recreational therapist leading an art session

What does a Recreational Therapist do?

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A recreational therapist helps and encourages a patient with their physical, health, social, and mental well-being by creating and coordinating recreational-based treatment programs and techniques targeted towards the patient’s specific needs such as illnesses, disabilities or injuries. They use a multitude of treatments to help a patient’s improvement like games, arts and crafts, dance, music, or sports to promote the patient’s health.

How to Become a Recreational Therapist

recreational therapist leading an art session

A recreational therapist usually requires a bachelor’s degree in human anatomy, assessment, psychiatric and medical therapy, use of assistive devices and technology and the characteristics of illnesses and disabilities. Many employers require the applicant to hold a certification and have extensive work-related experience. Some on-the-job and/or vocational training may be needed as well.

Most employers would like a recreational therapist to be certified especially those in hospitals and other clinical settings. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers this certification credential. Candidates may qualify for certification by earning a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy with a supervised internship and passing an exam. Those who want to work as a recreational therapist without a therapy degree can also pursue a certification. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated subject qualify with a combination of education and work experience, in addition to passing an exam.

NCTRC also offers specialty certification in five areas of practice: behavioral health, community inclusion services, developmental disabilities, geriatrics, and physical medicine/rehabilitation. Therapists also may earn certificates from other organizations to show proficiency in specific therapy techniques such as aquatic therapy or aromatherapy.

Job Description of a Recreational Therapist

A recreational therapist uses recreational-based programs that they have developed, coordinated, and directed to help patients with injuries, illnesses or disabilities. They mix up the treatment according to their patient’s needs by using things like dance, music, arts and crafts, community reintegration field trips, sports or games. Recreational therapists strive to move the patient towards the improvement and maintenance of their social, emotional and physical well-being. Some of these treatment programs are medically approved and are used with patients in nursing homes, hospitals, or other places. They help achieve goals for a patient such as integrating them back into a community and to avoid future medical issues.

Recreation therapists watch and record a patient’s progress throughout the treatment process and adjust any areas that are needed to move the patient forward in their healing both mentally and physically. They collect any pertinent information needed to help assess a patient’s needs, capabilities, medical history, family support, and other valuable insight. They advise and motivate a patient to participate in leisure activities that have been designed to meet their specific challenges, psychologically, and physically.

A recreational therapist needs to have knowledge of counseling, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and medicine. They also need to have knowledge of the English language to include grammar and the rules of composition. They need to have the ability to communicate and comprehend information and ideas that are being given or received. These therapists should have inductive and deductive reason and other abilities required to be successful in this occupation. One should be capable of supervising, training and managing others. Recreational therapists can be found working in a variety of places usually full-time.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Recreation Therapist.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1125.00. O*NET OnLine.

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