Recreational Therapist

Recreational therapists provide treatment services and recreational activities for individuals with disabilities or illnesses.

Recreational therapists provide treatment services and recreational activities for individuals with disabilities or illnesses.

The life of a recreational therapist may seem like recess from the outside, but in reality they are providing their patients with a very valuable treatment: naturalized learning. Most of us learn our social and emotional skills on the playground, with other kids like ourselves. As we move from the swing set to the swimming pool to the sports bars, we continue to grow along with our peers. However, some people don’t fit in to the standard “play” environment. They may be socially anxious or mentally disabled, but whatever the circumstance, they need someone to teach and nurture on their level. A recreational therapist is someone who helps others grow and develop using engaging activities.

Fast Facts

Minimum Degree Required: Bachelor’s Degree

Top Skills: Patient Interaction, High Energy, Patience

Average Starting Salary: $30,000/year

Job Description

There are many different types of people who need recreational therapy. Patients with mental illnesses like anxiety or depression can benefit from spending time with a caring therapist. Mentally handicapped patients may learn social and behavioral skill in a play-time like setting, and socially isolated patients may be coached into interacting with others. A recreational therapist may use any of the following activities to treat their patients:

  • Art
  • Dance
  • Field Trips
  • Role-playing games or drama
  • Board games
  • Sports

A recreational therapist works with the patient and their guardian(s) to develop a personalized plan. They schedule their appointments, so the work is usually business-hours only. Recreation therapists work everywhere from hospitals to local park centers, and with all types of children and adults.


For a recreational therapist career, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation, or a similar field. During those four years of study, students learn about the human brain and body, how certain recreational practices affect patients, and how to approach patients with specific illnesses and/or disabilities. Most degree programs include an internship of some kind, exposing the student to recreation therapy in practice.

High schoolers who wish to pursue a career in recreational therapy should take classes in the sciences, like biology, anatomy, and health, as well as in the arts, such as drama, music, or visual art. Therapists often use their own creative or physical backgrounds as a starting point for their therapy.


The Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential is preferred by most employers, and can be obtained through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) by passing a written exam and completing a 480 hour internship.

Job Outlook: Good

Between 2010 and 2020, Recreational Therapy is expected to grow by 17%, just over the national average. The median income for a full-time recreational therapist is approx. $39,410 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

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