Recreational therapists are trained health and wellness professionals. By the use of recreational activities, this type of therapist helps to promote physical, emotional, and social welfare of individuals who may struggle with disabilities, illnesses, or injuries. Recreational therapists incorporate a variety of methods into therapy to support their patients. Activities are specific to the needs of patients and include crafts, painting, drawing, acting, aerobics, swimming, dancing, music, and various social events.
Why Become A Recreational Therapist
The objective of recreational therapists is to promote positive lifestyles and alleviate difficulties that will allow their patients to live more independently. People with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or injuries can struggle with depression, anxiety, stress, social inappropriateness, physical impediments, and other difficulties. The role of a recreational therapist is to plan and implement therapeutic events for their patients but also to coordinate care. Not only do they provide social and physical opportunities to their patients, but they can also assist disabled individuals to use public services and other tools, like wheelchairs and service dogs.
Because the population they serve is vulnerable and disadvantaged, recreational therapists must have special characteristics that fully support their patients:
- Empathetic and sympathetic
- Excellent communication skills
- Active listener
- Strong leadership skills
- Knowledgeable of psychology, anatomy, disabilities, and illnesses
- Able to use a variety of therapeutic devices
- Problem solving skills
Recreational Therapist Work Environment
Recreational therapists work with patients at a variety of settings, which include outpatient rehabilitation centers, special education facilities, nursing homes, shelters, hospitals, foster care services, and substance abuse centers. About 35 percent of recreational therapists work in hospitals, while smaller percentages work for nursing homes, government agencies, ambulatory healthcare services, and assisted living facilities.
While working directly with patients, recreational therapists can be indoors, outdoors, in clinical settings, at recreational centers, or on field trips. They are wherever they can provide therapeutic services to their patients. They may also spend a number of hours in administrative meetings, assessing patients, and completing paperwork. This work can be done in an office or clinical setting.
The work of a recreational therapist is fulltime, with many therapists working on weekends and evenings to accommodate their patients’ schedules. About one quarter of all therapists work part-time. Travel is common in this occupation.
Recreational Therapist Salary
Recreational therapists can expect to earn a median annual wage of $44,000. Earnings for recreational therapists range from $27,150 to $69,230, per year, which is mostly dependent upon industry. Government employed therapists can expect to see the highest earnings, followed by hospitals, ambulatory care services, nursing care facilities, and assisted living environments.
Recreational Therapist Career Outlook
In the next decade, the need for recreational therapists is likely to grow faster than most other occupations. Obesity, diabetes, injuries due to war, and the aging of the baby boomer generation will cause more individuals to lose mobility. Veterans, the elderly, and obese individuals may struggle not only because of physical impediments but also from social isolation. Even elderly patients who are physically fit may want to utilize the services of recreational therapists to remain independent and active. Additionally, many outpatient and in-home rehabilitative services exist for patients who have suffered a debilitating injury, including stroke, and recreational therapists can fill this responsibility better than inpatient hospital stays.
Recreational Therapist Degree
It is required that recreational therapists earn at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field to practice. Also, the majority of employers seek individuals who are certified.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree. Recreational therapists must be knowledgeable about human anatomy, psychology, illnesses, medical terminology, treatments, assessments, and assistive technologies. A degree program in recreational therapy (therapeutic recreation) and other leisure studies can help an individual gain the educational training necessary to become a recreational therapist.
Step 2: Become a certified recreational therapist. Although it is not always an employment condition, the responsibilities of a recreational therapist typically requires certification. A Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialist (CTRS) credential can be obtained through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). Therapists can also obtain certification in a number of specialty areas or therapeutic techniques:
- Behavioral health
- Community inclusion services
- Developmental disabilities
- Physical medicine/rehabilitation
- Aquatic therapy
For individuals with a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, the NCTRC requires graduates to complete a supervised internship for 560 hours and pass an examination. For individuals with a non-related degree, additional work experience and educational training can assist in the career switch.
Step 3: Obtain a license to practice (state-based requirement). Recreational therapists in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah must have a license to practice. It is important for individuals to check with state governments regarding licensure requirements.