Associate's degrees in recreation therapy or therapeutic recreation take two years to complete and usually include both lecture-based courses and internship opportunities. Earning an associate's degree may lead to entry-level work as an activities coordinator or recreation assistant, or graduates can pursue bachelor's degrees.
The minimum education required for certification as a recreation therapist is a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's programs in this field cover some of the same therapeutic topics as associate's programs, though more extensive clinical experience is typically required. Master's programs in recreation therapy are research-intensive, and applicants to these programs who don't hold a bachelor's degree in the field may need to complete certain prerequisite courses. Master's-level students must complete a final project or thesis in order to graduate.
Associate's Degree in Therapeutic Recreation
Associate's degrees in therapeutic recreation prepare students to take various entry-level positions in the field. This 2-year program focuses on therapeutic recreation theory, practice and history. Students also take related art, culture and physical education classes. Many programs require students to complete internships in order to gain hands-on experience with patients. A high school diploma or GED is required for entry into a program.
Students in an associate's degree program in therapeutic recreation take specific classes in the field as well as subjects that can be incorporated into recreation and leisure programs, such as art, music or theater. The following coursework is typical in a therapeutic recreation curriculum:
- Recreational therapy techniques
- Leadership skills in recreation and leisure
- Fundamentals of sociology
- Program planning for therapeutic recreation
- Recreation and disability
Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation
Bachelor's degree programs require that applicants have a high school diploma or GED. A bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation program includes instruction in aquatic therapy, planning, art therapy techniques and relaxation techniques. Students also learn how to organize and direct group and individual recreational activities. Completion of approximately 320 practicum hours in a community, clinical or residential therapeutic recreation program is a typical part of the bachelor's degree requirements.
Coursework in a B.S. in Therapeutic Recreation program covers psychological and sociological issues in addition to the administrative aspects of the field. Students are generally required to take the following classes:
- Recreation as therapy
- Therapeutic recreation for children and the elderly
- Disability studies
- Therapeutic recreation administration
- Trends in recreational therapy
Master of Science Degree in Therapeutic Recreation
A master's degree in therapeutic recreation program teaches students advanced skills in therapeutic recreation techniques. Students are required to complete a master's project and thesis. To graduate, students must typically complete 16-week internships under supervision of certified therapeutic recreation specialists. Those who do not already have state and national certification in therapeutic recreation are generally qualified upon completion of the program.
The curriculum is designed to develop students' management and clinical skills. Courses in a master's degree program in therapeutic recreation include:
- Therapeutic art
- Group dynamics
- Volunteer and staff training
- Client Assessment
Health care and human services organizations hire graduates of baccalaureate-level therapeutic recreation programs for a wide variety of positions. The following careers represent just a few of the many opportunities available:
- Therapeutic recreation specialist
- Art therapy instructor
- In-home recreation aide
- Equestrian therapy specialist
- Music therapy specialist
There are many jobs for graduates of associate's degree programs in therapeutic recreation, but most students pursue bachelor's degrees in order to have further career options and opportunities for advancement. The following positions are available with an associate's degree:
- Therapeutic recreation assistant
- Rehabilitation activities coordinator
- Special needs recreation leader
- Assisted living program director
Graduates of accredited bachelor's degree programs in therapeutic recreation are qualified to take the exam to be certified as therapeutic recreation specialists; certification and accreditation are provided by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation. Students who wish to further their education in order to pursue higher-paying career opportunities may consider earning Master of Science degrees in Therapeutic Recreation.
Graduates of master's degree programs in therapeutic recreation have a few options for continuing education. There are a number of related degrees, such as those in health studies or recreation and leisure studies. Students who wish to pursue these options can go on to careers as college professors.
Salary Info and Career Outlook
Career opportunities for recreational therapists are expected to grow 12% between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for recreational therapists was $45,890 as of May 2015, listed by the BLS. Those with master's degrees in therapeutic recreation can work as consultants, teachers, researchers, supervisors or administrators in the field.
Though recreation therapy degrees are available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels, students wishing to become certified recreation therapists must earn at least a bachelor's degree. There are careers available to degree-holders at every level, and continuing education may allow students to obtain better-paying jobs.