BLS discovered that this Occupational Outlook Handbook profile was inadvertently loaded to BLS.gov prior to the official release. The full release of the Occupational Outlook Handbook as well as employment projections for 2016-26 are scheduled for release Tuesday, October 24, 2017.

Recreational Therapists

Summary

recreational therapists image
Recreational therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts, to help maintain or improve a patient’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.
Quick Facts: Recreational Therapists
2016 Median Pay $46,410 per year
$22.31 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 19,200
Job Outlook, 2016-26 7% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 1,300

What Recreational Therapists Do

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. These therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings to help maintain or improve a patient’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.

Work Environment

Recreational therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and government parks and recreation departments. Most therapists work full time.

How to Become a Recreational Therapist

Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Many employers require therapists to be certified.

Pay

The median annual wage for recreational therapists was $46,410 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of recreational therapists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As the large baby-boom generation ages, they will need recreational therapists to help treat age-related injuries and illnesses and to help them maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for recreational therapists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of recreational therapists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about recreational therapists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Recreational Therapists Do About this section

recreational therapists image
Recreational therapists engage patients in therapeutic activities, such as swimming.

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. These therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings to help maintain or improve a patient’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.

Duties

Recreational therapists typically do the following:

  • Assess patients’ needs using observation, medical records, tests, and discussions with other healthcare professionals, patients’ families, and patients
  • Develop treatment plans and programs that meet patients’ needs and interests
  • Plan and implement interventions to support the client in meeting his or her goals
  • Engage patients in therapeutic activities, such as exercise, games, and community outings
  • Help patients learn social skills needed to become or remain independent
  • Teach patients about ways to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Document and analyze a patient’s progress
  • Evaluate interventions for effectiveness

Recreational therapists help people reduce depression, stress, and anxiety; recover basic physical and mental abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively.

They use interventions, such as arts and crafts, dance, or sports, to help their patients. For example, a recreational therapist can help a patient who is paralyzed on one side of his or her body by teaching patients to adapt activities, such as casting a fishing rod or swinging a golf club, by using his or her functional side.

Therapists often treat specific groups of patients, such as children with cancer. Therapists may use activities such as kayaking or a ropes course to teach patients to stay active and to form social relationships.

Recreational therapists help people with disabilities integrate into the community by teaching them how to use community resources and recreational activities. For example, therapists may teach a patient who uses a wheelchair how to use public transportation.

Therapists may also provide interventions for patients who need help developing social and coping skills. For example, a therapist may use a therapy dog to help patients manage their depression or anxiety.

Therapists may work with physicians or surgeons, registered nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, teachers, or occupational therapists. Recreational therapists are different from recreation workers, who organize recreational activities primarily for enjoyment.

Work Environment About this section

Recreational therapists
Therapy may be provided in a clinical setting or out in a community.

Recreational therapists held about 19,200 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of recreational therapists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 37%
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 17
Government 17
Social assistance 7
Ambulatory healthcare services 6

They use offices for planning or other administrative activities, such as patient assessment, but may travel when working with patients. Therapy may be provided in a clinical setting or out in a community. For example, therapists may take their patients to community recreation centers or parks for sports and other outdoor activities.

Some therapists may spend a lot of time on their feet actively working with patients. They may also need to physically assist patients or lift heavy objects such as wheelchairs.

Work Schedules

Most recreational therapists work full time, although about 1 in 5 worked part time in 2016. Some recreational therapists work evenings and weekends to meet the needs of their patients.

How to Become a Recreational Therapist About this section

Recreational therapists
Most recreational therapists need a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy or a related field.

Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Many employers require therapists to be certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC).

Education

Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree, usually in recreational therapy or a related field such as recreation and leisure studies.

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 prefer to hire certified recreational therapists. The NCTRC offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential. Candidates may qualify for certification through one of three pathways. The first option requires a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, completion of a supervised internship of at least 560 hours, and passing an exam. The other options also require passing an exam, but allow candidates with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated subject to qualify with various combinations of education and work experience. In order to maintain certification, therapists must either pass an exam or complete work experience and continuing education requirements every 5 years.

The NCTRC also offers specialty certification in five areas of practice: behavioral health, community inclusion services, developmental disabilities, geriatrics, and physical medicine/rehabilitation. Therapists also may earn certificates from other organizations to show proficiency in specific therapy techniques, such as aquatic therapy or aromatherapy.

As of 2017, only a small number of states require licensure or otherwise regulate the work of recreational therapists. For specific requirements, contact the state’s medical board.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Recreational therapists should be kind and empathetic when providing support to patients and their families. They may deal with patients who are in pain or under emotional stress.

Leadership skills. Recreational therapists must plan, develop, and implement intervention programs in an effective manner. They must be engaging and able to motivate patients to participate in a variety of therapeutic activities.

Listening skills. Recreational therapists must listen carefully to a patient’s problems and concerns. They can then determine an appropriate course of treatment for that patient.

Patience. Recreational therapists may work with some patients who require more time and special attention than others.

Resourcefulness. Recreational therapists customize treatment plans for patients. They must be both creative and flexible when adapting activities or programs to each patient’s needs.

Speaking skills. Recreational therapists need to communicate well with their patients. They must give clear directions during activities or instructions on healthy coping techniques.

Pay About this section

Recreational Therapists

Median annual wages, May 2016

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

$77,980

Recreational therapists

$46,410

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for recreational therapists was $46,410 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,010, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,340.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for recreational therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $56,670
Hospitals; state, local, and private 49,030
Ambulatory healthcare services 47,320
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 39,300
Social assistance 38,490

Most recreational therapists work full time, although about 1 in 5 worked part time in 2016. Some recreational therapists work evenings and weekends to meet the needs of their patients.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, recreational therapists had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016.

Job Outlook About this section

Recreational Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

16%

Total, all occupations

7%

Recreational therapists

7%

 

Employment of recreational therapists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

As the U.S. population ages, more people will need recreational therapists to help treat age-related injuries and illnesses. Older people are more likely to experience a stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and mobility-related injuries that may benefit from recreational therapy. Therapists will also be needed to help healthy seniors remain social and active in their communities. Recreational therapy services can help the aging population to maintain their independence later in life. For example, recreational therapists can help older people prevent falls by teaching them modified yoga exercises that improve balance and strength.

In addition, the number of people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, is growing. Recreational therapists will be needed to help patients maintain their mobility, to teach patients about managing their conditions, and to help patients adjust recreational activities to accommodate any physical limitations. Therapists will be needed also to plan and lead programs designed to maintain overall wellness through participation in activities such as camps, day trips, and sports.

Recreational therapists will increasingly be utilized in helping veterans manage service-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or injuries such as the loss of a limb. Recreational therapists can lead activities that help veterans to reintegrate into their communities and help them to adjust to any physical, social, or cognitive limitations.

Job Prospects

Job prospects will be best for recreational therapists with both a bachelor’s degree and certification. Therapists who specialize in working with older adults may have particularly good job opportunities. In addition, demand may be greater in highly populated areas, so recreational therapists who are willing to relocate may have favorable job prospects.

Employment projections data for recreational therapists, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Recreational therapists

29-1125 19,200 20,500 7 1,300 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of recreational therapists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Occupational therapists

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.

Master's degree $81,910
Physical therapists

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of the rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.

Doctoral or professional degree $85,400
Rehabilitation counselors

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.

Master's degree $34,670
School and Career Counselors

School and Career Counselors

School counselors help students develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed in school. Career counselors help people choose careers and follow a path to employment.

Master's degree $54,560
Speech-language pathologists

Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson’s disease, a cleft palate, or autism.

Master's degree $74,680
Special education teachers

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects, such as reading, writing, and math, to students with mild and moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills, such as literacy and communication techniques, to students with severe disabilities.

Bachelor's degree $57,910
Athletic trainers

Athletic Trainers

Athletic trainers specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating muscle and bone injuries and illnesses.

Bachelor's degree $45,630

Exercise Physiologists

Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise programs that help patients recover from chronic diseases and improve cardiovascular function, body composition, and flexibility.

Bachelor's degree $47,340
Social workers

Social Workers

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

See How to Become One $46,890
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Recreational Therapists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/recreational-therapists.htm (visited October 17, 2017).

Publish Date: Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What They Do

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State & Area Data

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2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.