Assessments course, the Biofeedback course, and (during my time), the most anticipated class- Dr. Skalko’s Recreational Therapy Program Design Course.  

 Describe your job/role/current employer?
I work at the Novant Health Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) in Charlotte, NC. PHP offers structured care in a stable, safe environment for adolescents ages 13-17 who may be experiencing struggles with a range of mental health conditions. When enrolled in PHP, the adolescent will attend Monday-Friday from 8:00AM-2:30PM and participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions. Additionally, adolescents are also provided with education time daily to work on individualized class work from their school. The average length of stay in the PHP program is 4 to 6 weeks. 

What is a typical day like for you?
As a small department of 6, my colleagues and I collaborate to handle every aspect of keeping our program successful, on-top of our professional expertise. A typical day for me is to open the facility at 7:45AM and greet the families. After completing daily bag searches, the adolescents head to the classroom for education time. During their education time, I complete my recreational therapy tasks including planning my groups, completing assessments with new admits, or updating individual treatment goals with the adolescents. I manage the waitlist for our program, so I make several phone calls to follow up on received referrals from parents, outside providers and therapists, and schools to provide information on our program and to discuss program availability and next steps for admissions. I schedule all program assessments, admissions, and groups for every participant. Using excel, I am responsible for tracking the PHP productivity for our finance department. As the recreational therapist, I provide 1-2 therapeutic groups per day for the adolescents. Our program follows the SELF curriculum, so I try to incorporate the weekly topics into my activities. Once a week, we will utilize the gymnasium or visit a local park for a physical activity group.  

My Shiba Inu, Ember, is currently in training to be certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Dog International. After being certified, Ember will join me at PHP! 

What has been your favorite experience working in recreational therapy so far?
My favorite experience working in Recreational Therapy is not one specific experience. Moreso, my favorite experience is always when adolescents make the true connection between the skills learned in my group activity and how they can apply it to their own life. When the light bulb turns on – when they see the true value of the group I just provided to them rather than just the enjoyment of the activity, that is always my favorite part of my job. 

Where do you see the future of recreational therapy headed?
As a visionary, I hope to see Recreational Therapy valued and recognized as much as Physical and Occupational Therapy are. I would love to see Recreational Therapy included in the 3-hour rule.* 

What is the greatest challenge recreational therapists face and what advice would you give to students who wish to enter this field?
The greatest challenge recreational therapists face is appropriate recognition and respect. Often, Recreational Therapy can be reduced by others to just “fun and games.” I encourage students to continue to advocate for the field. Educate your family and friends – continue to express (to anyone who asks!) the true importance of RT as therapy, provide functional goals for your clients through your activities and never stop learning or adding resources to your skillset.  

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 have always known I wanted to work with children and adolescents. I focused the majority of my shadowing hours for RT, while at ECU, in pediatric populations. My internship was at the Behavioral Health Inpatient Unit at Yale New Haven Hospital, in my home state of CT. The opportunity to support children and adolescents in continuing to move through development tasks and milestones while managing their symptoms of mental illness truly solidified my passion for behavioral health and specifically the adolescent age range.  


*The 3-hour rule applies specifically for Inpatient Rehabilitation (physical) Facilities (IRF). IRF’s are eligible for payment under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS states that patients should attend 3 hours of therapy in 5 of 7 consecutive days. However, the only therapies included in this rule at this time are physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language pathology (SLP), and ortho/prosthetic services.