Recreational Therapist Job Description

Boy playing Chess with an elderly man. Recreational therapists use a variety of methods including games to treat mental health and physical injury or disability.

Boy playing Chess with an elderly man. Recreational therapists use a variety of methods including games to treat mental health and physical injury or disability.

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses.

Recreational Therapist Job Description: Recreational therapists, also referred to as therapeutic recreation specialists, provide treatment services and recreation activities for individuals with disabilities or illnesses.

Using a variety of techniques, including arts and crafts, animals, sports, games, dance and movement, drama, music, and community outings, therapists improve and maintain the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of their clients.

Therapists help individuals reduce depression, stress, and anxiety; recover basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively so that they can enjoy greater independence and reduce or eliminate the effects of their illness or disability. In addition, therapists help people with disabilities integrate into the community by teaching them how to use community resources and recreational activities.

In acute health care settings, such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers, the Recreational Therapist Job Description includes treating and rehabilitating individuals with specific health conditions, usually in conjunction or collaboration with physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and physical and occupational therapists.

 In long-term and residential care facilities, recreational therapists use leisure activities—especially structured group programs—to improve and maintain their clients’ general health and well-being. They also may provide interventions to prevent the client from suffering further medical problems and complications.

Recreational therapists assess clients using information from observations, medical records, standardized assessments, the medical staff, the clients’ families, and the clients themselves. They then develop and carry out therapeutic interventions consistent with the clients’ needs and interests.

For example, they may encourage clients who are isolated from others or who have limited social skills to play games with others, and they may teach right-handed people with right-side paralysis how to use their unaffected left side to throw a ball or swing a racket.

Recreational therapists may instruct patients in relaxation techniques to reduce stress and tension, stretching and limbering exercises, proper body mechanics for participation in recreational activities, pacing and energy conservation techniques, and team activities. As they work, therapists observe and document a patient’s participation, reactions, and progress.

Community-based recreational therapists may work in park and recreation departments, special-education programs for school districts, or assisted-living, adult day care, and substance abuse rehabilitation centers.

In these programs, therapists use interventions to develop specific skills, while providing opportunities for exercise, mental stimulation, creativity, and fun. Those few who work in schools help counselors, teachers, and parents address the special needs of students, including easing disabled students’ transition into adult life.

Working Environment

Recreational therapists provide services in special activity rooms but also plan activities and prepare documentation in offices. When working with clients during community integration programs, they may travel locally to teach clients how to use public transportation and other public areas, such as parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants, and theaters.

Therapists often lift and carry equipment. Recreational therapists generally work a 40-hour week that may include some evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Training and Qualifications to be a Recreational Therapist

Most entry-level recreational therapists need a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation, or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation.

It is possible to 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.    

Licensing and Credentialing

Only a handful of states require licensure for recreational therapists. Most employers require National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. The council offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist credential to candidates who have a bachelor’s or graduate degree from an accredited educational institution, pass a written certification examination, and complete a supervised internship of at least 480 hours

Significant Points for the Recreational Therapist job Description

Recreational therapists will experience competition for jobs.

A bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation is the usual requirement for entry-level positions.

Recreational therapists should be comfortable working with persons who are ill or who have disabilities.

The recreational therapist job description may vary widely depending on the work setting.

Career Progression

Recreational Therapists may advance to supervisory or administrative positions. Some teach, conduct research, or consult for health or social services agencies. As an allied health professional they may be recruited into healthcare administration.

Resources for Recreational Therapist Job Description:

Recreational Therapist: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition.

American Therapeutic Recreation Association