Recreation Therapist: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a recreation therapist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Recreation Therapist Do?

Recreation therapists use sports, games and other leisure activities to provide therapeutic treatment for children, adults or seniors who are ill, physically or developmentally challenged, or suffering from psychiatric disorders. Their goal is to use activities as a tool to help patients progress in their functioning. They typically begin by observing a patient and reviewing any medical history. Recreation therapists will then develop an individualized treatment plan to meet the patient's needs, but also to spark their interest. Using the recreational activities, these professionals may address social skills, behavioral issues and more. They track a patient's progress and adapt the treatment plan as needed. Get more information from the table below to see if recreation therapist might be a good job choice for you:

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree
Education Field of StudyTherapeutic Recreation
Key ResponsibilitiesAssess patients and develop treatment plans based on individual needs
Instruct and supervise patients in performing therapeutic recreational activities
Encourage and motivate patients to participate in prescribed activities
Maintain records and collaborate with other healthcare professionals as needed
Licensure/CertificationSome states require licensure or registration
Some employers look for certification in addition to licensure; or, in states where licensure is not required, instead of licensure
Job Growth (2014-2024)*12%
Mean Salary (2015)*$47,790

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is A Recreation Therapist?

Recreation therapists engage patients in organized activities, such as swimming, art, exercise or sports, for therapeutic purposes. Other treatment options could include relaxation methods, like touch therapy, gardening, music or aromatherapy. Recreational therapy can help patients gain improved motor skills, greater mental agility, a healthier lifestyle and increased independence. Patients use what they learn in therapy to maintain a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

What Job Responsibilities Might I Have?

As a recreation therapist, you'll learn the limitations of patients by studying their medical history and goals. You can then combine that information with assessment tests and your own observations. You'll usually develop an individualized recreational therapy plan for a patient and track the patient's advancement, and adapt or progress the treatment if necessary. You could write reports about the patient's progress for other healthcare professionals. You might help disabled individuals live more independently by teaching them everyday tasks, such as how to use mass transit or get service in stores or restaurants.

Your job duties typically depend on where you work. You might rehabilitate patients with health problems at hospitals or rehabilitation institutions. However, working as a recreational therapist at a residential facility, you could focus more on keeping residents emotionally satisfied and physically healthy.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most recreation therapists work in hospitals and nursing care facilities (www.bls.gov). Other employers include adult daycare centers, government agencies, hospices, park districts, mental health facilities, substance abuse clinics and special education departments at schools. The American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) reported that increased numbers of privately employed recreation therapists offer therapy services in residential and community practices (atra-online.com).

What Education Do I Need?

You typically need a bachelor's degree in order to be hired for most entry-level recreational therapist jobs, according to the BLS. Several schools offer majors and concentrations in therapeutic recreation. Degree programs typically combine classroom studies, field experiences and internships. Your studies would generally include anatomy, group dynamics, medical terminology, physiology, psychology and recreational therapy techniques.

What Are the Licensure or Certification Requirements?

You might need to obtain a license or register with the state in order to work as a recreation therapist. Some states regulate the profession, but the requirements differ. You'll usually need to complete some sort of postsecondary training program, though some states might require that you earn a bachelor's degree. Other qualifications for licensure or registration include field experience, an exam and professional certification.

In addition to meeting state requirements, some potential employers could prefer or require you to be a certified recreation therapist. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers a designation as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. To be eligible, you'll need to meet experience requirements, pass the certification exam and either be enrolled in or have completed a bachelor's degree program from an accredited school (www.nctrc.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A special education teacher is a related position that requires a bachelor's degree. These teachers work with disabled students that may be coping with mental, learning, physical, emotional or behavioral disorders. They often need to adapt lesson plans and break down subjects into basic principles. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are also similar and require a bachelor's degree. These professionals support and treat patients with various kinds of behavioral problems, such as drug addiction or eating disorders.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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