A recreational therapist, or a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS), is a licensed professional who is trained to provide treatment through recreational activities to ill or disabled individuals. These activities are meant to support a patient's physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and mental state by counteracting stress, anxiety and depression associated with the patient's condition. Recreational therapists assess patients and create individual therapy plans to suit the patient's specific needs and interests.
For the recreational therapist, determining the specific needs of a patient is an important part in developing proper treatment. They may use standardized exams, medical records, conversations with doctors, family interviews and personal observations to create a treatment plan. Input from the patient himself is crucial, as a patient's reaction to the treatment can determine its success.
Building or recovering motor functioning and reasoning ability is usually at the forefront of a recreational therapist's goals. Because of this, many therapies include a physical aspect, however minor, in the treatment which requires the patient to use his or her mind to complete the activity. Activities can also be integrated or followed up with a "discussion" that allows patients to recognize his thoughts, feelings and reactions to the activity. These discussions can lead to personal revelations in the patient and help in his or her development, coping skills and ultimate recovery from the illness.
Recreational therapists are responsible for monitoring patients' reactions, participation levels and progress. If a patient is observed as not reacting well to the treatment, the treatment may be modified. Patients' personal interests are often aimed to be complemented when developing a therapy so as to increase its chances of success.
The types of activities a recreational therapist may plan vary between patients. While some patients may respond to or need some activities, others may require different ones. Some sample activities include stretching exercises, breathing techniques for relaxation, arts and crafts, animal play, dancing, drama, music and group gatherings.
A recreational therapist can also act as a mentor to patients who need recovery in social areas. The benefits of interacting with a recreational therapist may include a greater sense of independence and confidence in a patient who has previously had to rely on others due to his illness or disability. At best, recreational therapists reduce the effects of the illness or disability or completely eliminate them. Typically, these therapists may be found in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, private schools, nursing homes and psychiatric and corrections facilities.