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Become A Recreation Therapist

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Working As A Recreation 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

  • $49,390

    Average Salary

What Does A Recreation 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.


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 A Recreation 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).


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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Recreation Therapist jobs

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Recreation Therapist Career Paths

Recreation Therapist
Program Coordinator Social Worker
Career Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Recreation Specialist Program Coordinator Career Coordinator
Career Services Director
9 Yearsyrs
Program Manager Adjunct Professor Clinical Social Worker
Clinical Care Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Activities Director Program Director
Clinical Director
9 Yearsyrs
Case Manager Registered Nurse Case Manager Nursing Director
Clinical Services Director
11 Yearsyrs
Recreation Coordinator Assistant Director Nursing Director
Director Of Health Services
11 Yearsyrs
Activity Coordinator Activities Director Program Director
Director Of Residential Services
7 Yearsyrs
Activities Director Service Director Medical Social Worker
Director Of Social Services
6 Yearsyrs
Program Manager General Manager Service Director
Director Of Support Services
8 Yearsyrs
Recreation Director Activities Director Program Director
Executive Director
10 Yearsyrs
Therapist Registered Nurse Occupational Health Nurse
Health Services Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Case Manager Clinical Coordinator Nurse Manager
Registered Nurse Case Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Program Coordinator Therapist Clinical Coordinator
Registered Nurse Supervisor
7 Yearsyrs
Therapist Occupational Therapist
Rehab Director
7 Yearsyrs
Activity Coordinator Office Manager Licensed Practical Nurse
Resident Services Director
6 Yearsyrs
Recreation Director Program Director
Service Director
9 Yearsyrs
Program Director Educator Program Manager
Service Program Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Recreation Coordinator Case Manager Program Director
Unit Director
5 Yearsyrs
Program Director Specialist Licensed Practical Nurse
Wellness Director
7 Yearsyrs
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Recreation Therapist Demographics


  • Female

  • Male

  • Unknown



  • White

  • Hispanic or Latino

  • Asian

  • Unknown

  • Black or African American

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Languages Spoken

  • Spanish

  • Chinese

  • French

  • Mandarin

  • Swedish

  • Vietnamese

  • Polish

  • Italian

  • Swahili

  • Portuguese

  • Hawaiian

  • German

  • Romanian

  • Hebrew

  • Japanese

  • Russian

  • Turkish

  • Ukrainian

  • Korean

  • Arabic

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Recreation Therapist

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Recreation Therapist Education

Recreation Therapist

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Real Recreation Therapist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Recreation Therapist California Department of Corrections &Amp; Rehabil Stockton, CA Oct 01, 2014 $69,168 -
Recreational Therapists Vacaville Psychiatric Program Vacaville, CA Jun 28, 2011 $68,148 -
Recreational Therapists Seyong Choi Physical Therapy Los Angeles, CA Feb 12, 2013 $67,500
Recreational Therapists Seyong Choi Physical Therapy Los Angeles, CA Aug 16, 2013 $67,500
Recreational Therapists Patton State Hospital Patton Village, CA May 05, 2011 $64,896 -
Recreational Therapist Coalinga State Hospital Coalinga, CA Jun 06, 2012 $64,896 -
Recreational Therapists Coalinga State Hospital Coalinga, CA Jan 23, 2014 $64,896 -
Recreational Therapist Coalinga State Hospital Coalinga, CA Nov 03, 2011 $64,896 -
Recreational Therapist East Coast Assistance Dogs Torrington, CT Mar 16, 2016 $64,459
Recreational Therapist Coordinator Intergro Resources Inc. Inglewood, CA Nov 16, 2013 $62,610
Recreational Therapists California Neuro-Rehabilitation Institute, Inc. Los Angeles, CA Jun 28, 2011 $62,100
Recreational Therapists Il Creation of Maryland, Inc. Rockville, MD May 29, 2012 $59,904
Recreational Therapist Sutter East Bay Hospitals Berkeley, CA May 01, 2011 $58,853
Recreational Therapist Patricia P. Dudley San Anselmo, CA Mar 27, 2015 $57,184
Recreational Therapist Institute for Effective Behavioral Interventions, Inc. CA May 26, 2015 $51,064 -
Recreational Therapist Dahn Yoga & Health Centers, Inc. Scottsdale, AZ Sep 25, 2012 $50,000
Recreational Therapist Body & Brain Yoga and Health Centers, Inc. Scottsdale, AZ Sep 25, 2015 $50,000
Recreational Therapists Yonsei Pain Clinic, Inc. Garden Grove, CA Feb 24, 2014 $50,000
Recreational Therapist Body & Brain Yoga and Health Centers, Inc. Scottsdale, AZ Sep 16, 2015 $50,000
Recreational Therapist Boro Park Operating Co LLC New York, NY Apr 28, 2011 $43,785
Recreational Therapist Boro Park Operating Co LLC New York, NY Feb 15, 2011 $43,785
Recreational Therapist Dahn Yoga & Health Centers, Inc. Hillsdale, NY Sep 12, 2014 $43,000
Recreational Therapist Dahn Yoga & Health Centers, Inc. Cambridge, MA Sep 12, 2014 $43,000
Recreational Therapist Dahn Yoga & Health Centers, Inc. Cambridge, MA Sep 12, 2013 $43,000
Recreational Therapist/Rehabilitation Coordinator C & K Healing Touch Physical Therapy, PC New York, NY Apr 01, 2011 $42,324
Recreational Therapists The Auditory Oral School of New York New York, NY Feb 11, 2011 $42,182

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Top Skills for A Recreation Therapist


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Top Recreation Therapist Skills

  1. Leisure Education
  2. Treatment Plans
  3. Care Plans
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Designed and taught personal development, leisure education, and communication curriculum.
  • Planned and implemented therapeutic activities for chemically dependent patients Assessed, documented and developed treatment plans weekly
  • Provided therapeutic programs to Dementia population; wrote quarterly & annual reviews, & care plans for said residents
  • Planned and implemented special events, eliciting resident/patient input.
  • Facilitate and organize marketing activities in the mental health community.

Top Recreation Therapist Employers

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