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Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Duties and Responsibilities

Therapeutic recreation specialists work in care facilities that focus on patient recovery, so the duties of this role are dependent on specific patient groups. Based on job postings we analyzed, there are core responsibilities associated with this position, regardless of the care provider setting:

Conduct Patient Assessments When first interacting with patients, a therapeutic recreation specialist may conduct a series of evaluations to determine a patient’s specific needs. These can include tests of physical mobility, mental evaluations, and interviews to determine the extent of the patient’s behavioral and social disabilities. This aspect of the job also gives the therapeutic recreation specialist the opportunity to answer patient questions and provide information about the therapy process.

Develop Therapy Plans Therapeutic recreation specialists also develop and enact patient treatment plans in conjunction with other therapists and specialists. While developing a treatment plan, the therapeutic recreation specialist considers many patient factors, including mobility, mental and social capabilities, pain levels, and desired outcomes. Before therapy begins, the therapeutic recreation specialist reviews the treatment plan and timeline with the patient.

Execute Activities and Treatments From day to day, therapeutic recreation specialists lead a variety of leisure activities for patients in both individual and group settings. These activities can depend on a specific patient and goal, but tend include arts and crafts projects, dance, music, and aquatic exercises. A therapeutic recreation specialist may also modify activities to address a specific patient need or limitation, such as adapting a dance to better suit patients with limited mobility.

Implement Patient Intervention Plans To support patient outcomes, therapeutic recreation specialists may need to adjust their treatment plans or introduce new modalities to address a specific patient need as it arises. A patient working on social or behavior skills may need specific, tailored outings to get more comfortable in public settings, while a therapeutic recreation specialist who determines that a patient is suffering from depression or anxiety may need a to refer them to a psychiatrist or counselor.

Evaluate Patient Progress As part of an ongoing treatment plan, the therapeutic recreation specialist also conducts periodic assessments to monitor patient progress and compares it with intended milestones and outcomes. Through these evaluations, the therapeutic recreation specialist can determine whether a specific modality proves effective and adjusts accordingly. They may also provide reports to therapists and other medical professionals to support overall patient health.


Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Skills and Qualifications

Therapeutic recreation specialists lead a variety of activities for individuals and groups. Hiring companies look for therapeutic recreation specialists to have at least a bachelor’s degree, along with the following skills:
  • Assessment and Evaluation – Therapeutic recreation specialists play a vital role in patient evaluation and assessment, so they are familiar with practices and procedures for measuring patient health before and during therapy
  • Project Management – The ability to plan activities for patients with a variety of physical, emotional, and social limitations is also important for therapeutic recreation specialists, as is the capacity to modify activities for individual patients
  • Communication Skills – Therapeutic recreation specialists use verbal and written communication to interact with patients and other care providers
  • Leadership Skills – Many therapeutic recreation specialists work with groups of patients, so they effectively manage these groups and maintain focus in different settings
  • Organizational Skills – Therapeutic recreation specialists need to be highly organized to develop and enact patient treatment plans, manage schedules of patient events and activities, and maintain patient records
  • Endurance and Physical Dexterity – Because they work with patients with limited mobility, therapeutic recreation specialists may need to be able to support a patient’s weight. They also tend to spend long stretches of time on their feet
  • Basic Computer Skills – These therapists utilize basic computer skills to coordinate patient calendars, maintain records and files, prepare reports, and conduct correspondences as needed

Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Education and Training

While therapeutic recreation specialists can find employment with an associate degree, most care facilities prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a field like recreation and leisure studies or recreational therapy. In addition, most employers look for therapeutic recreation specialists who are certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Some experience working with patients or leading group activities in a setting like a school, nursing home, or hospital can also improve job-seekers’ prospects.

Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes data for therapeutic recreation therapists with that of recreational therapists. According to the BLS, recreational therapists earned a median annual salary of $47,680 as of May 2017. The lowest-paid 10 percent of recreational therapists earned less than $29,750 annually, while the highest-earning 10 percent made over $74,210. Employment for recreational therapists is expected to grow 7 percent between 2016 and 2026 as older populations put more value in safely maintaining their active lifestyles.

Helpful Resources

Interested in learning more about working as a therapeutic recreation specialist? If so, check out the following websites and texts for more information on this dynamic career path:

National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) – The NCTRC provides certification examinations, industry news, and career guidance for therapeutic recreation specialists.

103 Group Activities and TIPS (Treatment Ideas & Practical Strategies) – This book by Judith Belmont includes group therapy strategies and activities for patients with a variety of physical, mental, emotional, and social limitations.

American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) – This professional organization promotes the practice of recreational therapy and provides resources for therapeutic recreation specialists.

Recreational Therapy: An Introduction – Read this textbook by David R. Austin for a detailed overview of recreational therapy practices and modalities, along with example activities for groups and individuals.

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