Written by: Nnamdi Chiekwe, Therapeutic Recreation Student
Interview with: Crystal Watson, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist
Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) is writing a monthly blog post highlighting “Faces of Black Health”. This post highlights Crystal Watson and the profession of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist.
What do you do?
I am currently the Executive Director for Recreation Nova Scotia, a non-profit organization striving to improve connection within the recreation sector so that we can promote and advocate the benefits of recreation as part of the lives of Nova Scotians!
What’s your role in your health Profession?
Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS)
I am a Recreation Therapist by training, credentialed through National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS). My primary role as a Recreation Therapist is to use recreation and leisure opportunities as a therapeutic tool. We consider the recreation interests and experiences of the individual we are working with, and we also take into consideration what their needs are or any kind of barriers that they experience that may be a consequence of their current health state. It really is about recreation and leisure and how we can make improvements to one’s overall health!
If you feel comfortable sharing, can you explain your experiences as a Black Health professional in your field?
I wish I could say it was easy. I was the first person of African descent to be a Recreation Therapist in Nova Scotia and I think with that alone comes a lot of expectations. We don’t necessarily have to explain the particular preconceived notions that some people may have of you when you go into these particular environments that you may not necessarily feel safe in. Healthcare is not something that folks of African descent are necessarily accessing or feel safe in those spaces, and for me that was a challenge that I had to overcome. At times, being the only one in the role that I was in, meaning that I was responsible for making decisions I was accountable for, sometimes you would have your judgements questioned, which made you think that you weren’t doing things right. So, for a period of time I second guessed my abilities to do the job and do the job effectively, but I quickly grew out of that and realized that I had the expertise and that there were opportunities for me to contribute in positive ways. I was reassured, as a result of my contributions by the reactions of the clients, which is, I think, what helped me to realize that I was doing ok and didn’t need to be validated by my co-workers because the work that I was doing with the clients spoke for itself.
Can you explain your experiences and ability to access health services?
I think as I matured, and because of my education, that made accessing health a lot easier, because I knew what kind of information I was looking for based on my own training. Of course, that puts you in a place of privilege because you kind of know, but at the same time your knowledge can be questioned by the health care professional, they may have some preconceived notions about you.
What tends to go well with me when it comes to healthcare is the fact that I try to equip myself a little bit when it comes to wanting to have the information that I need or that I feel that I need.
I’m not always sure that health care professionals sometimes think about the broader context of cultural competency. It’s really challenging because I think a lot of the times we are inundated with this information about cultural competency, and we think that “oh I took into consideration that this person is of African descent” and created this sort of checkbox system, but we don’t think about anything else that is going on in that person’s life. This is something that we could do better as health care professionals on a broader scale. If I’m a person experiencing a specific health issue, that may be one of many things that may be happening with me that has an impact on my health. So, if I’m caring for a parent, or I have young children, or I live in a really bad neighbourhood, or I don’t have a job, all of those determinants of health are what I think we need to be more conscientious of when we’re working with individual’s who specifically come from communities where there is a level of vulnerability or marginalization, or whatever terminology we choose, but they are just grossly impacted by a system that just wasn’t created for them.
How have you found/finding community in your profession?
It’s actually interesting because I graduated from my undergrad degree in 2000, and there were a few of us that went into Therapeutic Recreation and I’d say that we’re still very close today! We still connect, and so for me community in the profession begins there and having those key folks in my circle. The Therapeutic Recreation community is closely knit anyways, though at times I feel that I am a little removed from it now because of my current role, I know when I was in it there were fantastic mentors and professionals in the field that I felt comfortable connecting to and brainstorming and working with through professional organizations, which I think is really important. I think all students should become involved in their professional organization and maintain those connections as a professional. It’s very valuable for us to maintain that network so that we establish appropriate communities of practice but also having that continuous learning that comes from understanding what your colleagues are doing and how they are contributing to the field.
To read other professional profiles and and more about PLANS please visit the PLANS webpage.