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Become An Activity Therapist

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Working As An Activity Therapist

  • Assisting and Caring for Others
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Getting Information
  • Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships
  • Organizing, Planning, and Prioritizing Work
  • Deal with People

  • Unpleasant/Angry People

  • Make Decisions

  • Stressful

  • $70,000

    Average Salary

What Does An Activity Therapist Do

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. These therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings to help maintain or improve a patient’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.

Duties

Recreational therapists typically do the following:

  • Assess patients’ needs through observations, medical records, tests, and discussions with other healthcare professionals, patients’ families, and patients
  • Create treatment plans and programs that meet patients’ needs and interests
  • Plan and implement interventions to prevent harm to a patient
  • Engage patients in therapeutic activities, such as exercise, games, and community outings
  • Help patients learn social skills needed to become or remain independent
  • Teach patients about ways to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Record and analyze a patient’s progress
  • Evaluate interventions for effectiveness

Recreational therapists help people reduce depression, stress, and anxiety; recover basic physical and mental abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively.

They use activities, such as arts and crafts, dance, or sports, to help their patients. For example, a recreational therapist can help a patient who is paralyzed on one side of their body by teaching them to adapt activities, like casting a fishing rod or swinging a golf club, by using their functional side.

Therapists often treat specific groups of patients, such as children with cancer. Therapists may use activities such as kayaking or a ropes course to teach patients to stay active and to form social relationships.

Recreational therapists help people with disabilities integrate into the community by teaching them how to use community resources and recreational activities. For example, therapists may teach a patient who uses a wheelchair how to use public transportation.

Therapists may also provide interventions for patients who need help developing social and coping skills. For example, a therapist may use a therapy dog to help patients manage their depression or anxiety.

Therapists may work with physicians or surgeons, registered nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, teachers, or occupational therapists. Recreational therapists are different from recreation workers, who organize recreational activities primarily for enjoyment.

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How To Become An Activity Therapist

Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Many employers require therapists to be certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC).

Education

Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree, usually in recreational therapy or a related field such as recreation and leisure studies.

Recreational therapy programs include courses in assessment, human anatomy, medical and psychiatric terminology, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, and the use of assistive devices and technology. Bachelor’s degree programs usually include an internship.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most employers, particularly those in hospitals and other clinical settings, prefer to hire certified recreational therapists. The NCTRC offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential. Candidates may qualify for certification through one of two pathways. The first option requires a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, which includes the completion of a supervised internship of at least 560 hours, and passing an exam. The second option also requires passing an exam, but allows candidates with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated subject to qualify with a combination of education and work experience. Therapists must take continuing education classes to maintain certification.

NCTRC also offers specialty certification in five areas of practice: behavioral health, community inclusion services, developmental disabilities, geriatrics, and physical medicine/rehabilitation. Therapists also may earn certificates from other organizations to show proficiency in specific therapy techniques, such as aquatic therapy or aromatherapy.

As of 2014, only New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah required recreational therapists to obtain a license. Requirements vary by state. For specific requirements, contact the state’s medical board.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Recreational therapists should be kind and empathetic when providing support to patients and their families. They may deal with patients who are in pain or under emotional stress.

Leadership skills. Recreational therapists must be able to plan, develop, and implement intervention programs in an effective manner. They must be engaging and able to motivate patients to participate in a variety of therapeutic activities.

Listening skills. Recreational therapists must listen carefully to a patient’s problems and concerns. They can then determine an appropriate course of treatment for that patient.

Patience. Recreational therapists may work with some patients who require more time and special attention than others.

Resourcefulness. Recreational therapists customize treatment plans for patients. They must be both creative and flexible when adapting activities or programs to each patient’s needs.

Speaking skills. Recreational therapists need to communicate well with their patients. They must give clear directions during activities or instructions on healthy coping techniques.

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Activity Therapist Career Paths

Activity Therapist
Recreation Therapist Program Coordinator Therapist
Lead Therapist
5 Yearsyrs
Recreation Therapist Program Coordinator Administrator
Practice Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Recreation Therapist Program Coordinator Ambulatory Care Coordinator
Patient Care Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Therapist Case Manager
Director Of Social Services
6 Yearsyrs
Therapist Clinical Supervisor
Clinical Director
9 Yearsyrs
Art Therapy Specialist Clinician Case Manager
Medical Case Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Art Therapy Specialist Clinician Program Manager
Service Program Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Art Therapy Specialist Clinician Owner
Service Director
9 Yearsyrs
Social Worker Clinical Social Worker Case Manager
Director Of Case Management
11 Yearsyrs
Social Worker Team Leader Assistant Director
Director Of Admissions
7 Yearsyrs
Social Worker Consultant Program Manager
Director, Program Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Music Therapist Adjunct Faculty Registered Nurse Supervisor
Managed Care Director
9 Yearsyrs
Music Therapist Adjunct Faculty Clinical Social Worker
Utilities Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Music Therapist Adjunct Professor Superintendent
Resident Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Special Education Teacher Lead Teacher Program Director
Director Of Program Services
8 Yearsyrs
Special Education Teacher Team Leader Program Director
Director Of Residential Services
7 Yearsyrs
Special Education Teacher Lead Teacher House Manager
Home Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Mental Health Counselor Lead Teacher House Manager
Housing Director
6 Yearsyrs
Mental Health Counselor Senior Counselor Clinical Director
Director Of Rehabilitation
7 Yearsyrs
Mental Health Counselor Adjunct Professor Nurse Manager
Administrative Director, Behavioral Health Services
11 Yearsyrs
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Top Skills for An Activity Therapist

  1. Treatment Plans
  2. Patient Care
  3. Group Therapy Sessions
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Planned and facilitated therapeutic activities/ programs and did assessments, individualized treatment plans, evaluation for therapy and discharge planning.
  • Provided insightful recommendations on various committees and work groups to improve hospital policy and patient care
  • Hosted group therapy sessions with patients using individually-tailored treatment plans.
  • Utilized therapeutic crisis intervention techniques.
  • Coordinate, implement and monitor recreational activities to assure compliance to Potomac Center Standards and State of Maryland Regulations.

Activity Therapist Demographics

Gender

Female

66.4%

Male

23.2%

Unknown

10.3%
Ethnicity

White

64.0%

Black or African American

13.7%

Hispanic or Latino

12.7%

Asian

6.3%

Unknown

3.4%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

67.7%

French

6.5%

Mandarin

6.5%

Vietnamese

3.2%

Japanese

3.2%

Kinyarwanda

3.2%

Cantonese

3.2%

Thai

3.2%

Italian

3.2%
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Activity Therapist Education

Schools

New York University

12.1%

University of Phoenix

9.8%

Jackson State University

7.1%

Walden University

6.3%

Benedict College

6.3%

Capella University

6.3%

Grand Valley State University

5.4%

Arkansas State University

4.5%

Florida State University

4.5%

Troy University

4.0%

Georgia Southern University

4.0%

University of Alaska Anchorage

4.0%

Webster University

4.0%

Michigan State University

3.1%

Illinois State University

3.1%

Lehman College of the City University of New York

3.1%

Old Dominion University

3.1%

Columbus State University

3.1%

Drexel University

3.1%

Central Michigan University

3.1%
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Majors

Rehabilitation Science

25.8%

Psychology

12.4%

Social Work

8.5%

School Counseling

5.8%

Recreation Management

5.8%

Counseling Psychology

4.6%

Mental Health Counseling

4.3%

Business

4.1%

Criminal Justice

3.8%

Education

3.7%

Nursing

3.2%

Kinesiology

2.9%

Occupational Therapy

2.1%

Family Therapy

2.0%

Sociology

2.0%

Health Education

1.9%

Elementary Education

1.9%

Clinical Psychology

1.9%

Human Services

1.9%

Special Education

1.6%
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Degrees

Bachelors

40.1%

Masters

38.0%

Other

12.0%

Associate

5.4%

Certificate

2.1%

Doctorate

1.7%

Diploma

0.5%

License

0.2%
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