Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in therapeutic recreation, recreational therapy or related majors train individuals in the skills needed for activities coordinator or activities director work. Gerontology associate's degree programs also provide related training. Programs designed for activities professionals might focus on geriatric topics and fitness issues related to aging populations. Gerontology programs offer more healthcare-related curricula, covering age-related illnesses and diseases. Programs combine classroom and hands-on learning, and students learn to implement activities for assisted living facilities, nursing homes and organizations.
Applicants must have a high school diploma. Some schools may require certificate or licensure to participate in clinical settings. Clinical training, experience, fieldwork, and lab work or internship may be required. Associate's programs take two years to complete, while bachelor's degrees require four years.
Associate Degree in Therapeutic Recreation
In an associate's program, students receive training in providing recreational assistance to those with physical, sociological and psychological disabilities. In these programs, students learn to initiate protocols, utilize community resources and organize individual or group events. Students also receive training in restorative and therapeutic methods. Therapeutic recreation courses evaluate psychological effects of exercise, lifestyle readjustment and human development. Coursework requirements vary, but may include:
- Public speaking
- Social work
- Recreation leadership
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Bachelor's Degree in Recreational Therapy
Course disciplines often include psychology. Some course subjects are:
- Leisure recreation
- Group dynamics
- Developmental psychology
- Recreational programming
- Therapeutic recreation research
In addition to working with the elderly, graduates with a therapeutic recreation associate's can find employment at adult day care centers, group homes, substance abuse treatment centers or penal institutions. Job titles can include:
- Activities director
- Therapeutic recreation specialist
- Senior care specialist
- Juvenile outreach coordinator
Activities coordinators often work with the elderly or infirm in various settings, such as nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and mental hospitals. Careers options include:
- Nursing home activities director
- Geriatric recreation director
- Recreational therapist
- Activities consultant
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the recreational therapy field is competitive; however, job growth for recreational therapists, who usually need college degrees, was expected to increase 12% between 2014 and 2024. Recreation workers, who may find part-time jobs without degrees, could expect 10% growth (www.bls.gov) during that same time.
The BLS also stated that individuals with bachelor's degrees and NCTRC certification might fare best in the job market. According to BLS salary statistics, the average annual wage for recreational therapists was $47,790 in 2015, and recreation workers earned $26,610.
Continuing Education, Licensure and Certification Information
Recreational therapists could decide to obtain master's degrees for more intensive training and career advancement. Master's degree programs typically take two years to complete, but some truncate the program for applicants with bachelor's degrees in therapeutic recreation.
Only a few states required licensure for recreational therapists in 2010. Licensure requirements vary by state, but candidates might need a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited college or university, internship experience and passing scores on a state-approved certification or licensing exam.
Certification is not mandatory in this field, but could prove beneficial for career opportunities or advancement. The National Certification Council for Activity Professionals (NCCAP) offers voluntary certification for activity directors, specialists and consultants. Recreational therapists could earn optional professional certification through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). Requirements can include a high school diploma or its equivalent, an associate, bachelor's or master's degree in a related field, college credits in relevant subjects or previous work experience, depending on the certification option. NCCAP credentials require all candidates to complete the 16-week Modular Education Program for Activity Professionals that covers activity planning and coordination for adults, families and seniors.
Associate's and bachelor's degree programs related to recreational therapy can prepare students for work as activities coordinators, as they'll learn about necessary topics like human development, and recreational programming and leadership. Curriculum sometimes includes both traditional coursework and direct experience learning opportunities.