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Recreational Therapists

Summary

recreational therapists image
Quick Facts: Recreational Therapists
2021 Median Pay $47,940 per year
$23.05 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2021 17,600
Job Outlook, 2021-31 4% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2021-31 600

What Recreational Therapists Do

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based medical treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses.

Work Environment

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

How to Become a Recreational Therapist

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

Pay

The median annual wage for recreational therapists was $47,940 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Employment of recreational therapists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 1,500 openings for recreational therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

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 medical treatment programs to help maintain or improve patients’ physical, social, and emotional well-being. These therapists use a variety of techniques, including art expression; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings.

Duties

Recreational therapists typically do the following:

  • Assess patients’ needs through observation, medical records, tests, and discussions with other healthcare workers and patients and their families
  • Develop and implement treatment plans that meet patients’ goals and interests
  • Engage patients in therapeutic activities, such as exercise, games, and community outings
  • Help patients learn social skills needed to become or remain independent
  • Help patients to reduce and cope with stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Document and analyze a patient’s progress to ensure that their goals are met and to modify treatment as needed

Recreational therapists use recreation-based medical treatment to help people reduce depression, stress, and anxiety; recover basic physical and mental abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively.

Recreational therapists are trained to use interventions to help patients of all ages. For example, they may help people with physical disabilities by teaching them adaptive sports. Therapists also may inform people about how to use community resources and participate in recreational activities.

These therapists also help people improve their mental health. They may provide interventions to help patients develop social and coping skills for managing 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 17,600 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of recreational therapists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 40%
Government 18
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 14
Ambulatory healthcare services 8
Social assistance 7

Recreational therapists work in an office setting for planning or other administrative activities, such as patient assessment, but they also may travel when working with patients. Therapy may be provided in a clinical or community setting. For example, therapists may take their patients to recreation centers or parks for sports and other activities.

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

Work Schedules

Most recreational therapists work full time. 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 to enter the occupation. Employers may require or prefer therapists to be certified.

Education

Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree in a healthcare field, such as recreational therapy, or in recreation and fitness.

Recreational therapy programs include courses in physiology, human anatomy, and psychology. Bachelor’s degree programs usually include an internship.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Employers may require or prefer recreational therapists to be certified. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential. Candidates may qualify for certification in more than one way. For example, one option requires a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, completing a supervised internship, and passing an exam. Another option also requires passing an exam but allows candidates with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated subject to qualify with a combination of education and work experience. In order to maintain certification, therapists must either pass an exam or complete work experience and continuing education requirements after a specified number of years.

The NCTRC also offers certification in specialization area designations, including adaptive sports and recreation, behavioral health, and developmental disabilities. Therapists also may earn certificates from other organizations to show proficiency in specific therapy techniques, such as aquatic therapy or aromatherapy.

A small number of states require recreational therapists to be licensed or certified. For specific requirements, contact a state’s licensing board.

Some employers prefer to hire recreational therapists who have basic life support (BLS) or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Recreational therapists need to give clear instructions during activities or for healthy coping techniques. They also must write clearly in documenting patient progress.

Compassion. Recreational therapists may deal with people who are in pain, so they should be empathetic when providing support to patients and their families.

Leadership skills. Recreational therapists must be engaging and able to motivate patients to participate in a variety of therapeutic activities.

Listening skills. Recreational therapists must pay attention to patients’ concerns in order to determine an appropriate course of treatment.

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

Resourcefulness. Recreational therapists must be both creative and flexible when customizing treatment plans and adapting activities or programs to meet patients' needs.

Pay About this section

Recreational Therapists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

$81,270

Recreational therapists

$47,940

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for recreational therapists was $47,940 in May 2021. 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 $31,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,610.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for recreational therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $64,780
Ambulatory healthcare services 54,370
Hospitals; state, local, and private 50,970
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 43,570
Social assistance 37,660

Most recreational therapists work full time. Some recreational therapists work evenings and weekends to meet the needs of their patients.

Job Outlook About this section

Recreational Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

9%

Total, all occupations

5%

Recreational therapists

4%

 

Employment of recreational therapists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 1,500 openings for recreational therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

As large numbers of the U.S. population move into older age groups, more people will need recreational therapists to help treat age-related injuries and illnesses. Older people are more likely than younger people to experience Alzheimer’s disease, a stroke, or mobility-related injuries and to benefit from treating these conditions with recreational therapy. Therapists also will be needed to help healthy seniors remain social, active, and independent in their communities as they age.

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, learn how to manage their conditions, and adjust recreational activities to accommodate physical limitations. Therapists also will be needed to plan and lead programs designed to maintain overall wellness through participation in activities such as camps, day trips, and sports.

Employment projections data for recreational therapists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Recreational therapists

29-1125 17,600 18,200 4 600 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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 OEWS 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 on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Occupational therapists Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat patients who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.

Master's degree $85,570
Physical therapists Physical Therapists

Physical therapists help injured or ill people improve movement and manage pain.

Doctoral or professional degree $95,620
Rehabilitation counselors Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently.

Master's degree $38,560
School and Career Counselors School and Career Counselors and Advisors

School counselors help students develop academic and social skills. Career counselors and advisors help people choose a path to employment.

Master's degree $60,510
Speech-language pathologists Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists assess and treat people who have communication disorders.

Master's degree $79,060
Special education teachers Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities.

Bachelor's degree $61,820
Athletic trainers Athletic Trainers

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

Master's degree $48,420
Exercise Physiologists

Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise programs that help injured or sick patients recover.

Bachelor's degree $47,940
Social workers Social Workers

Social workers help people prevent and cope with problems in their everyday lives.

See How to Become One $50,390
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Recreational Therapists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/recreational-therapists.htm (visited October 12, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, October 12, 2022

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

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How to Become One

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2021 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 and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

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, 2021

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2021, which is the base year of the 2021-31 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2021-31

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031. The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent.

Employment Change, 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

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 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

2021 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 and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.