There are two ways for a recreational therapist who wants to work in a clinical setting to be certified. For those who want to work in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers, certification can be acquired through a specialized certification program, rather than an exam, as is the case for the clinical recreational therapist.
Although certification is not necessary to become a recreational therapist, those who plan to work in clinical environments may be required to pursue it through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many employers prefer to hire individuals with the NCTRC's Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) designation. Individuals can meet CTRS credential requirements through one of three pathways, which are discussed below. Prerequisites for the CTRS program include completion of at least a bachelor's degree program and professional experience.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree|
|Required Experience||1-5 years; an internship can substitute for some years of work experience|
|Skills Necessary||Patient assessment, recreational therapeutic treatment, patient guidance, treatment implementation|
|Exam Requirement||180-question examination|
The first educational pathway to CTRS certification is the academic pathway. Candidates with at least a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy, but without at least five years of full-time paid employment in the field or a year of supervised work experience, are required to undergo a 14-week internship. Once the internship is completed, candidates may then qualify to sit for the examination.
The first equivalency pathway is designed for those who do not hold degrees directly in recreational therapy. This pathway requires candidates to hold at least a bachelor's degree in any field and to have completed courses related to recreational therapy. Candidates are also required to accumulate at least five years of full-time paid employment in the field before sitting for the test.
Finally, the second equivalency pathway is similar to the first equivalency pathway, except in this pathway individuals only require a year of supervised, full-time paid employment in the field. The educational requirements are the same as the first equivalency pathway.
The NCRTC examination comprises 180 questions, which candidates have 3 hours to complete. It is designed to test candidates' competency on a range of subjects considered critical to professional practice. It is divided into four content areas:
- Foundational knowledge
- Recreational therapy practice
- Recreation therapy organization
- Professional advancement
For aspiring therapists who aren't planning on practicing in clinical settings and therefore are not required to attain a bachelor's degree, many therapeutic recreation certificate programs are available. Students trained in these programs may apply their skills in environments such as nursing homes, day care centers and rehabilitation facilities. Certificate programs may require students to take courses on topics such as aging, therapeutic recreation programming and psychology.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS reported an annual median salary of $47,860 for recreational therapists in 2018. The BLS also predicted a 7% increase in jobs for these professionals from 2018-2028, which is faster than average compared to all other occupations.
Experience and education serve as the base for any certification program. Recreational therapists with a bachelor's degree must rely on their experience combined with the topic of their degree program to qualify for the certification exam. Those without a bachelor's degree can find programs in recreational therapy that result in a certificate.