Fun and Games: What is a Recreational Therapist?


There are not a lot of jobs that pay you to put together puzzles, or play soccer, or create art. Luckily, a recreational therapist job gives you the opportunity to do just that. But what is a recreational therapist? “Recreation” and “Therapist” don’t seem like words that necessarily go together. However, that’s what makes this career choice so unique! A recreational therapist combines psychology with physical therapy to help a patient get back on his or her feet both physically and emotionally. Today, the United States Department of Labor projects that there are over 19,000 recreational therapists in the United States.

According to the American Therapeutic Recreation Association, recreational therapy is a service used to “restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participation in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition.” Over the last two decades, recreational therapy has seen tremendous growth and has become the standard for those looking for a different type of therapy.

What is a Recreational Therapist?

This is the big question that many people ask before choosing this career path. What is a recreational therapist? Well, a recreational therapist is designed with planning, directing, and implementing a treatment program designed to help a person recover from mental, physical, and emotional issues. This is unique because it combines aspects of traditional therapy, psychology, and physical therapy as well. You’ll get to create unique treatment plans based on your patient, and make it fun!

what is a recreational therapist

One of the biggest selling points for this career is the variety that you’ll have on a daily basis. Recreational therapists work with patients whose needs range from the physical to the emotional; from pediatrics to geriatrics. One day you might be helping a patient deal with his or her anxiety through painting. The next day, you might be taking a walk through the woods to help someone recover from a knee injury. You’ll essentially be coaching them through recovery, providing them with not just a plan of action, but encouragement and guidance as well.

Where Does a Recreational Therapist Work?

So, what is a recreational therapist? Well, another way to describe them would be a jack-of-all-trades. Recreational therapists also have the ability to work in a variety of settings. However, the largest number of workers in this field is employed in a hospital setting. Another large employer of recreational therapists is nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In an environment where exercise and mental stimulation are so important, a recreational therapist is the perfect program guide for many senior care communities.

what is a recreational therapist

Other recreational therapists might opt to work in a facility that treats a specific disorder. Don’t forget it’s also possible to open up your own practice! This will give you the freedom to create your own schedule and take on new patients at your leisure.

What Education Do They Need?

What is a recreational therapist? Well, they’re certainly experienced in an academic setting. Recreational therapists will need a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy. This schooling is intense because you’ll be covering a wide variety of subjects including psychology, anatomy, and the use of medical equipment. After an internship and four years of schooling, most new recreational therapists will either enter the workforce or opt for more schooling to focus on a specific area of expertise. Currently, only four states require a license to practice recreational therapy. The states are New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah.

What Traits Do I Need?

What is a recreational therapist? Well, that question can also be answered through some reflection. Many healthcare professionals want to know what traits they should have if they want to become a recreational therapist. First, you should be a caring person. You’ll be dealing with a wide range of mental, physical, and emotional disorders, so it’s important that you have the compassion to deal with whatever’s thrown your way. Are you creative? You’ll need to think on your feet to create individual plans for each of your patients, so make sure you can get creative when the time comes. Don’t forget, you’re not just an event planner. You’ll need good listening skills so you can help diagnose any issues your patients may have. Getting to the source of the problem is a great step towards recovery.

If you think a recreational therapist is a great career choice for you, check out our “jobs” page to continue your journey.

Author: Troy Diffenderfer

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