Recreational Therapy

Recreational therapy is a fast-growing and increasingly popular specialty of physical therapy. Recreational therapists use play to develop patients' physical and mental skills and acuity.

Aspiring recreational therapists must complete a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy. In addition to educational requirements, many states also require recreational therapists to pass an examination and complete an internship in order to be licensed. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation also offers a voluntary certification program to recreational therapists.

Professional opportunities for recreational therapists abound. Entry-level therapists typically earn at least $25,000, annually, and more experienced therapists may earn more than $60,000 per year. Salaries are also dependent upon the region of the country and prestige of the hiring institution. Although most recreational therapists work for hospitals or rehabilitation centers, many operate private practices, supervise teams of therapists or administrate therapy departments within large health care facilities.

Recreational Therapy Job Search

Although recreational therapy is not yet as prevalent as traditional physical therapy, recreational therapy is one of the fastest growing professional fields. Thus, recreational therapists often have many employment opportunities.

Recreational therapists seeking employment should look to the human resources departments of hospitals as well as other in- and out-patient health care facilities for therapy job opportunities. Newspaper, periodical and Web-based classified advertisements may present additional employment opportunities for recreational therapists. Other employment resources include career centers administered by city and state governments as well as colleges and universities, private-sector employment agencies and professional association Web sites.

Recreational therapists may also fall upon employment opportunities by interning under the auspices of practicing therapists. Because recreational therapists are not necessarily required to hold a certificate, many successful therapists begin their careers by working for an established professional. Alternatively, recreational therapists pursuing professional certification may network with their internship supervisor for future job opportunities. Recreational therapists whose academic training has been bolstered by practical experience will be best prepared to meet the various challenges of recreational therapy and will be more marketable to hiring organizations.

Is Recreational Therapy Right for You?

Now is a great time to enter the recreational therapy field; jobs abound and compensation packages are generous. Recreational therapists also have the flexibility to work in a variety of different settings, to include adult daycare facilities, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, schools, residences for the developmentally disabled and long-term care facilities. Depending upon their places of employment, recreational therapists may be supervised by doctors, head nurses or other therapists.

The requirements for practice vary by state. Some states require certification by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification or another form of certification while others require no certification at all. In some states, recreational therapists must hold a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy in order to obtain a license. The American Therapeutic Recreation Association and the National Therapeutic Recreation Society provide specific licensure requirements and resource information to prospective therapists. In addition, many large health care facilities have therapist unions, which can be helpful resources for fledgling therapists.

Regardless of the specific academic and certification requirements, successful recreational therapists must possess a desire to help others and willingness to experiment with different therapeutic modalities. While recreational therapy is designed as an enjoyable therapeutic endeavor for the patient, it may prove frustrating and tedious to the practitioner. Thus, recreational therapists must be patient and optimistic in the face of professional challenges.

Successful therapists may increase their autonomy and earning potential by engaging in endeavors such as opening a private practice or assuming supervisory roles.

Recreational Therapy in Action

Recreational therapists have endless opportunities to pursue new and exciting therapeutic modalities. Furthermore these individuals must work to constantly learn and evolve their practices to meet the unique needs of each client.

Prior to initiating therapy, recreational therapists evaluate the needs of their patients and develop appropriate therapeutic plans that will culminate in achieving therapeutic goals. Because recreational therapists treat diverse clientele, to include recovering substance abusers, the elderly and individuals debilitated by illness or injury, they must work hard to tailor a program of activities that will stimulate the clients' bodies and minds.

Therapeutic activities employed by recreational therapists range from simple sedentary games to vigorous activities and make take the form of dance, role-play, travel, sports and/or perfunctory daily tasks. For instance, recreational therapists may teach stroke victims how to play Sudoku as a form of mental exercise or may coach swimming lessons (as an outlet of time and energy) to a patient recovering from alcoholism. The possibilities of therapeutic interventions are endless.

When they are not working directly with clients, recreational therapists spend a great deal of their working hours on paperwork and in communication with other members of the health care team. Additionally, self-employed therapists must market themselves and their services.

Last Updated: 04/28/2014

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