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Recreational Therapist: Education and Career Information

If you are interested in helping others get back to their quality of life after an injury or illness, a career as a recreational therapist may be for you. This can be a lucrative career path, especially if the individual pursues a higher degree than the basic requirements. Being a recreational therapist can be rewarding and serves an innate purpose if your ultimate intention is to restore what was lost. This is definitely a path that falls along the lines of healthcare, but is more specialized and less rigorous.

What is a recreational therapist?

A recreational therapist plans and implements recreational activities, which include sports and other interventions to assist with disabled individuals who have physical, mental and social rehabilitation needs. This person works with the patient, their family and other practitioners to help improve their health and develop skills and useful behaviors for quality of life. You may find these individuals in healthcare agencies, hospitals, hospice care, school systems, community centers, rehab facilities, substance abuse centers and other entities where needed. The client roster of a recreational therapist varies among diverse groups of people, which include mental health, people with addictions, people with developmental disabilities, individuals who need physical medicine and rehabilitation, and pediatric patients. Careers in this field include recreation therapy assistant, rehabilitation activity director, special recreation program leader, adult activity coordinator and assisted living program service coordinator.

How much does a recreational therapist earn?

A recreational therapist earns about $42,200 on average. On the low end, the salary can be about $26,000, and on the high end, it usually falls around $68,000 and higher. This salary is contingent on experience, education, and location. The type of facility where the recreational therapist works. This field is expected to grow at least 13 percent through 2022.

What skills does a recreational therapist need?

Active Listening: It is important to be able to provide full attention to what others say in order to understand, assess, ask questions and determine the right course of action.

Instructing: A recreational therapist must be able to teach others, including patients, family members and other professionals on how to perform certain tasks correctly.

Time management: There are a number of patients that must be tended to, and being able to manage personal and professional time is key. Being cognizant of others’ time is also crucial.

Management of resources: Being able to manage the resources needed to effectively complete the job makes a difference in how successful the individual is, and how well they work with patients.

Writing: It is important to be able to write clear and concisely in order to maintain patient records, handle paperwork and communicate with others.

Reading: Being able to understand other documents and read them with proficiency is important in this line of work. There may be directives from the physician or other entities that will affect how the treatment plan works.

Learning Strategies: Using different training methods and strategies to infuse something new into the therapy sessions should be a priority to a recreational therapist. Knowing where to extract this information to effectively use it is key.

Monitoring: A recreational therapist must know how to monitor and assess the performance of the patients and how they interact with them for the best results. It is important to understand the levels of progress to make corrective action.

Problem Solving: Knowing how to correctly identify problems and come up with viable solutions to solve them in the development and evaluation of solutions is an essential component of being able to be effective in this role.

Technology: There are a number of technological tools that must be mastered in order to keep up with the times and the changing landscape of how things are done. Being able to use a computer and understand the software used in the industry is key to staying effective in your role and in communicating with others.

Attention to Detail: A recreational therapist must be thorough and detect every slight change that contributes to the progress of the patient.

Flexibility: There will be times when schedules change, or the patient may not be able to perform at optimal levels. Being flexible enough to substitute exercises or alter the schedule makes a tremendous difference.

The recreational therapist must also have a background in customer service, therapy and counseling, psychology, administration and management, security, computers and a good grasp of the fine arts to implement new programs that work.

Internship Requirements

There is field work required for hands-on experience, as well as volunteer work under the supervision of a certified recreation specialist.

Education Requirements

There are a number of educational requirements needed to become a recreational therapist. These individuals can go as far as getting a doctoral degree during this path. For the most part, recreational therapists will need a bachelor’s degree.

Students with an associate’s degree complete a two-year program, which includes patient interaction, historical, practical, and theoretical aspects of recreation therapy. Coursework in a recreational therapy program includes courses in assessment, human anatomy, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, and other classes in music, drama, social dance and art. Core courses include therapeutic recreation, sociology, recreation therapy program planning, recreation leadership skills, recreation for special needs and counseling.

A bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy includes coursework that includes anatomy and physiology, therapeutic recreation for the elderly, recreation therapy administration, abnormal psychology, human development, therapeutic recreation for the disable and client assessment.

A master’s degree program in recreation therapy is needed to move into an administrative field. This takes an additional two years, and focuses primarily on management and administration. A master’s thesis or project is required. Coursework include art therapy, recreation and leisure research methods, leisure management theory and practice, therapeutic recreation program development, recreation and leisure trends and issues, and recreational therapy finance management.

Once the bachelor’s degree program is completed, students become eligible to become a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS). This certification is obtained by sitting for an exam, which determines your proficiency and education of the concepts and techniques needed.

This is a good career path for someone who does not mind the years of schooling, and is determined to make a difference in the lives of patients. Helping someone rehab back to their previous health is always a rewarding choice.

Therapy Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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