Pass It On!  A Recreation Therapists Journey

By Tina Watson, CTRS

I was inspired recently when reading a Facebook post by a fellow Recreation Therapist, Kat Keys.  I reached out to Kat and asked if we could pass on her story of lived experience.  She graciously agreed to allow the reprinting of her original post and shared more during an interview.  Currently Kat works as the first CTRS at Liberty Point, a UHS treatment facility for adolescent males ages 12-18 with ID and Psychiatric diagnosis.

Kat’s Post: “People ask me all the time “Why do you make your job your life? Why is it so important to you? Why do you care most about the kids you treat in your life?”  I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s because I WAS the kid that needed someone like me. I give my all to these kids in the ways that those I give credit to me still being here gave me.   I’m not perfect. I’ve had my bouts. I’ve learned from those things though, and feel that I’m only still here to help those in situations like I was in get through those things. It would be selfish to not provide the love and care given to me to those currently in need and going through similar things. All that to say, I love what I do and love seeing others succeed. If my love for that annoys you, then maybe I’m just not your flavor of human.”

Kat credits much of her personal growth and her life to her high school orchestra instructor, Jennifer Burton.  “She is my life savior! She called me out on being on drugs, offered a home to me, food, and anything I needed without making me feel singled out.”  Jennifer is still in Kat’s life and a great friend.  Kat stated that “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am at now or as happy as I am now.”  After rehab Kat’s cello was her recreational therapy, giving her a voice without having to verbalize.  She still loves playing it today.

Pictured here: me at 14/15 after being expelled from school, sent to multiple rehabs, self-harm and multiple suicide attempts, and an unintentional overdose that would have sent me to the grave if I was left unfound for 5 minutes longer. Still depressed, still having troubles with coping with life, still an absolute little shit, but on my way to being the loving and caring person I have become today. This picture would have never existed if   people like the person I’m trying to be today never came into my life. The little girl in this picture and the mighty support circle around her deserve a hug and all the praise for their hard work.  I care so much because people before me did as well, and they deserve to be honored by passing their care to those still in need. If you also have people that you credit your life and well-being to, what’s so wrong with passing on that love and respect on to others?”

Katharina Keys, CTRS


Kat states, “You can sit and talk about your emotions all day, but recreation therapy puts the work into action. You become excited to make better choices and to better yourself in whatever situations you are in.  For some it is the best therapy.!”

Since Pre-school Kat had wanted to be a special  education teacher but when a friend introduced her to RT, she was reminded of her time at age 15 when she was in drug rehab and the therapy groups that included a ropes course.  She remembered how much she liked the programs and was now intrigued that Recreation Therapy that had once helped her, could be her profession.  She went on to receive her BA in Leisure Sports and Tourism with a concentration in Recreation Therapy from Middle Tennessee University in 2014.  Sadly she was the last person from that school to receive her CTRS due to the university closing the program.

Kat faces many of the struggles of others who have worked to transform a program from activity based to recreation therapy based.  She stated, “We are the red-headed stepchildren of the therapy world.”  After the Covid pandemic Kat was feeling burnt out with her job and the profession.  She shared that in 2022, she attended the SMART CE Retreat and immediately called her boyfriend crying as she realized her passion for the profession was huge, she was just in a job that wasn’t the right fit.  In the small setting of the retreat, she was able to make friends, share ideas and for the first time in two years be with another rec. therapist. The CEUs were interesting and relevant.  Kat shared that she immediately came back to work and implemented laughter groups that she was introduced to at the conference.  Kat continues to do laughter groups and was overjoyed when she saw a former youth  from her group and he stated, “I have more jokes for you miss Kat!”.  This was a youth who was aggressive and felt that everyone was out to get him.  He hadn’t smiled in 3-4 weeks.  With encouragement he joined in the Ha Game.  Kat shared, “He now knows people care about him and his happiness. The fact that he remembered the group and me, made me feel empowered as a Recreation Therapist.”

Kat has been working on more ways to pass on her experiences and her passion for recreation  therapy.  She is now a member of the 2023 SMART CE Retreat Planning Committee.  She is working hard to make sure that this year’s retreat reignites the passion for RT in others, just as it did for her.  She is excited to see the profession grow and attack the world with all the best that we have.

Conference Dates:  May 18th-21st, 2023

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SMART CE Retreat 2023 – SMART CEUs Hub