How to Become a Recreational Therapist

Training and Education Jobs and Salaries

A bachelors degree with a major or concentration in therapeutic recreation is the usual requirement for entry-level positions as a recreational therapist. Some States regulate recreational therapists, but requirements vary. Most entry-level recreational therapists need a bachelors degree in therapeutic recreation, or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation. People may qualify for paraprofessional positions with an associate degree in therapeutic recreation or another subject related to health care.

An associate degree in recreational therapy; training in art, drama, or music therapy; or qualifying work experience may be sufficient for activity director positions in nursing homes. Approximately 130 academic programs prepare students to become recreational therapists. Most offer bachelor degrees, although some also offer associate, masters, or doctoral degrees. Therapeutic recreation programs include courses in assessment, treatment and program planning, intervention design, and evaluation. Students also study human anatomy, physiology, abnormal psychology, medical and psychiatric terminology, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, professional ethics, and the use of assistive devices and technology.

Some States regulate recreational therapists through licensure, registration, or regulation of titles. Requirements vary by State. For example, North Carolina, Utah, and New Hampshire require licensure to practice as a recreational therapist. Although certification is usually voluntary, most employers prefer to hire candidates who are certified therapeutic recreation specialists. About three out of four recreational therapists work in a clinical setting, which often requires certification by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.

The council offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist credential to candidates who have a bachelor or graduate degree from an accredited educational institution, pass a written certification examination, and complete a supervised internship of at least 480 hours. Therapists must meet additional requirements to maintain certification. Therapists can also earn certifications in specific areas, such as art therapy and aquatic therapy.

Recreational therapists must be comfortable working with people who are ill or disabled. Therapists must be patient, tactful, and persuasive when working with people who have a variety of special needs. Ingenuity, a sense of humor, and imagination are needed to adapt activities to individual needs, and good physical coordination is necessary to demonstrate or participate in recreational activities. Therapists may advance to supervisory or administrative positions. Some recreational therapists teach, conduct research, or consult for health or social services agencies.