Starting a Rewarding Career in Recreational Therapy

If you love helping people who are either disabled, or suffering from the long term effects of illness or injury, then a career in recreational therapy might be right for you.

Recreational therapists are an important part of the healthcare professional community, and usually find their jobs to be highly rewarding.

Demand for this position has been growing, so there is no better time than the present for anyone interested in providing this valuable service to enroll in schools and graduate to work in this important, yet underrated profession.

What Recreational Therapists Do

A typical job description can include helping patients such as physically and mentally disabled individuals, elderly patients, developmentally disabled children, emotionally disabled individuals and more.

The main importance of the job is in using recreation – play, arts and crafts, dance, sports, games, field trips and other activities – promote active and interested participation by the patient.

These activities help to improve and maintain physical strength, motor function and coordination, social skills and emotional well-being. By helping those in need to learn the same things that ever other person learns, and to feel included in society, therapists play an important role in allowing people with many different challenges to lead happier and more productive lives.

Nursing care and skilled nursing facilities employs many recreational therapists. Others find jobs at regular hospitals and surgical facilities. Additionally, many find employment at state owned and private facilities for psychiatric care and substance abuse.

Depending on which type of facility an individual is employed by, salary ranges from between about $25,000 annually to upward of $63,000 annually. Currently, the median salary for recreational therapists is just over $40,000 per year.

Becoming a Recreational Therapist

The requirements have recently changed. Today, there are two ways in which one can become a certified and licensed recreational therapist, those being to either graduate from accredited programs, or through a work experience certification, although the former is much more preferred.

Associate’s degree programs do exist, but students should be warned that they are being phased out; most employers are seeking graduates with the minimum of a Bachelor’s degree as a result.

There are also Master’s and Doctoral degree programs are also available for those who wish to take their education to its fullest, but it is not necessary for professionals to have those degree to become certified, licensed and employed.

Although it is not possible to earn a base degree online, many programs do offer online portions; continuing education and advanced degrees can sometimes be done in an online format, however.

As with just about any other profession in the medical and healthcare profession, attending only accredited programs is essential in order for students to be assured they are gaining the most desired and current training.

Failure to attend an accredited institution can affect a prospective recreational therapist’s ability to gain certification, which can then negatively affect their marketability for job offerings; most facilities seeking recreational therapists are interested in hiring only certified individuals.

For this reason, it is highly recommended that students confirm a program’s accreditation status before they enroll. The Committee on Accreditation of Recreational Therapy Education (CARTE) oversees accreditation of recreational therapy programs.

Certification and Licensure

In order to become legally employed as a recreational therapist, individuals must receive a recreational therapy certification, and then file for licensure within their state.

Certification of these professionals is coordinated and overseen by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC), and there are multiple paths that can be taken to earn certification as a recreational therapist.

Although most people attend college and graduate one of the numerous dedicated educational programs that are available, some candidates are able to gain certification if they have a bachelor’s degree that is not specific for recreational therapy, but includes a certain amount of recreational therapy courses, and they have work experience in the field as well.

Students fulfilling certification requirements, and passing the certification examination are then awarded with the title of certified therapeutic recreation specialists, at which point they can then file for licensure and then seek employment.

Job growth is slightly higher than the general job pool, with estimates that the profession will grow at a rate of 17 percent over the next few years (versus 14 percent of jobs overall).

This means that students who fulfill their educational requirements and become certified and licensed as necessary should have little difficulty finding employment in their career.

For those who are compassionate and enjoy helping those who need assistance in their daily lives, a career in recreational therapy can be a great option.