Western North Carolina recreational therapy students assist a client on a climbing tower. Photo from Western Carolina University's website.

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From Western Carolina University, shared Aug. 24:

Western North Carolina recreational therapy students assist a client on a climbing tower. Photo from Western Carolina University’s website.

CULLOWHEE –Western Carolina University’s undergraduate degree program in recreational therapy is the first in the nation to earn accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

The board of directors of CAAHEP, the largest programmatic accrediting agency in the health sciences field, gave its formal stamp of approval to Western Carolina’s recreational therapy program at its July 21 meeting.

The organization added recreational therapy to the list of health science professions that it accredits at its annual meeting in April 2010. The accrediting body then conducted an open hearing on the profession’s standards and guidelines in July 2010, and the board of directors approved them in August 2010.

Eleven months later, Western Carolina became the first to earn the new accreditation, said Peg Connolly, director of the program.

“This puts us on the forefront of recreational therapy education,” said Connolly, who serves as a board member on CAAHEP’s Committee for the Accreditation of Recreational Therapy. “This recognition by CAAHEP is significant to our profession, our students and alumni, and the health care community.”

The accreditation marks the second time that WCU’s recreational therapy program has made history. It also was the first program in the United States to offer an undergraduate degree in recreational therapy, beginning back in 1996.

“When the accreditation standards were officially instituted in 2010, we immediately implemented them at WCU,” Connolly said. “We volunteered to be the beta site for the application of the standards.”

Since WCU launched the program, it has produced more than 260 graduates with recreational therapy degrees. Program graduates work across the state, the Southeast region and the United States. About 80 students currently are majoring in recreational therapy at WCU, with another 45 students taking prerequisites courses and planning to major in the field.

According to the 2010-11 occupational outlook by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, recreational therapists “help individuals reduce depression, stress and anxiety; recover basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively so that they can enjoy greater independence and reduce or eliminate the effects of their illness or disability. In addition, therapists help people with disabilities integrate into the community by teaching them how to use community resources and recreational activities.”

For more information about WCU’s recreational therapy program, call Connolly at (828) 227-2481, e-mail mconnolly@wcu.edu or visit the website http://rt.wcu.edu.

Kathleen O'Nan

Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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