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Overview

Recreational therapists, also referred to as therapeutic recreation specialists, provide treatment services and recreation activities for individuals with disabilities or illnesses. Using a variety of techniques, including arts and crafts, animals, sports, games, dance and movement, drama, music and community outings, therapists improve and maintain the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of their clients. These activities help reduce depression, stress and anxiety; recover basic motor function and reasoning abilities; build confidence; and enhance social skills.

In health care settings, such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers, recreational therapists treat and rehabilitate individuals with specific health conditions, usually in conjunction with physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and physical therapists. In the endeavor to improve the client’s or patient’s standard of living, the therapist will review medical records, confer with medical staff, and speak with the client’s family. Throughout the process, the recreational therapist must observe and document the patient’s participation, reactions, and progress.

Education

Most entry-level recreational therapists need a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation. Some applicants may qualify for paraprofessional positions with an associate’s degree in therapeutic recreation or another subject related to health care.

One state school, Arizona State University (ASU), offers a Bachelor of Science in Parks and Recreation Management degree. Despite the degree name, this program prepares students with the skills to provide therapeutic recreation for individuals with illnesses or disabling conditions. A sampling of the courses offered are:

  • Human Anatomy
  • Human Development
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Foundations of Therapeutic Recreation
  • Recreation Planning and Facility Development
  • Public Speaking
  • Abnormal Psychology

Another school, Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Therapeutic Recreation. Their program, as with others, is designed for the graduate to work at a long-term-care facility, a mental health or substance abuse treatment center, or at a hospital setting dealing with traumatic injuries.

For those who wish to advance their knowledge and skills in this field, there are master’s programs  available. Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania offers a Masters of Science in Recreation Therapy. At this level, the student is afforded the opportunity to specialize in geriatrics, pediatrics or rehabilitation, for example. There are, typically, background and required courses that must be completed at Temple or another institution of higher education before being eligible for the masters program.

Indiana University (IU), School of Public Health, has master’s courses in recreational therapy through online learning. Per their website, this is one of the longest standing online degrees at IU, and it has the distinction of being nationally regarded.

Finally, there are schools offering an Associates degree in Recreational Therapy which is usually completed within two years. This is a sampling of the curriculum at this level:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Recreation Therapy Techniques
  • General Sociology
  • Composition
  • Perceptual Motor Development
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Humanities and Fine Arts

Certification

The graduate may want to increase their professional recognition by joining the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). The candidate must first pass the exam which consists of 90 questions to be completed within the 86 minute time allotment. The NCTRC, established in 1981, has as their mission- to develop standards for certification, conduct standards of conduct and apply disciplinary process, liaison with professional organizations, conduct research, and liaison with educators, to name a handful.

The NCTRC currently has over 12,000 active certificants and it receives 1,200 new applicants a year.

Employment

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median income for this occupation in 2012 was $42,280 with a Bachelor’s Degree. The projected job growth/change is 13% or 2,700 jobs added from 2012 to 2022.