How do I Become a Recreational Therapist?

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  • Written By: Sonal Panse
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2019
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A therapeutic recreation specialist uses the healing benefits of recreational activities to treat patients. A variety of activities involving arts and crafts, music, dance, drama, sports, games, animals and community outings may be used. The goal is to use these activities to help patients with assorted mental health and physiological problems.

Therapeutic recreation provides patients with a creative outlet and helps them feel good about themselves. The recreational activities reduce depression, stress and anxiety. They not only help with basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities, they assist in building confidence and in improving socialization skills.

To become a recreational therapist, it is necessary to have good educational credentials in recreational therapy or in any other health care-related subject. Many colleges offer bachelor’s degrees, associate's degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degree programs in various types of recreational therapies. It will be a good idea for a student who wants to become a recreational therapist to research the offered programs.

Program courses in recreational therapy include courses in patient health evaluation, treatment planning and program planning. Anyone who wants to become a recreational therapist must also study human anatomy, physiology, psychology and medical terminology. They must learn about different types of illnesses and disabilities, about professional ethics, and about the use of assistance devices and technology.


Qualities like patience, tact, humor, persuasive skills and good physical coordination are also necessary to become a recreational therapist. Recreational therapists must be comfortable working with people who are ill, disabled or have a variety of special needs. Having a sense of humor, some ingenuity and imagination is helpful is both empathizing with patients and adapting activities to individual needs.

In many states in the USA, in addition to professional qualifications, a therapeutic recreation specialist requires a state-approved license to practice. Many recreational therapists also obtain a certification from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. This is a voluntary certification that is approved by most employers.

The eligibility requirement for this certification is a graduate degree from an accredited institution. Candidates must complete two to three weeks of supervised internship and pass a written examination. Continuing education is essential to maintain the certification.

As regards employment, qualified recreational therapists can find health care jobs in private and government agencies. Therapeutic recreation specialists can pursue health care careers in hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, residential care facilities, mental health care facilities and special needs schools. Therapists with several years of experience in medical jobs may work in administrative, consultancy, research or teaching positions.


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Post 4

I got lectured for asking someone at a career center what the average salary for a recreational therapist was. I just wanted to know whether I could make good money at it if I chose to become one, but she told me that recreational therapy was not about making money, and I should do it out of concern and care for the wellbeing of others.

After she went on her rant, she did finally reveal that I could make around $40,000 if I got a good education. She said that those with doctorates are able to make more than those with bachelor's degrees.

She also told me that there would be more of a demand in highly populated areas for this type of therapist than in our small town. I had planned to move to the city to be near my relatives, anyway, so I decided to go for it.

Post 3

@Oceana – That is so true. Even if a person does manage to get hired by a company with a nonspecific degree, he or she may have trouble landing clients without certification.

After my brother got injured in a motorcycle accident, my mother sought out a recreational therapist. She wanted the therapist to show her his credentials, because she wanted the best for my brother.

She was astonished that a couple of therapists working in the community did not have degrees or certification. She kept looking until she found one that did. If I were going to make a career out of it, I would definitely want the highest credentials possible.

Post 2

Before my first semester of college, I met with my adviser at the university. I asked her how to become a recreational therapist.

She told me that the school did not offer a specific recreational therapy degree program, but I could take a variety of courses, like anatomy and physiology, that would give me the basic education I needed to become one. This didn't set well with me, even though she seemed convinced I could still pursue a lucrative career this way.

So, I asked an actual recreational therapist in my town. She told me that many places would not hire someone unless they specifically had a recreational therapy degree. She also told me that it is important to get certified, because the field is competitive.

I didn't go to that university that semester. Instead, I found one that offered a solid recreational therapy program.

Post 1

I once accidentally got placed in a recreational therapy class for beginners at my university. I had tried to get into an art class, yet the school had somehow mistakenly put me into this course instead.

I decided to give it a shot and attended the first day of class. We started out with some basic physical exercises, and then the instructor informed us that throughout the semester, we would be developing our own fitness plans and teaching them to each other.

I was incredibly intimidated by having to speak in front of people, and I did not feel I had what it took to come up with a fitness plan on my own. So, I dropped out of the class. At least I got a small taste of what recreational therapists study, and I found it wasn't for me.

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