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Student Experiences

Constructing New Horizons at New Haven

Two women from the BYU Marriott School of Business therapeutic recreation (TRM) major have teamed up to help adolescent girls strengthen themselves and their families. Lexi Oehler, a TRM alumna, and Annie Robertson, a current TRM student, spent the Fall 2018 semester running group recreation therapy for troubled girls ages thirteen to eighteen at the New Haven Residential Treatment Center. Oehler, who is a full-time recreation therapist at New Haven, worked with Robertson, an intern, to provide meaningful and constructive group recreation therapy sessions. Oehler and Robertson designed recreation activities to assist the girls in realizing their personal strengths and changing negative thought patterns they have about themselves.

Lexi Oehler
Lexi Oehler

The sessions Oehler runs can include a variety of activities, from making music to creating plaster masks to a low ropes course. “The beauty of group recreation therapy is that it makes personal issues easy to see,” says Oehler. “While the group is trying to solve the problem presented to them, tensions rise and people get frustrated. The idea is that while they’re participating, all their behavior patterns come to the surface and will mimic how they respond to problems in their life. We can then draw connections between the task and their lives and help them find alternative, healthy ways to cope with issues.”

While interning under Oehler, Robertson would run one session a week. “The tricky part for me was creating an emotional connection with the girls,” she says. “When I figured out how to best connect with them and gain their trust, then I started to see real progress being made during the sessions I conducted.”

Annie Robertson
Annie Robertson

Robertson, a senior from Green Bay, Wisconsin, also had the chance to shadow Oehler at weekly meetings with the teaching and residential departments at New Haven to coordinate treatment plans for each girl in the center’s care. “I was able to gain experience with the clinical side of recreation therapy, which is a skill I’ll take with me after graduation,” Robertson says.

Robertson plans to attend graduate school and hopes to open her own practice. “I’d love to create a practice that focuses on developing leadership skills and team building through athletics,” she says. “I’ve seen athletics make a difference in my life and think it could be used to help struggling children develop self-esteem and other important skills.”

Oehler, who lives in Provo, Utah, also plans to attend graduate school in the near future to pursue a career in marriage and family therapy. “I chose the therapeutic recreation major because I felt confident the experience I would gain from recreational therapy and business management classes would set me apart from my peers,” she says. “I believe the foundation I gained from my undergraduate experience at BYU Marriott, and the work I’m doing now at New Haven, has prepared me to be successful in graduate school and future endeavors.”

For Robertson, being in a position to help people improve their lives on a daily basis was one of the most rewarding aspects of her internship. “The reason why I do what I do, and the reason I’m going into this, is because I love helping these girls realize they can overcome difficult things and create a bright future for themselves, even after they leave New Haven.”


Writer: Ellen Ford