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Recreation Therapist Duties and Responsibilities

The type of organization a recreation therapist works for will determine the exact tasks they carry out. Based on job listings we analyzed, a recreation therapist's duties typically involve:

Assess Patient Needs Recreation therapists observe patients and analyze medical records and tests to assess patient needs. Additionally, the therapists discuss health concerns with other healthcare professionals and patients' families.

Develop Treatment Plans After evaluating a patient's condition, recreation therapists develop a treatment plan that will work with the patient's capabilities and limitations as well as suit the patient's needs and interests. Part of this includes planning interventions to support goals.

Engage Patient in Activities Recreation therapists engage their clients in therapeutic activities, such as games, trips, or exercise to help them socialize or to encourage them to become or remain independent.

Teach Coping Mechanisms The emotional side of illnesses such as stress, anxiety, or depression can be as difficult to cope with as the physical side, so recreation therapists work with patients to teach them ways to cope and manage these side effects.

Document Patient Development Throughout the course of the treatment plan, recreation therapists document and analyze a patient's progress and evaluate the interventions to support them in meeting their goals for a fully effective plan.


Recreation Therapist Skills and Qualifications

Recreation therapists need to be patient and compassionate, have excellent communication skills, and be resourceful. Typically, employers will require a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy or a similar field and a certification, as well as the following abilities:
  • Compassion - Recreation therapists work with people who are ill and have varying levels of disability, so they are compassionate and empathetic to patients who may be suffering from physical or emotional pain as well as to patients' families
  • Interpersonal Skills - Much of this role involves speaking with people, from patients to colleagues, so recreation therapists have excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate effectively
  • Patience - Some patients may require more time or effort than others, so this role requires a high level of patience to be able to give patients as long as they need to show signs of improvement
  • Listening Skills - In order to determine the right course of action for a patient, recreation therapists need to listen carefully to patient symptoms, problems, and concerns
  • Flexibility - This role requires a level of adaptability and flexibility to be able to find new ways to accommodate a patient's problems and to customize the treatment plan appropriately

Recreation Therapist Education and Training

The minimum requirement to become a recreation therapist is a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy or a related field, such as leisure studies. These programs include courses in assessment, human anatomy, medical and psychiatric terminology, and the characteristics of illnesses and disabilities. Bachelor's programs also usually include an internship to gain hands-on experience. Most employers typically prefer candidates to also have a certification. For example, the NCTRC offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) qualification. This credential offers specialty certification in one of five areas too: behavioral health, developmental disabilities, geriatrics, community inclusion services, and physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Recreation Therapist Salary and Outlook

The median annual salary for recreation therapists is $46,000. Recreation therapists in the 10th percentile earn around $28,000 a year and the highest paid earn over $72,000 annually. Location and level of experience are the biggest factors impacting pay for this role. A large proportion of employers offer medical and dental cover as part of the benefits package. The BLS predicts that the growth rate for this sector is expected to increase by 7 percent through 2026.

Helpful Resources

We've collected some of the best resources to help you develop a fulfilling career as a recreation therapist:

Assessment Tools for Recreational Therapy and Related Fields - This guide by Joan Burlingame and Thomas M. Blaschko is packed with useful and critical information on the assessment process, specific tools, and the standards related to assessment. It's been updated to include five new assessments and has updated information on the national and international standards.

Recreational Therapy for Specific Diagnoses and Conditions - A helpful reference that provides detailed descriptions of 39 diagnoses and conditions which can be treated by recreational therapists, this book includes the prevalence and ages most affected, causes, and the secondary problems which may be found, as well as effective treatments.

ATRA - The American Therapeutic Recreation Association LinkedIn group has over 3,000 members and provides knowledge, networking opportunities, and the latest news relevant to recreation therapists who want to learn more about the newest developments in the healthcare industry.

Recreation Therapy - This website covers the recreational therapy field as a whole, from games and tasks to useful activity ideas. The resources section has a wealth of information, from technology and job openings to in-depth articles.

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