Recreational Therapist Job Description

Recreational therapists support physical and mental health by using leisure activities for patients with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities. While they provide both physical and behavioral therapy, recreational therapists utilize different methods that include games, arts and crafts, and aquatics to support patient outcomes.

Recreational therapists work in a wide variety of locations, including rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and hospitals. They work closely with patients to develop treatment plans and determine desired outcomes, tailoring their programs and methods to help with recovery, mental illness, and social reintegration.


Recreational Therapist Duties and Responsibilities

We analyzed recreational therapist job postings to identify the following core duties and responsibilities for this role. They include:

Assess Patient Needs

When meeting a new patient or group of patients, recreational therapists perform an assessment of patient needs. This helps them develop strategies, establish timelines and treatment milestones, and prepare appropriate activities to support the patient’s goals. Recreational therapists also answer patient questions and conduct tests related to the patient’s emotional, physical, and social needs.

Develop Treatment Plans

Recreational therapists develop treatment plans designed to address each patient’s specific needs. They may confer with other doctors, therapists, and care providers to develop or customize treatment plans based on a number of patient factors, including mobility, pain levels, and desired outcomes and timelines. Then they present this treatment plan to the patient and answer any questions.

Lead Activities

Recreational therapists lead leisure activities for patients in both individual and group settings, customizing these activities based on patient limitations and aptitudes. These activities can vary widely and include arts and crafts projects, drama, aquatic exercise, or planned outings to social and community events. They may need to modify certain activities to address a specific patient need. For example, a therapist may lead an art class for patients trying to develop motor control following an accident or illness.

Monitor Patient Progress

While implementing a treatment plan, recreational therapists also monitor and assess patient performance and progress. This helps them to determine whether a specific method or modality is effective and provides valuable feedback for other therapists and patient care professionals. Recreational therapists may conduct weekly or monthly evaluations as part of a long-term treatment plan.

Develop Patient Intervention Plans

Recreational therapists often need to modify their treatment plans or introduce new interventions to address a specific patient need. A patient working toward reintegrating into the community may need specific, tailored outings to gain familiarity and comfort with their environment, for example, while a patient suffering from depression or anxiety may need a referral to a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

Communicate with Other Care Providers

Throughout the treatment process, recreational therapists actively communicate with doctors, nurses, and other care providers. This begins with the initial patient assessment, as other care providers can provide vital information that helps recreational therapists develop a treatment plan. Recreational therapists then provide updates and communicate with care providers when they need further patient information.


Recreational Therapist Skills and Qualifications

Recreational therapists need to be organized and outgoing, able to successfully lead activities for individuals and groups. Care facilities typically hire candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree, along with the following skills:

  • Assessment and evaluation – patient assessment and evaluation is key to this role, so recreational therapists should have a solid grasp of assessing a patient’s well-being and evaluating progress
  • Activity planning – to plan activities for patients with a variety of physical, emotional, and social needs, and to modify these activities for individual patients’ needs
  • Written and verbal communication – being able to communicate with patients and other care providers is also vital in this role
  • Group leadership – to motivate and lead groups, maintaining focus in a variety of situations and settings
  • Problem-solving – to develop modalities for patients with specific needs and successfully modify existing methods to achieve patient success
  • Lifting and physical coordination – to assist patients with limited mobility, they need to be able to support patient weight and also work on their feet


Recreational Therapist Education and Training

Recreational therapists need a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as recreation and leisure studies or recreational therapy. Most facilities seek out candidates who have achieved certification by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Additionally, experience working directly with patients or leading group activities in a setting such as a school, nursing home, or hospital is very helpful in this role.


Recreational Therapist Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that recreational therapists earned a median yearly wage of $46,410 in 2016. The lowest-earning 10 percent earned $28,010 annually, while the highest-paid made over $72,340.

Employment for recreational therapists is expected to grow by seven percent between 2016 and 2026. The BLS predicts that a growing population of elderly Americans means this job will continue to be in high demand, especially as older populations put more value in safely maintaining their active lifestyles.


Helpful Resources

We found many resources on the web if you’re interested in learning more about becoming a recreational therapist:

National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification – The NCTRC provides certification examinations and informational articles for recreational therapists.

Recreational Therapy: An Introduction – This textbook provides an overview of the field of recreational therapy, along with best practices and activity examples.

American Therapeutic Recreation Association – This professional organization promotes the benefits of recreational therapy, providing resources and other benefits for recreational therapists.

Recreational Therapy for Specific Diagnoses and Conditions – Read about specific conditions and how they can benefit from various modalities of recreational therapy.


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