Education and Training: Bachelor's degree, additional training
Salary: Median—$32,900 per year
Employment Outlook: Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Recreational therapists devise programs in art, music, dance, sports, games, and crafts for individuals with disabilities or illnesses. These activities help to prevent or to alleviate physical, mental, and social problems. They improve self-confidence and self-control and relieve depression and anger.
With the help of recreational therapists, for example, children may be able to channel their aggression into painting rather than expressing it through negative behavior. Patients who have difficulty relating to other people can improve their social skills by playing and moving to music in groups.
Recreational therapists who specialize in art therapy often use art as a diagnostic tool in cases of mental illness, particularly in children. Shapes, colors, details, or the lack of fine points in a drawing or painting can reveal emotions and underlying problems.
Recreational therapists often work as members of health care teams serving a number of patients. Together, they discuss their cases and decide on the best forms of treatment. Recreational therapists may work with individual patients or groups.
Education and Training Requirements
Recreational therapists need bachelor's degrees in therapeutic recreation or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation. Those who already hold bachelor's degrees can enter two- to five-year programs leading to graduate degrees or graduate certificates in recreational therapy. Alternatively, students can get associate degrees in recreational therapy. The two-year program, plus experience or training in art, drama, or music therapy, may qualify them to be activity directors at nursing homes.
Certification in recreational therapy is usually voluntary, but most employers prefer to hire applicants certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Applicants must have bachelor's degrees, pass written tests, and complete internships. Some states require licenses or certification to practice.
Getting the Job
College placement offices are probably the best sources of job information. Recreational therapists can also apply directly to local, state, and federal agencies, hospitals, and clinics.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Recreational therapists who work in government-supported institutions advance with increases in pay and rank. Those who work in hospitals and clinics may advance to supervisory positions, while those in private practice can expand their number of clients.
Employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. Demand should be greatest in residential and outpatient settings that serve disabled persons, the elderly, or those diagnosed with mental retardation, mental illness, or substance abuse problems.
Recreational therapists work in hospitals and mental health facilities, schools, and private offices. Their surroundings are generally cheerful and pleasant. Most therapists work forty-hour weeks, although their schedules may vary to accommodate their patients' needs.
Earnings and Benefits
In 2004 the median salary for recreational therapists was $32,900 per year. Those with doctorates who taught at universities earned $50,000 per year or more.
Where to Go for More Information
American Therapeutic Recreation Association
1414 Prince St., Ste. 204
Alexandria, VA 22314-2853
The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification
7 Elmwood Dr.
New City, NY 10956
National Therapeutic Recreation Society
22377 Belmont Ridge Rd.
Ashburn, VA 20148-4501
Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans. Some therapists receive tuition assistance for additional study. Recreational therapists in private practice must provide their own benefits.