Recreational therapists provide treatments and rehabilitation programs. They design and teach activities that help patients recover from illnesses and injuries, and cope with disabilities.

Also called therapeutic recreation specialists, these health-care providers employ a variety of methods that enable people to regain physical function and mobility. Some treatments aid in overcoming stress, anxiety, and other emotional and psychological problems. Techniques involve arts and crafts, sports and other other games, stretching exercises and dance, music and drama, animals, and social outings.

Recreational therapists work in a range of settings, inside and outdoors. They may be found at hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation and substance-abuse centers, prisons, community mental-health centers, and other facilities.

According to the Mayo Clinic, ongoing job growth for therapists is expected at assisted-living, outpatient-rehabilitation, and disabilities-services facilities. Some education and training are required to get a job in the field, though the commitment of money and time is not as great as that needed to become a professional in many other medical disciplines.

Recreational Therapist Job Description

A recreational therapist assesses and evaluates patients, studies their medical records, and consults with other medical staffers to determine the most effective means of treatment and therapy. They teach patients relaxation techniques, stretching routines, how to take part in recreational activities without causing pain or injury, and pacing and energy-conservation methods.

Recreational activities allow patients to recover from illnesses, learn to live with disabilities, and increase their range of motion. They also provide mental-health therapy by increasing people’s confidence and reducing their stress. Recreational therapists work with doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and physical and occupational therapists to design activity plans for patients.

The types of activities depend upon people’s needs and physical limitations. For instance, a recreational therapist working with older patients at nursing homes may focus on simple stretching exercises and emotional well-being. One of the goals might be to improve people’s social skills by introducing activities that prompt them to communicate and work together.

Students with special needs sometimes benefit from activities that provide mental stimulation, and fun activities that encourage creativity. Therapists work with people suffering from injuries to regain as much physical function as possible, and help the disabled live fuller and happier lives.

The responsibilities of a recreational therapist include:
  • Meet with patients, interview them about their physical and psychological health, and learn about their symptoms and complaints;
  • Develop methods of therapy designed for the individual patient, and design treatment programs in consultation with doctors and other medical staff;
  • Teach recreational methods, and mental-health techniques, to patients;
  • Maintain files on the results of treatment and therapy sessions, updating records to indicate patients’ progress and setbacks;
  • Write reports on treatment outcomes, and discuss them with patients;
  • Train students, student nurses, and attendants;
  • Recruit, train, and organize volunteers;
  • Maintain and recommend the purchase of medical equipment;
  • Assist in research projects.

Recreational Therapist Prerequisites

The job requires public relations, a good bedside manner with patients, and effective communication skills. Recreational therapists must be able to explain techniques, and coordinate with other medical staff.

These health-care professionals may be exposed to illnesses and diseases, and have to deal sympathetically with patients who are emotionally upset. Precautions and patience are needed. Standing for a long time, lifting and moving patients, and showing people how to perform activities are among the physical challenges.

How to Become a Recreational Therapist

Successful completion of a bachelor’s-degree program in recreational therapy or a related field is commonly required to be considered for employment. Many of these programs include an internship, in which students get practical, on-the-job training while working with professional recreational therapists.

Master’s and doctorate programs in therapeutic recreational methods also are available. Though advanced degrees are not often mandated, they may improve an applicant’s chance of landing a job with a higher salary.

Recreational Therapist Certification

The National Council of Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (NCTRC) provides the licensure and certification that most employers require. The most popular of the council’s six types of credentials qualifies a person as a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. To become certified, one must have a bachelor’s degree, completion of 560 internship hours, and pass a written exam. Once certified, therapists needs to obtain continuing education credits to maintain their license. Currently, the state of New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah require recreational therapists to be licensed before practice.

Recreational Therapist Salary

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Recreational Therapist Job Description Summary

Here is a short recap of the recreational therapist job description:
  • Help people to regain physical function and mobility
  • Work with various health care professionals
  • 4 year bachelor’s degree
  • Certification only required in some states
  • 13% employment growth by 2022