How to Become a Recreational Therapist

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Recreational therapy is an important part of the healthcare field that use recreational activities to help improve and maintain the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning of many different patients. Recreational therapists are trained professionals that plan and assist patients in a variety of activities to enhance independent living skills, prevent secondary health conditions, and improve the quality of life.


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What does a recreational therapist do?

Recreational therapists (also called therapeutic recreation specialists) provide recreation activities and other related treatment methods to patients with disabilities or illnesses. They assess their patients through medical records, observations, assessments, and testimonials from the patients themselves, their families, and other medical staff. They then create therapeutic plans that meet the patient’s needs and interests. They use many different techniques such as sports, arts and crafts, games, animals, drama, music, dance and movement, and community events. They aim activities to help recover basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities; reducing stress, anxiety, and depression; building confidence; and improving effective socialization so patients can reduce the effects of their condition and gain a greater independence. They also help patients with disabilities and illnesses use community resources and become involved in community recreational activities. Recreational therapists observe and record the participation, progress, and reactions of their patients.

What kind of training does a recreational therapist need?

Recreational therapists usually need at least a bachelor degree in therapeutic recreation or other related field. Most programs offer bachelor degrees, but some offer master and doctoral degrees. Coursework usually includes anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, professional ethics, program planning, and intervention design. Some states require recreational therapists to be licensed. Recreational therapists can also gain voluntary certification to become competitive in the field. Certification is offered by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification and grants the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist designation.

What are the prospects for a career as a recreational therapist?

Employment of recreational therapists is projected to grow more slowly than average for all professions, increasing 4% from 2006 to 2016 (1). An aging population and increased need for recreational therapies will drive job growth.

Job prospects are expected to be fair with competition for positions. Recreational therapists with at least a bachelor degree, certifications, and extensive experience will have the best prospects.

How much do recreational therapists make?

As of October 2009, the middle 50% of recreational therapists earned annual salaries between $38,730 and $49,284. The top 10% earned annual salaries of more than $54,494 (2).

A career as a recreational therapist is an excellent choice for individuals interested in using recreational therapy to help students who are disabled or ill. Recreational therapists must be tactful, patient, and often persuasive when working with a variety of patients with special needs. Imagination, a good sense of humor, and ingenuity are essential qualities to have when adapting therapy to individuals needs. Recreational therapists must also have good coordination to participate or demonstrate many different activities.

Joshua T Osborne

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