Recreational therapists fill one of the lesser known health care careers. Many individuals with disabilities or illnesses can benefit from the services provided by health-care professionals known as recreational (or recreation) therapists. A recreational therapist career is an excellent choice for anyone interested in a demanding but rewarding and out-of-the-ordinary job that allows them to make use of a number of strategies and methods for addressing not only their patients’ physical well-being, but also the mental and emotional aspects as well. Someone with high energy who likes to move around a lot and prefers not to be tied to a chair in an office or cramped cubicle all day would make an ideal candidate for a recreational therapist career. A wide number of treatment options involving sports, animals, music, and art therapy, among others, helps keep things interesting for everyone. Additionally, practitioners receive great satisfaction from helping alleviate their patients’ stress and anxiety, and helping them to improve motor functioning, regain confidence and independence, and minimize the detrimental effects of their conditions.
Whether working in a hospital, rehabilitation center, assisted-living environment, or a school district’s special- education program, the recreational therapist analyzes information from medical records, and medical staff, and by directly interfacing with patients. This allows him or her to conceive and implement the best treatment strategy suited to a particular patient’s needs and monitor how the patient responds to the chosen treatment and is progressing. For patients with cognitive and/or social functionality challenges, the therapist may encourage accompanied local travel and use of public transportation or participation of activities in a playground, swimming pool, or theater setting.
Not all states regulate recreational therapists, but for those pursuing a future recreational therapist career, a bachelor’s degree with a therapeutic recreation major is a requirement. There are over 100 available training programs, so getting into one of these should not be a big hurdl; however, as in any field, there can be significant competition for jobs after the completion of training. Competency and drive will help the applicant gain a foothold and assist in career advancement. In addition to a field internship, training courses cover everything from assessment and program planning, to anatomy, psychiatric terminology, professional ethics, and the proper operation of devices and technology.
While certification is not a strict requirement, many employers give hiring preference to those who are credentialed by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreational Certification, which administers the National Council Ffor Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) exam, consisting of both a written portion and a supervised internship of no less than 480 hours. Upon meeting these requirements, the title of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist is conferred upon the student. For those states that do mandate licensure, registration, etc., of recreational therapists, requirements vary, but pertinent information can be obtained by querying the state’s medical board.
The outlook for employment is quite positive. Despite the competition for jobs in this field, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment to grow steadily in coming years. The increasing elderly population and their attendant decline in physical abilities should generate concurrent demand for the services of individuals choosing to go into a recreational therapist career. Likewise, growth in the number of school-age children will boost the need for therapist services, and recreational therapists can generally expect to earn between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.