Recreation Therapist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a recreation therapist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Recreational therapists seek to renew an individual's zest for life through assorted leisure activities, tailored specifically to each patient. They can work in community centers, medical facilities, or even schools. A bachelor's degree in a related field is required, and some states even require licensure.

Essential Information

Recreation therapists assist patients in leisure activities to engage and improve their minds, bodies and spirits. Their goal is to help patients adjust to life with a disease, injury or disability. Most jobs in the field require a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation, and job prospects can be helped by acquiring certification.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation or recreation with a therapeutic concentration
Other Requirements Licensure required in some states; certification by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification is preferred by some employers
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 12% (faster than average)
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $45,890

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Recreation therapists employ leisure activities to help patients with disabilities or illnesses. Through the use of games, sports, crafts and more, they maintain their patients' physical and emotional well-being. In doing this, they also help patients integrate into their community via group activities. Recreation therapists might work in hospitals or other medical institutions, their community's parks and recreation department or specialized school programs.


To assess patient needs, recreational therapists consider medical records, personal observation and talks with the patient and his or her loved ones. They then execute a therapeutic program targeted toward what that patient requires most. This can entail a variety of activities, so therapists need to keep current on communal and therapeutic resources available to best help their patients. Therapists also document a patient's progress during their activities.

A therapist's specific duties vary based on his or her place of employment. For instance, therapists who work in schools might focus on their patients' communal integration as they move into adult life. Those employed by hospitals might target their work on helping patients rehabilitate after an injury or illness. Therapists in community recreation departments might concentrate more on developing programs to help their town's residents.

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Most recreation therapist jobs require a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation. These are typically Bachelor of Science programs that teach students to both understand their patients' conditions and engage those patients physically and mentally to keep them refreshed. The programs often include a significant amount of field work so students can gain hands-on experience for their future career. As an alternative to a therapeutic recreation study, some schools offer a bachelor's degree in recreation with a therapeutic concentration.

A few states require recreational therapists to obtain licensure, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employers prefer to hire recreation therapists who acquire certification. This can be attained through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, or NCTRC, which offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) designation for those who have met the necessary education and work experience requirements and passed an exam.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

As noted by the BLS, in May 2015, recreational therapists earned a median annual salary of $45,890. Medical and surgical hospitals employed the largest number of recreational therapists at that time, followed by skilled nursing care facilities (BLS). Employment of recreational therapists was predicted to grow 12% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS.

Recreation therapists should earn a bachelor's in therapeutic recreation or a similar major so that they are trained to work with and implement a treatment plan for physically or mentally impaired persons. While not required, employers favor those with professional certification.

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