Educational programs in recreation therapy, or therapeutic recreation, are available at both undergraduate and graduate degree levels. Two-year associate's programs provide students with basic information and some practical experience that can be applied to entry-level positions or relayed into further education. Four-year bachelor's degree programs provide more comprehensive knowledge and extensive hands-on experience for careers in the field. Master's programs are more research-based for those seeking research or upper-level administrative roles in the recreation therapy field.
Associate's Degree in Recreation Therapy
The most basic of recreation therapy degrees, the associate's degree in recreation therapy, qualifies students for entry-level jobs in the recreation therapy field. Students in this two-year program study patient interaction and the historical, practical, and theoretical aspects of recreation therapy. A high school diploma or G.E.D. will be required for admittance. These programs typically require field work, which allows students to gain hands-on experience for class credit. In addition to the core recreation therapy courses, students can take relevant classes in music, drama, social dance and art. Typical courses in the associate's degree program include:
- Therapeutic recreation
- Recreation therapy program planning
- Recreation leadership skills
- Recreation for special needs
Bachelor's Degree in Recreation Therapy
A Bachelor of Science in Recreation Therapy degree prepares students to become certified recreation therapists. A high school diploma and ACT or SAT scores will be needed to enroll in the program. Students are usually required to complete internships and volunteer work under the supervision of a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. The curriculum in these programs covers topics in therapeutic recreation, physical and behavioral sciences and recreation and leisure administration. General education requirements, such as anatomy and physiology, are also incorporated into the course load. Typical classes include:
- Therapeutic recreation for the elderly
- Recreation therapy administration
- Abnormal psychology
- Human development
- Therapeutic recreation for the disabled
- Client assessment
Master's Degree in Recreation Therapy
A Master of Science in Recreation Therapy degree allows graduates to move into administrative roles in the field. A bachelor's degree (preferably in a related field) is required to begin master's level work. Most students can complete this program within one to two years. The master's degree curriculum focuses on management and administration, in addition to various forms of therapy. The curriculum covers the assessment and evaluation of patient health, human development and program planning study. Students also conduct field work and advanced research in the field. Many programs require completion of a master's thesis or major project. Students study topics that include:
- Art therapy
- Recreation and leisure research methods
- Leisure management theory and practice
- Therapeutic recreation program development
- Recreation and leisure trends and issues
- Recreational therapy finance management
While a bachelor's degree is required to become a certified recreation therapist, an associate's degree opens up a number of entry-level career options. The following jobs are available with a two-year recreation therapy degree:
- Recreation therapy assistant
- Rehabilitation activity director
- Special recreation program leader
- Adult activity coordinator
- Assisted living program service coordinator
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), recreational therapy positions are expected to increase about 12% from 2014-2024. The most demand is anticipated in positions that require working with children and the elderly. Recreational therapists earned an average of $47,790 annually as of May 2015, per the BLS.
An associate's degree on its own provides very few opportunities for advancement in the recreation therapy field. Most employers in the health care or human services field require recreational therapists hold a bachelor's degree and certification. Students who desire certification can continue on to a Bachelor of Science in Recreation Therapy program or a similar therapeutic recreation program. Students who complete the bachelor's degree program are eligible to become Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS). Certification can be acquired by successfully completing the exam administered by The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (www.nctrc.org). Those who wish to further their education can pursue a master's degree in recreation therapy or therapeutic recreation.
Degree programs in recreational therapy are available at every academic degree level from associate's to bachelor's to master's. Continuing education and certification can improve the potential for employment and success in the field.