As a Recreation Therapist II for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (NHDOC) for Women, Mike Bassett ‘16’s passion for the field of therapeutic recreation (TR) is evident. Seeing his passion, it might come as a surprise that he discovered the perfect major by chance.
“I received a letter from the University explaining that I needed to declare a major,” said Bassett. His interest was piqued when he learned that the Veterans’ Affairs medical center was a possible internship site for TR, and that he could potentially work with military veterans. “Once I was in my core classes and gaining volunteer experience in TR settings, I knew that it was where I was meant to be.
“I went from not even knowing that therapeutic recreation was a major to not knowing what my life would be if I didn’t discover it at ISU.”
In his role at NHDOC, Bassett is in charge of TR in a correctional facility. “Working in a helping profession, it’s important to have unconditional positive regard for your clients, regardless of the setting,” he explained. “I’m always excited to demonstrate to the residents the role that recreational therapy can have in supporting meaningful health changes in their lives. In addition, I’m equally excited to demonstrate the power of TR to other NHDOC staff and interdisciplinary team members that may not have previously worked with a certified therapeutic recreation specialist.”
TR in a prison setting comes with its own unique challenges. “When you join the NHDOC, you learn that although you are a helping professional, you can still be the target of manipulation,” said Bassett. “When you work here, you have dual roles. In addition to my primary role, I also play a crucial role in maintaining security and good order.”
In his prior role, Bassett was a community-based recreational therapist and said that there are many parallels between his caseloads in each role. “It speaks volumes about the versatility of TR to be able to go from kayak fishing with military veterans one week to playing a board game with violent offenders the next week and still have positive outcomes.”
Bassett made his time at ISU meaningful by finding opportunities to be involved on campus. As a non-traditional student, he admits that it was difficult in the beginning to find where he fit in, but he eventually joined the Parks and Recreation Society (PARS), and served as the founding president of Omega Delta Sigma National Veterans Service Fraternity, Illinois-Alpha Colony. He also worked in the Military and Veterans Services office on campus, and counts his boss there, Judy Curtis, as an impactful mentor to him. Bassett notes that working there helped him feel connected to other student veterans.
Bassett encourages current or future TR students to be active in RSOs related to their major, such as PARS, but also explore other organizations that might help them find their community or assist in landing a job with a certain population. “Don’t be afraid to get some exposure working with populations that you think you might not be interested in,” he said. “I never thought I’d end up working in corrections, and now I love it!”
He also encourages students not to get too hung up on their concept of a dream job. “I frequently hear of students not applying to jobs because it isn’t their dream job,” he explained. “Move forward into the workforce with a positive attitude knowing that any position you take is preparing you for when your dream job does make you an offer.
“Go to conferences, network with alumni, and be willing to take positive risks,” said Bassett.
Up next for Bassett: He currently serves as a board member of the New Hampshire State Governing Board for Recreational Therapy Licensure. In May of 2021, he will graduate from the University of New Hampshire with a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation administration.
Does therapeutic recreation sound like it might be the major for you? Learn more at kinrec.IllinoisState.edu.