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What Is a Recreational Therapy Assistant?

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  • Written By: Amy M. Armstrong
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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A recreational therapy assistant is a skilled professional working to support or assist the efforts of a recreational therapist in providing treatment to patients. People in this position work to improve the physical, mental, and emotional well being of patients in a variety of settings that may include hospitals, assisted living homes, mental institutions, and juvenile detention centers. They do so by implementing activities aimed at developing the patient's interest and abilities in things as board games, sports, music, hobbies, crafts, dance, or other activities based on the patient's capabilities and desires.

As part of this job, the recreational therapy assistant may work to find out a patient's interests, by speaking with the patient and his or her family or support network. Once these interests are identified, activities are planned, with the therapy assistant helping the patient with those activities requiring assistance. The assistant also monitors the success of the chosen activity, and helps the patient and the lead therapist set reasonable and obtainable goals.

In the United States and Canada, a high school diploma is required to become a recreational therapy assistant. Most states also require secondary training such as an associate's or bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, as well as state mandated professional testing. In Canada, post-secondary training at public universities leads to a therapy assistant diploma. In Europe and Asia, similar post-secondary training programs prepare candidates to work in this job.

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Basic knowledge of the human body and its associated mechanics of movement, as well as knowledge of human growth and development, are required to be a successful recreational therapy assistant. Other necessary skills include the ability to observe and report patient behavior as it relates to the patient's participation in their prescribed care, and the ability to foster positive relationships with the patient and his or her family or support network. Many recreational therapists begin their careers working as assistants first.

A recreational therapy assistant employed by an assisted living home might help residents to cook breakfast, lead a field trip to a nearby shopping center, or provide transportation to religious services. The assistant may lead a stretching and exercise program or play trivia games. His or her main goal is to facilitate activities and events that help a patient maintain physical and mental activity and alertness that will allow them greater enjoyment of life.

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