How Do I Become a Recreational Therapist?

If you are an enthusiastic leader with a desire to help the injured and disabled, you might be wondering how to become a recreational therapist. Recreational therapists develop, organize and carry out recreation programs, such as games, field trips and arts and crafts activities, for patients with illnesses and temporary or permanent disabilities. Recreational therapy activities may also include drama, music, dance and sports. Aspiring recreational therapists will most likely find employment in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, residential care facilities, substance abuse centers, special education departments and even parks and recreation departments.

Recreational therapy helps patients in several ways. The physical movements and mental challenges required in some activities, like games, arts and crafts and dance, can help injured or paralyzed patients practice cognitive abilities, regain motor skills and improve mobility. Recreational activities provide a forum for patients to socialize. A recreational activity offers patients a chance to have fun, helping them cope with anxiety, stress, depression and other difficult emotions that result from their illness or disability.

A recreational therapist develops programs by evaluating the needs of a patient, based on medical records, patient input and consultations with physicians. Recreational activities should match a patient’s interests as well as medical needs. Like other types of therapists, recreational therapists monitor the progress a patient makes.

The first step to becoming a recreational therapist is earning a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation. Coursework typically covers human anatomy, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, medical and psychiatric terminology, assessment and strategies for using assistive devices and technology in therapy. Most recreational therapy students will also gain experience through an internship during their educational career.

Earning certification from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification can boost job prospects for recreational therapists. Clinical environments such as hospitals might only consider a candidate for a recreational therapist position if he or she has obtained this certification. To earn a certification as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, a candidate must successfully complete both a written exam and a 480-hour internship. Specialty certifications exist for recreational therapists that would like to focus on behavioral health, developmental disabilities, geriatrics, community inclusion services or physical medicine and rehabilitation. Licensure is required in some but not all states, and the requirements to obtain a license differ from state to state.

The job outlook for recreational therapists is comparable to the job outlook for all occupations. The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 17 percent increase in recreational therapist jobs from 2010 to 2020. As of May 2010, recreational therapists earned a median annual wage of $39,410, which favorably compares to the $33,840 median salary of all occupations. If you possess the patience and compassion to work with ill and disabled patients and the leadership skills to develop carry out plans and get patients enthused about their activities, knowing how to become a recreational therapist can help you get started on an inspiring new career.

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