Rec Therapy Develops Virtual Internship

Rec Therapy Develops Virtual Internship

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, recreation therapy internship sites were denying in-person interns and, in some cases, cancelling internships altogether. To solve this issue and to avoid delayed graduations, School of Health and Applied Human Sciences recreation therapy faculty developed a virtual internship program, where students could serve clients in a contactless, clinical environment.

Since UNCW would serve as both the internship site as well as provide academic supervision, the need to hire a non-faculty recreation therapist to serve as the internship site supervisor became apparent. In August 2020, Allie Arpajian joined the team to develop, implement and oversee the program. “I love higher education and working with students, so I said let’s go,” Arpajian said. “This was a new endeavor, so there wasn’t really anything in place for the virtual internship.”

Arpajian started by creating an internship manual. She developed requirements for the students to complete, such as a special project, community interviews and seeking career advice. She then created telehealth policies and procedures to ensure health information privacy (HIPPA) was incorporated into their practice. Once the manual was done, it was time to recruit internship sites that were willing to work virtually with students. Arpajian used her network on social media and reached out to mental health professionals, parks and recreation agencies, long term care facilities and recreation therapists across the U.S. People responded with enthusiasm, wanting to help.

During the internship, students worked with clients via telehealth. They started by asking eight questions to obtain consent. Next, they conversed with clients to develop a rapport before launching into their treatment sessions. Arpajian guided students by sending them direct messages during the sessions, encouraging them to dive deeper into a theme or offering a modification if something wasn’t right.

Successes of the internship include the ability to serve a large variety of clients representing different populations in addition to addressing an important need in the community. “Since our virtual internship is not specific to a particular type of agency, our students have had the opportunity to serve individuals from a variety of ages, ability levels, disabilities and health conditions,” Recreation Therapy Program Coordinator Brent Hawkins said. “We’ve also had enough interest in the program that our clientele is numerous enough that students are able to have their own caseload, which is also typical in a traditional, in-person internship.”

In an anonymous post-internship survey, one student said, "I think the virtual internship expanded my ability to think outside of the box and create unique interventions that can be used in an electronic format. All of the interventions I used in this virtual internship, can be used in person with modifications. I believe the virtual internship was beneficial because healthcare is expanding their usage of telehealth services, and I am already trained in this online format."

The internship was first offered in fall of 2020 and again in spring of 2021. The recreation therapy program is considering offering an alternate version of the internship in the summer of 2021 for practicum students who are having difficulty with finding in-person sites willing to accept in-person students.

“I want to thank the recreation therapy faculty and Mrs. Arpajian for their creativity and passion for preparing the next generation of recreation therapy students during these challenging times,” Hawkins said. “I also want to thank CHHS Dean Hardy, SHAHS Director Elliot and other UNCW administrators for their commitment to the recreation therapy program and its students. Without conceptual and financial support, this internship would not be possible.”