Overall employment of recreational therapists is expected to grow more
slowly than the average for all occupations, but employment of therapists
who work in community care facilities for the elderly and in residential
mental retardation, mental health, and substance abuse facilities should
grow faster than the average.
Opportunities should be best for persons with a bachelor’s degree in
therapeutic recreation, or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic
Recreational therapists should be comfortable working with persons who
are ill or who have disabilities.
Recreational therapists, also referred to as therapeutic recreation
specialists, provide treatment services and recreation activities to 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 treat 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, as well as reduce or eliminate the effects of their
illness or disability. In addition, therapists help integrate people with
disabilities into the community by teaching them how to use community resources
and recreational activities. Recreational therapists should not be confused with
recreation workers, who organize recreational activities primarily for
In acute health care settings, such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers,
recreational therapists treat and rehabilitate 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
related to illnesses and disabilities.
Recreational therapists assess clients on the basis of information the
therapists learn from standardized assessments, observations, medical records,
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, clients who are isolated from others or who
have limited social skills may be encouraged to play games with others, and
right-handed persons with right-side paralysis may be instructed in how to adapt
to using 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 individual as well as team activities. In addition, 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 programs for
older adults and people with disabilities. Included in the last group are
programs and facilities such as 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. Although most therapists are employed in other
areas, those who work in schools help counselors, teachers, and parents address
the special needs of students, including easing disabled students’ transition
into adult life.
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 instruct the
clients regarding the accessibility of public transportation and other public
areas, such as parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants, and theaters.
Therapists often lift and carry equipment, as well as lead recreational
activities. Recreational therapists generally work a 40-hour week that may
include some evenings, weekends, and holidays.
Recreational therapists held about 24,000 jobs in 2004. About 6 out of 10
were in nursing care facilities and hospitals. Others worked in state and local
government agencies and in community care facilities for the elderly, including
assisted-living facilities. The rest worked primarily in residential mental
retardation, mental health, and substance abuse facilities; individual and
family services; federal government agencies; educational services; and
outpatient care centers. Only a small number of therapists were self-employed,
generally contracting with long-term care facilities or community agencies to
develop and oversee programs.
A bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation, or in recreation with a
concentration in therapeutic recreation, is the usual requirement for
entry-level positions. Persons may qualify for paraprofessional positions with
an associate degree in therapeutic recreation or a health care related field. 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.
Approximately 150 programs prepare students to become recreational therapists.
Most offer bachelor’s degrees, although some also offer associate, master’s, or
doctoral degrees. Programs include courses in assessment, treatment and program
planning, intervention design, and evaluation. Students also study human
anatomy, physiology, abnormal psychology, medical and psychiatric terminology,
characteristics of ill-nesses and disabilities, professional ethics, and the use
of assistive devices and technology.
Although certification is usually voluntary, most employers prefer to hire
candidates who are certified therapeutic recreation specialists. The National
Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification is the certificatory agency. To
become certified, specialists must have a bachelor’s degree, pass a written
certification examination, and complete an intern-ship of at least 480 hours.
Additional requirements apply in order to maintain certification and to
recertify. Some States require licensure or certification to practice
Recreational therapists should be comfortable working with persons who are
ill or who have disabilities. Therapists must be patient, tactful, and
persuasive when working with people who have a variety of special needs.
Ingenuity, a sense of humor, and imagination are needed to adapt activities to
individual needs, and good physical coordination is necessary to demonstrate or
participate in recreational activities.
Therapists may advance to supervisory or administrative positions. Some teach,
conduct research, or consult for health or social services agencies.
Overall employment of recreational therapists is expected to grow more slowly
than the average for all occupations through the year 2014. In nursing care
facilities—the largest industry employing recreational therapists—employment
will grow slightly faster than the occupation as a whole as the number of older
adults continues to grow. Employment is expected to decline, however, in
hospitals as services shift to outpatient settings and employers emphasize cost
containment. Fast employment growth is expected in the residential and
outpatient settings that serve disabled persons, the elderly, or those diagnosed
with mental retardation, mental illness, or substance abuse problems. Among
these settings are community care facilities for the elderly (including
assisted-living facilities); residential mental retardation, mental health, and
substance abuse facilities; and facilities that provide individual and family
services (such as day care centers for disabled persons and the elderly).
Opportunities should be best for persons with a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic
recreation or in recreation with an option in therapeutic recreation.
Opportunities also should be good for therapists who hold specialized
certifications, for example, in, aquatic therapy, meditation, or crisis
Health care facilities will support a growing number of jobs in adult day care
and outpatient programs offering short-term mental health and alcohol or drug
abuse services. Rehabilitation, home health care, and transitional programs will
provide additional jobs.
The rapidly growing number of older adults is expected to spur job growth for
recreational therapy professionals and paraprofessionals in assisted-living
facilities, adult day care programs, and other social assistance agencies.
Continued growth also is expected in community residential care facilities, as
well as in day care programs for individuals with disabilities.
Median annual earnings of recreational therapists were $32,900 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $25,520 and $42,130. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $20,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $51,800.
In May 2004, median annual earnings for recreational therapists were $28,130 in
nursing care facilities.
Additional Dispensing Optician job resources are presented in the paperback
Health Care Job Explosion! 4th edition by Dennis V. Damp for this
occupational group. Resources include Job Ads, Job Hotlines, Job Fairs,
Placement services, Associations, Books, Directories and Internet (Web) Sites.
Your local library may have this book in their reference section or you can
purchase a copy for $19.95 plus shipping with all major credit cards from our
toll free service at 1-800-782-7424 (Orders Only). Also available at all major
bookstores. Also explore jobs at VA hospitals and other
federal government employment options.
American Art Therapy Association, Inc. (AATA) - 1202 Allanson Road,
Mundelein, Illinois 60060; 888/290-0878, 847/949-6064. (http://www.arttherapy.org,
email@example.com) Student section has listing of AATA approved graduate
programs, educational requirements and scholarship information. Career center
open only to members. Student membership $65.
American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) - 1414 Prince Street,
Suite 204, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703/683-9420. (http://www.atra-tr.org)
Directory by State of college programs from associate to doctoral, career
information, and employment update in education tab.
National Association for Music Therapy - 8455 Colesville Road, Suite 1000,
Silver Spring, MD 20910; 301/589-3300. Web site (http://www.musictherapy.org,
firstname.lastname@example.org) offers infor-mation on career opportunities in music
therapy as well as a directory of academic programs. Job and scholarship
opportunities are on members only pages. Student membership $75.
National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations (NCCATA) - c/o
AMTA, 8455 Colesville Rd., Suite 1000, Silver Spring MD 20910; 714/751-0103. (http://www.nccata.org)
The council is an alliance of professional associations dedicated to the
advancement of the arts as therapeutic modalities. Site provides links to six
creative arts therapies organizations, with contact information: American
Association for Music Therapy, American Art Therapy Association, American Dance
Therapy Association, National Association for Drama Therapy, American Society
for Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama, and National Association for Poetry
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Health Care Jobs, Recreation Therapist Jobs, Medical Jobs, Nursing Jobs