Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Certification Information

Sep 24, 2019

A Therapeutic Recreation Specialist certification is a required credential for therapy professionals who seek specific careers in recreation therapy. Get some quick facts about the education and experience requirements necessary to qualify for certified therapeutic recreation specialist positions.

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Therapeutic recreation therapists can become certified through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). They need a combination of education and work experience in order to sit for the three-hour long examination. Candidates may also pursue a number of different specialization options such as behavioral health or developmental disabilities.

Essential Information

The NCTRC certifies individuals as certified therapeutic recreation specialists. The certification process requires work experience, an exam, renewal every five years and continuing education. Certified therapeutic recreation specialists may also receive certification in specialties such as geriatrics or behavioral health.

In order to earn the job title certified therapeutic recreation specialist (CTRS), an individual must receive certification through the NCTRC. This certification is a limited license showing that the individual meets the minimum educational requirements and has passed an exam.

Required Education Bachelor's degree or lower depending on work experience
Required Experience 1-5 years full-time depending on education
Exam Requirements Three hours; 180 multiple-choice questions
Specialization Options Rehabilitation and physical medicine, developmental disabilities, geriatrics, behavioral health, and community inclusion services
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 7% for all Recreational Therapists*
Median Salary (2018) $45,000**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Certification Authority

The certification body for therapeutic recreation specialists is the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, Inc., or NCTRC. The NCTRC was established in 1981 as a non-profit professional organization with the goal of protecting consumers. It is a member of both the National Organization for Competency Assurance and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Certification Details

Work Experience Required

Individuals who have a bachelor's degree or higher and who have majored in therapeutic recreation at an accredited college or university must submit a transcript along with the application for NCTRC certification. Courses in anatomy, physiology, abnormal psychology and human development are required. This academic path to certification also requires a 560-hour, 14-week supervised work experience in a recreation therapy setting.

Alternatively, individuals who have not completed a bachelor's degree program can take one of two equivalency paths. One requires 18 semester-hours or 24 quarter-hours of instruction in recreation therapy with courses in anatomy, physiology, abnormal psychology and human development, and one year of full-time employment as a recreational therapist.

The other equivalency path requires 18 semester-hours or 24 quarter-hours of instruction in recreation therapy, five years of full-time paid work experience as a recreational therapist and at least three of the following courses:

  • Adaptive physical education
  • Biological or physical sciences
  • Human services
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Special education

Exam Required

The exam consists of a main test of 90 questions and another 90 questions divided among six 15-question 'testlets.' Examinees have a total of three hours to complete the 180 questions. The main test must be passed in order to take the testlets. Practice exams and sample questions are available for review at the NCTRC website.


Certified therapeutic recreation specialists are required by the NCTRC to renew their certification every five years. For recertification, the NCTRC collects an $80 fee and gives participants two options for renewal. The first option is to demonstrate at least 480 hours of work experience in therapeutic recreation and 50 hours of continuing education. The second option is to retake and pass the certification exam.

Individuals whose CTRS certification has lapsed within the past two years may be eligible for re-entry, which also involves taking and passing the certification exam.

Continuing Education

Qualified hours of continuing education for CTRS certification may include work-related education sessions, academic courses, and teleconferences, audio seminars, home study courses or conferences approved by the NCTRC.

Specialty Certification

The NCTRC offers specialty certification in the following areas:

  • Rehabilitation and physical medicine
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Geriatrics
  • Behavioral health
  • Community inclusion services

Special Certification Paths

There are two paths to obtain certification in one of these specialized areas. The first requires active CTRS status, five years of full-time experience, at least 75 credit hours of continuing education completed within five years of application and two professional references.

The alternative path requires active CTRS status, a graduate degree in recreational therapy, a minimum of nine graduate credit hours in the specialty field, one year of full-time experience and two professional references.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2018, recreational therapists earned an annual median salary of $47,860, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists earned a median salary of $37,295. The BLS projected a faster than average job growth of 7% for recreational therapists from 2018-2028.

There are a variety of ways that one can qualify to become a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, as well as multiple options for specialization. Earning a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation is a good way to qualify to sit for the exam, but candidates can also use a combination of course work and experience to qualify. After accruing additional work experience and education, therapeutic recreation specialists may consider pursuing some form of specialization.

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