Recreational Therapists: Job Duties and Requirements

One year ago, 18-year-old Will Richards says he struggled to do much of anything active – endurance was too challenging. Then he started seeing a recreational therapist and now, Richards, who has autism, says his energy levels and enthusiasm for activity have improved significantly. Richards’ therapist at the Logan Center in South Bend, Indiana,

A guide to COVID-19 and wellness from the health team at U.S. News & World Report.

Recreational therapists help people reduce depression, stress, and anxiety; recover basic physical and mental abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively. They use interventions, such as arts and crafts, dance, or sports, to help their patients.

Recreational Therapist : Careers in Mental Health

What are a recreational therapist’s duties?

Recreational therapists are tasked with using a wide range of potential activities and community events to improve the lives of their patients. They usually need to match a certain activity with the patients personal interests and hobbies. Some of the activities they can practice with their patients are:

Recreational therapists also need to constantly communicate with other health professionals, like doctors, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists and registered nurses to create recreational plans that do not interfere with other therapies or treatments that the patient is undergoing.

Some recreational therapists choose to specialize, working solely in areas such as:

What is a recreational therapist?

A recreational therapist is a professional who practices recreational therapy, a process that uses various activity-based interventions to help patients with disabling physical or mental conditions. The purpose is to provide them with a way to manage their physical and psychological issues, recover from them and achieve well-being. It does so by using a wide variety of techniques, such as animals, sports, games, dance, arts and crafts, social outings, music and dance.

Recreational therapists use all these recreation activities to improve their patients physical, mental and emotional health, helping them achieve confidence, reasoning abilities and cognitive awareness through recreation and socialization.

What is a recreational therapist’s education?

The minimum educational requirement for a career as a recreational therapist is a bachelors degree, typically in recreational therapy or a related field, like recreation and leisure studies with a focus on recreational therapy. A recreational therapy program aims to educate students regarding human anatomy, the characteristics of various illnesses, diseases and disabilities, medical terminology and the use of modern assistive technology. Many schools that provide bachelors degree programs in recreational therapy also have masters and doctoral level programs, helping students further their expertise in the field.

What is a recreational therapist’s work environment?

Most recreational therapists work in nursing homes, hospitals community health centers, substance abuse centers, correctional facilities, government parks and recreation departments, schools, adult care programs and other similar institutions, both private and public. They may work part-time or full time, although most work 40-hour weeks. Given the fact that some of their patients require constant care, they often need to work nights, weekends and holidays.

The varied nature of their therapy techniques means that their physical work environment is constantly changing, as they usually work both indoors and outdoors. Some may wear special safety attire, due to the fact that some of their patients may expose them to certain diseases or infections. Also, because some patients in need of recreational therapy are in great distress, therapists may be exposed to unpleasant sounds and noises.

What are a recreational therapist’s training and certifications?

Although certification is not mandatory for recreational therapists, most employers in the field prefer to hire certified therapists. Certifications are offered by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification and those who earn them receive the title of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. As a general rule, professionals who wish to receive this certification must earn a bachelors degree or higher, complete an internship and pass a national certification examination. After receiving certification, recreational therapists must apply for recertification every five years.

There are three slightly different pathways to certification, depending on the candidates educational background. The first option is for those who have earned a bachelors degree or higher in recreational therapy and they need to also complete 560 hours of supervised internship, as well as pass the certification exam. The other two options are called equivalency paths and are aimed at candidates with bachelors degrees in other subjects and different levels of work experience. They involve passing the same exam but have different requirements regarding specific recreational therapy coursework and related professional experience.

What are the most important skills for a recreational therapist?

Given the varied nature of the role, recreational therapists usually need to have a diverse skill set. Some of the most important skills for the role are:


What is the difference between a recreational therapist and a physical therapist?

Recreational therapists help people reduce depression, stress, and anxiety; recover basic physical and mental abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively. They use interventions, such as arts and crafts, dance, or sports, to help their patients.

Whats it like being a recreational therapist?

A physical or occupational therapist may use exercises to improve functional mobility, while a recreational therapist uses recreational activities to help you regain your mobility and improve well-being.

What are the benefits of being a recreational therapist?

They plan and carry out treatment programs for their patients. A recreational therapist focuses on your interests to come up with a plan for treatment. They plan activities that will help you develop skills and behaviors to improve your quality of life.

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