What is a Recreational Therapist

Recreational therapists (also known as Certified Recreational Therapist, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, and Therapeutic Recreation Specialist) are health care providers who focus on remediating, rehabilitating, and restoring a person’s independence and level of function in life activities. They seek to aid in reducing or eliminating impediments and limitations to activity caused by illness or disabling conditions, as well as promoting health and wellness.

They work to restore motor, cognitive, and social functioning in patients, as well as develop coping skills for more difficult issues. They also help with the integration of learned skills in to the community setting. For more information on becoming a recreational therapist, please visit our recreational therapist job description page.

Work Environment

The work environment for a recreational therapist is highly dependent on the industry in which they work, and even then can vary dramatically depending on the needs of the patient. They can find employment in nursing homes, physicians offices, hospitals, community care groups, and at various levels of government. They may arrange activities either indoors or outdoors, and the activities themselves may require specific working environments; leading a crafting activity, for example, brings a very different work environment than a field trip to a sports event.

Work Schedule

The work schedule is generally full time, and again, can vary depending on the industry and the needs of the patient. However, most recreational therapists will work normal business hours, with only occasional needs outside of those. As they aren’t an emergency service, there will be little need for evening or overnight hours, though weekends or holidays may be required. However, there will seldom be a need for exceeding a standard 40-hour work week.

Mean Annual Recreational Therapist Salary

The average annual recreational therapist salary is $44,280. The mean salary is calculated by adding all the wages within the occupation and divid that value by the total number of employees. Lowest 10% of this occupation makes less than $26,410 and the top 10% makes over $67,280.

Recreational Therapist Salary: Quick Summary

2012 Mean Salary$44,280 per year
$21.29 per hour
Top 10% Salary$67,280 per year
$32.35 per hour
Bottom 10% Salary$26,410 per year
$12.70 per hour
Number of Jobs, 201219,180

Recreational Therapist Job Outlook and Prospects

Employment prospects for recreational therapists are expected to grow by approximately 17%, which is close to the national average for all occupations. Treatment of age-related injuries and illnesses will grow as the baby-boom generation ages, which will bring many opportunities for recreational therapists.
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What Affects The Recreational Therapist Salary

Recreational therapist salary is highly variable, ranging from around $30,000, to as high as $65,000, on average. These numbers are influenced primarily by the industry worked in, the experience of the therapist, and the geographic location worked.

The average recreational therapist salary is approximately $44,280. However, as mentioned, this can vary by as much as $20,000, depending on the position.

Education and Specialization 

There are only small gains to be made through specialization, and little through education, for recreational therapists. Most recreational therapists only require a bachelor’s degree. One can be more desirable a candidate by pursuing a master’s degree, or pursue a Ph.D. for an academic position, however, outside of these, education has little influence on salary.

While there is some room for specialization in the field, it is only minor. One can focus on sports-related therapy, or geriatric therapy, however the positions for recreational therapists will include a wide range of possible patients, and such a focus, while beneficial, will not greatly influence salary.

Experience and Position 

Experience is one of the top factors influencing recreational therapist salary. Most fields see salary improvements with greater experience, and recreational therapy is no exception; a starting recreational therapist salary will generally be in the $27,000-$35,000 range, while those with more than five years’ experience can expect a salary of $34,000-$49,000. Above ten years’ experience, the salary expectations move up to the $40,000-$65,000 range, though this will vary depending on the industry and location worked.


As the second of the top three factors impacting recreational therapist salary, industry offers a similar $30,000 potential range of difference. Working in nursing facilities or retirement communities accounts for the lower end of the average, offering $38,710 and $36,910 per year, respectively. Working for the state government or in the offices of other health practitioners will bring a salary closer to the average of $44,280.

The top paying industries themselves show great variation; working in a general medical or surgical hospital, the third highest paying industry, can offer an average salary of $48,360; working for a home health care service, the second highest average salary offered, will bring $59,210; however, the highest paying industry is the Federal Executive Branch, with an average annual salary of $65,400. 


Cost of living is a factor in recreational therapist salary, with metropolitan areas offering significantly higher wages than rural ones. With average state-wide salaries ranging from $30,310 to $59,630, the best states to work in are California ($59,630), Oregon ($53,190), and New Jersey ($51,550).

Rural areas offer salaries in the range of $29,230 (West Central Illinois) to $52,250 (Southwest New York). Metropolitan salaries, meanwhile, can range as high as $68,030 (Vallejo-Fairfield, California).

Recreational Therapist Salary: Top 5

Top Paying Metropolitan AreasTop Paying StatesTop Paying IndustriesStates with Highest Employment Level
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA: $68,030California: $59,630Federal Executive Branch: $65,400New York: (2,370 jobs) $50,980
Napa, CA: $67,510 Oregon: $53,190Home Health Care Services: $59,210Pennsylvania: (1,530 jobs) $42,590
Santa Rosa-Petaluma, CA: $66,270New Jersey: $51,550General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $48,360California: (1,220 jobs) $59,630
San Francisco, CA: $65,430New York: $50,980Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools: $47,850Massachusetts: (1,120 jobs) $38,520
Fresno, CA: $61,860Alaska: $50,880Specialty Hospitals: $47,510Illinois: (910 jobs) $41,550

recreational therapist salary state by state