Recreational Therapists Career Information
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Significant Points· Employment growth is expected in assisted living, physical and psychiatric
rehabilitation, and services for people with disabilities.
· Opportunities should be best for persons with a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation.
Nature of the WorkRecreational therapists,
also referred to as therapeutic recreation specialists, provide treatment
services and recreation activities to individuals with disabilities, illnesses,
or other disabling conditions. Therapists treat and maintain the physical, mental,
and emotional well-being of clients using a variety of techniques, including
the use of arts and crafts, animals, sports, games, dance and movement, drama,
music, and community outings. Therapists help individuals reduce depression,
stress, and anxiety. They also help individuals recover basic motor functioning
and reasoning abilities, build confidence, and socialize effectively to enable
greater independence, as well as to reduce or eliminate the effects of illness
or disability. Additionally,
they help integrate people with disabilities into the community by helping them
use community resources and recreational activities. Recreational therapists
should not be confused with recreation and fitness Workers, who organize recreational
activities primarily for enjoyment.
In acute healthcare settings, such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers, recreational therapists treat and rehabilitate individuals with specific health conditions, usually in conjunction or collaboration with physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and physical and occupational therapists. In long-term and residential care facilities, recreational therapists use leisure activities—especially structured group programs—to improve and maintain general health and well-being. They may also treat clients and provide interventions to prevent further medical problems and secondary complications related to illness and disabilities.
Recreational therapists assess clients, based on information from standardized assessments, observations, medical records, medical staff, family, and clients themselves. They then develop and carry out therapeutic interventions consistent with client needs and interests. For example, clients isolated from others, or with limited social skills, may be encouraged to play games with others, or right-handed persons with right-side paralysis may be instructed to adapt to using their nonaffected left side to throw a ball or swing a racket. Recreational therapists may instruct patients in relaxation techniques to reduce stress and tension, stretching and limbering exercises, proper body mechanics for participation in recreation activities, pacing and energy conservation techniques, and individual as well as team activities. Additionally, therapists observe and document patients' participation, reactions, and progress.
Community-based therapeutic recreation specialists may work in park and recreation departments, special education programs for school districts, or programs for older adults and people with disabilities. Included in the latter group are programs and facilities such as assisted living, adult day care, and substance abuse rehabilitation centers. In these programs, therapists use interventions to develop specific skills while providing opportunities for exercise, mental stimulation, creativity, and fun. Although most therapists are employed in other areas, those who work in schools help counselors, teachers, and parents address the special needs of students—most importantly, easing the transition into adult life for disabled students.
Working ConditionsRecreational therapists provide services
in special activity rooms but also plan activities and prepare documentation
in offices. When working with clients
during community integration programs, they may travel locally to instruct clients
on the accessibility of public transportation and other public areas, such as
parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants, and theaters.
Therapists often lift and carry equipment as well as lead recreational activities. Recreational therapists generally work a 40-hour week that may include some evenings, weekends, and holidays.
Recreational therapists held about 24,000 jobs in 2009. About 6 out of 10 were in nursing care facilities and hospitals. Others worked in State and local government agencies and in community care facilities for the elderly, including assisted-living facilities. The rest worked primarily in residential mental retardation, mental health, and substance abuse facilities; individual and family services; Federal Government agencies; educational services; and outpatient care centers. Only a small number of therapists were self-employed, generally contracting with long-term care facilities or community agencies to develop and oversee programs.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.A bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation,
or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation, is the usual
requirement for entry-level positions. Persons may qualify for paraprofessional
positions with an associate degree in therapeutic recreation or a health care
related field. An associate degree in recreational therapy; training in art,
drama, or music therapy; or qualifying work experience may be sufficient for
activity director positions in nursing homes.
There are approximately 160 programs that prepare recreational therapists. Most offer bachelor's degrees, although some also offer associate, master's, or doctoral degrees. Programs include courses in assessment, treatment and program planning, intervention design, and evaluation. Students also study human anatomy, physiology, abnormal psychology, medical and psychiatric terminology, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, professional ethics, and the use of assistive devices and technology.
Most employers prefer to hire candidates who are certified therapeutic recreation specialists (CTRS). The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) certifies therapeutic recreation specialists. To presently become certified, specialists must have a bachelor's degree, pass a written certification examination, and complete an internship of at least 360 hours. Beginning in 2003, however, specialists will be required to complete an internship of at least 480 hours, in addition to the degree and examination requirements.
Recreational therapists should be comfortable working with persons who are ill or have disabilities. Therapists must be patient, tactful, and persuasive when working with people who have a variety of special needs. Ingenuity, a sense of humor, and imagination are needed to adapt activities to individual needs; and good physical coordination is necessary to demonstrate or participate in recreational activities.
Therapists may advance to supervisory or administrative positions. Some teach, conduct research, or consult for health or social services agencies.
Healthcare facilities will provide a growing number of jobs in hospital-based adult day care and outpatient programs and in units offering short-term mental health and alcohol or drug abuse services. Rehabilitation, home healthcare, transitional programs, and psychiatric facilities will provide additional jobs. The rapidly growing number of older adults is expected to spur job growth for therapeutic recreation specialists and recreational therapy paraprofessionals in assisted living facilities, adult daycare programs, and social service agencies. Continued growth also is expected in community residential facilities, as well as day care programs for individuals with disabilities.
Job OutlookOverall employment of recreational therapists is expected to
Healthcare facilities will provide a growing number of jobs in hospital-based adult day care and outpatient programs and in units offering short-term mental health and alcohol or drug abuse services. Rehabilitation, home healthcare, transitional programs, and psychiatric facilities will provide additional jobs.
The rapidly growing number of older adults is expected to spur job growth for therapeutic recreation specialists and recreational therapy paraprofessionals in assisted living facilities, adult daycare programs, and social service agencies. Continued growth also is expected in community residential facilities, as well as day care programs for individuals with disabilities.
Median annual earnings of recreational therapists were $32,900 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $25,520 and $42,130. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $51,800. In May 2009, median annual earnings for recreational therapists were $28,130 in nursing care facilities.
Related OccupationsRecreational therapists primarily design activities to help people with disabilities lead more fulfilling and independent lives.
For information on how to order materials describing careers and academic programs in recreational therapy, contact: Information on certification may be obtained from:
Sources of Additional Information
For information on how to order materials describing careers and academic programs in recreational therapy, contact:
Information on certification may be obtained from: