What Is a Recreational Therapist?

Updated June 27, 2023 · 1 Min Read

Learn more about a career as a Recreational Therapist including education requirements, certifications and licensing, and more.

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If you are passionate for helping people overcome disabilities and problems in their lives, the opportunity to make a difference might be a large part of what makes the field of counseling appealing to you. However, not everyone wants to help patients work through their problems simply by talking. If you are also a natural planner and enjoy coordinating fun events for others, a career as a recreational therapist might be an excellent way for you to combine your interest in counseling with a strategy that relies less on talking and more on activities.

The Value of Recreational Therapy

A recreational therapist is a professional who works with sick or disabled individuals to accomplish improvements in physical and mental health through recreation. Though recreational therapists use games, crafts and other fun activities in their approaches to patients, recreational therapy is a combination of both work and play. Every activity has a purpose, ranging from building social skills with games that require teamwork to expressing emotions and even strengthening motor skills.

Like art therapy or music therapy, recreational therapy can be used to accomplish similar goals to psychotherapy, such as the development of social skills or as a way to cope with feelings of anxiety or depression. Recreational therapists work as part of healthcare team and must keep in mind the physical limitations of their patients when organizing an activity. Like other types of counselors, recreational therapists are a source of emotional support for patients during difficult times. In some ways, recreational therapists work with the same patients as rehabilitation counselors to achieve similar goals, but they use different approaches.

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Preparing for a Career as a Recreational Therapist

Despite the similarities between recreational therapy and mental health counseling, preparation for this occupation requires a different educational path. The good news is that a graduate-level degree is not typically necessary for securing a job as a recreational therapist as it is for becoming a licensed mental health counselor. Instead of pursuing an undergraduate degree in counseling psychology, though, students interested in pursuing this career path will typically study a specialized program such as therapeutic recreation, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. These programs of study include a heavy focus on medical terminology, illnesses and anatomy, as well as a hands-on experience requirement. While most states do not currently require a professional license to enter this occupation, it can be difficult for an aspiring recreational therapist to find employment unless they earn the qualification of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.

Recreational therapy can be invaluable for patients whose disabilities or illnesses leave them in need of help to strengthen physical abilities, improve social skills and cope with mental or emotional problems. A career as a recreational therapist is an option for individuals who are interested in combining the social and emotional aspects of counseling and the physical focus of healthcare to make a difference in the lives of others.


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