How to Become a Recreational Therapist
Recreational therapists use a variety of therapies to improve the physical and emotional well-being of their patients.
Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Many employers require therapists to be certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC).
Most recreational therapists need a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy or a related field. Though less common, associate’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are also available.
Recreational therapy programs include courses in assessment, human anatomy, medical and psychiatric terminology, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, and the use of assistive devices and technology. Bachelor’s degree programs usually include an internship.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most employers, particularly those in hospitals and other clinical settings, prefer to hire certified recreational therapists. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential. Certification requires a bachelor’s degree, completion of a supervised internship (normally completed as part of their degree program) of at least 560 hours, and passing an exam. Although therapists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, in some cases therapists may qualify for certification with an alternate combination of education, training, and experience. Therapists must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification.
NCTRC also offers specialty certification in five areas of practice: behavioral health, community inclusion services, developmental disabilities, geriatrics, and physical medicine/rehabilitation. Therapists may also earn certificates from other organizations to show proficiency in specific therapy techniques, such as aquatic therapy or aromatherapy.
As of 2012, only New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah required recreational therapists to obtain a license. Requirements vary by state. For specific requirements, contact the state’s medical board.
Compassion. Recreational therapists should be kind, gentle, and sympathetic when providing support to patients and their families. They may deal with patients who are in pain or under emotional stress.
Critical-thinking skills. Recreational therapists should be able to quickly think of adaptations to activities when a patients’ therapy plan requires adjustment.
Leadership skills. Recreational therapists must be able to plan, develop, and implement intervention programs in an effective manner. They must motivate patients to participate in a variety of therapeutic activities.
Listening skills. Recreational therapists must listen to a patient’s problems and concerns. They can then determine an effective course of treatment or therapy program appropriate for that patient.
Patience. Recreational therapists may work with some patients who require more time and special attention than others.
Speaking skills. Recreational therapists need to communicate well with their patients. They need to be able to give clear directions during activities or instructions on healthy coping techniques.