Atlanta, GA,
15:28 PM

Putting Relationships First

Detrick Gates, CTRS, finds the relationships he forms as a recreation therapist at Shepherd Pathways fulfilling.

How long have you worked at Shepherd Center, and what is your role?

I’ve worked at Shepherd for almost four years. As a recreation therapist at Shepherd Pathways,

I work with patients with brain injuries. I assess the level of assistance each person will need to be engaged in the community safely. So, if the person is ambulating, we walk to the park or the grocery store. Do they know to hit the button at the crosswalk? Do they know to look both ways? If we go somewhere that requires a van trip and I give them directions, can they get me back to our starting point? If they can, great; if they can’t, that’s okay too. That lets me know the level of assistance or supervision they need to be safe. I give them every opportunity to do as much as they can on their own. The goal is for that person to be as independent as possible.

My secondary role is supporting the other therapists in developing skills that the person needs to get back to their life. And then probably what I enjoy the most is the opportunities we have to get outside the walls and engage the larger community with events like Adventure Skills Workshop (ASW) and our health and wellness clinics.  

How did you hear about Shepherd Center, and what made you want to work here?

My uncle has polio, and he played basketball and tennis on the Shepherd teams, so my dad and I used to come to watch him play. I also had a cousin who was a patient in the MS Institute. So, our family has a long-running history with Shepherd.

Do you remember your first day at Shepherd?

I still remember the first day on the floor. It was exciting. You have all these patients in the therapy gym, all these families, and the energy was palpable. You could feel it. That was really cool.

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?

The relationships. It's the best part that nobody teaches you in school. We learn all of the techniques, theories, and applied sciences, and we need them, but this person is not a theory. This is a person with needs and goals, and they're dealing with really tough things. And I’ve realized that before I get to anything therapy-related, I need this person to trust me. So, I put a lot of my focus on building relationships. So that's my favorite part — what I call forging my way into the family. I want them to see me as somebody who really cares about them first, and then I think the therapy part comes a lot easier.

The team dynamic is great. The other rec therapists, the other therapists that I'm on a treatment team with, are just phenomenal, and this job would be almost impossible without that group because so much of what I can incorporate into therapy is because I have three other experts in the room with me. I can talk things through with them, take new ideas back to the patient in the next session, and know that we will be doing something to help them succeed.

What are some of your best days at work?

When we get an email or phone call from a family member telling us how well their loved one is doing. When they leave us, they're still early in the journey, so the best days are when we get an update, or I run into a former patient somewhere, and the last time I saw them, they couldn’t talk, and now we're having a full conversation. Also, what I might think is a great day for one of our patients because we really pushed them to another level, and it will benefit them, may have frustrated them at the same time. But I don't see that as a bad day; I see that as growth!  It's a matter of perspective. A good day may not mean everything went the way we wanted it to — a good day may mean we made it through, even if it was a tough session.

How does your role affect patients and their families?

I hope that they see the benefits of engaging in recreation therapy. We want to promote independence, but it can also be an opportunity to introduce people to something new.

And I hope those new activities add to their quality of life. I push our health and wellness initiatives because I think it's beneficial and helps people engage. There are so many things you can do, and having an injury or disability is not a limiting factor. I try to communicate that and that yes, life will probably look a little different, but different doesn't mean worse —different just means different — and we can do different better.


  • Morris Brown College, Bachelor’s degree in Recreation Therapy  

Fun Facts

  • Detrick loves spending time with his daughters and attending all their sporting events.
  • He loves sports and played baseball and football in college.  
  • Detrick also played violin and bass in high school.
  • Detrick is the handler for Shepherd Center’s facility dog, Poet.


Interview by Ruth Underwood


About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.