Atlanta, GA,
13:35 PM

Recreational Therapist Explains How She Entered the Field and Why She Loves Her Role

Shannon Ali, CTRS, lead recreational therapist in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Day Program, discusses the unique bonds she forms with her patients.

Shannon Ali, CTRS, lead recreational therapist in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Day Program

Q: How long have you worked at Shepherd Center?
I have worked at Shepherd Center for 13 years.

Q: How would you define what recreational therapists do?
We do skills, education and community reintegration to get people to living life again, however that looks for that individual and their family.

Q: What is the process to become a rec therapist?
It’s a four-year degree. I have a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in therapeutic recreation and a minor in psychology. Then you do an internship. Once the internship ends, you sit for a national exam to become certified.

Q: What inspired you to become a recreational therapist?
We always joke, “How did you fall into rec therapy?” because many of us didn’t initially start out on that track in school. When I was in college, I was a student-athlete and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I went to my counselor, and I told them what I was interested in: I wanted to do something different each day, work with people, be active, and work with families and kids. My counselor advised I try rec therapy. In one of my classes, we did a six-week camp for kids with disabilities from the community and I fell in love with that work. After that, I knew I wanted to pursue recreational therapy for a career!

Q: What has kept you at Shepherd Center for 13 years?
The patients keep me here. Each day is different and I’m always working with someone new on their goals. I’ve created lifelong friendships with some of my former patients. I’m actually going to a wedding this year for one of my kiddos who was 13 when he was my patient and now he’s getting married. Just seeing how what I did with them while they were here has helped them be successful and live their lives to the fullest is so rewarding. 

Q: What’s one thing you want people to know about your profession?
Recreational therapists take a holistic view about each of our patients, including the physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and put it all together to come up with an individualized plan. We treat the whole person.

Interesting Facts

Kent State University; Bachelor of Science with a concentration in therapeutic recreation and a minor in psychology
CTRS: Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist


  • Shannon ran track and field from the age of 10 through college. She even received a full scholarship for college as a student-athlete.
  • Shannon has a daughter who is 15 and a half years old (she clarified that it’s very important to include the “half”).


Interview by Damjana Alverson

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.