What Is Recreational Therapy?

Updated on January 29, 2018
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Vince is a technical writer working in the medical research field. He also enjoys exploring literature in his free time.


What is the scope of practice for the designated health profession?

According to the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) (2013) the scope of practice for a recreational therapist covers interventions needed “to restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life activities.” This includes assessment, treatment planning, implementations of plans, evaluation, and discharge planning. They do not have prescribing authority, and all interventions must be within the scope of addressing a particular target activity to be rehabilitated. The therapy plan must be “consistent with the overall or interdisciplinary patient/client treatment program” (ATRA, 2013). The plan of a therapists should not, for example, come into conflict with the patient’s doctor’s recommendations.

The guide details the role of the recreational assistant only by saying that they may assist with each part of the therapeutic process under the guidance of the recreational therapist in a manner that is “commensurate with qualifications, assessed competency and defined clinical supervision” (ATRA, 2013).

In what settings might this professional work?

Just by looking over the ATRA’s “Careers” section on their website, it can be seen that recreational therapists are needed in all manner of medical settings. These can range from hospitals to long term care facilities to agencies that deploy therapists to patient’s homes (ATRA, 2016a). The kind of work environment that recreational therapists may end in will vary based on the type of work they wish to do. Hospitals and nursing homes are always in need of recreational therapists, however, as in-home health care has become more popular, many agencies have decided to support this trend and offer recreational therapy in patient’s homes. Certain government funded programs also seem to employ recreational therapists as there is a listing to work for a parks and recreations department in Miami (ATRA, 2016a).


If there are areas of specialization for this profession, please list and describe at least 3.

According to the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) (2016a), there are several areas of specialty for recreational therapists to pursue. These specializations seem to be based around patient demographics and, as the NCTRC (2016) explains they provide “a higher level of assurance and verification of established expertise to patients.”

The NCTRC details five areas of specialization within recreational therapy. These are “Physical Medicine / Rehabilitation, Geriatrics, Developmental Disabilities, Behavioral Health [and] Community Inclusion Services” (NCTRC, 2016a). Unlike other medical fields, specialty certifications are not exclusive of each other, and recreational therapists may complete multiple ones, thus expanding their practice and the level of confidence their patients may put in them. Furthermore, the specialty certification is valid for only five years and must be renewed.

What are the educational requirements for the designated health profession?

The educational requirements for a recreational therapist according to the NCTRC (2016b) are a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy followed by a fourteen week internship. Alternatively, one can gain certification by completing a bachelor’s degree in a different field but also taking certain recreational therapy courses and then gaining on the job education working in a recreational therapy setting for a minimum of five years. If the work is done under the direct supervision of a certified recreational therapist, then the time requirement is reduced to one year.

According to the ATRA (2016b), a therapeutic recreation assistant is similar to the therapist in that they both complete a degree and an internship, but the assistant need only have an associate’s degree rather than a bachelor’s.

Is there licensure or certification required for the profession?

There is a national certification requirement that is done through the NCTRC for recreational therapists (NCTRC, 2016b). It is indicated on the ATRA (2016b) website that there may be state requirements for individuals working in the field of recreational therapy but this cannot be verified with the NCTRC, which seem to indicate that only national certification is necessary.

Certification requirements for therapeutic recreation assistants have been difficult to ascertain. According to the ATRA (2016b), there is certification for becoming a therapeutic recreation assistant, though it makes no specific mention of what this certification may be. Further searching did not reveal any information by any authoritative resources on the matter.


What is the average annual salary for the profession?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), the mean annual salary for a recreational therapist is 47,790 dollars. No breakdown of pay for specialization is offered. The highest average pay by setting for the profession is those working in the Federal Executive Branch at 66,050 dollars annually. This is followed by Employment Services (54,480 dollars). Home health services, working out of other medical professional’s offices, general hospitals, state governments, and psychiatric hospitals all have a range between 49,000 and 52,000 dollars. The lowest pay is for nursing home facilities and retirement communities, 42,000 and 38,660 dollars respectively.

No accurate assessment of therapeutic recreation assistants can be ascertained from a reputable source. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not list this occupation. There is an entry for occupational therapy assistants, however this is most likely not the same as therapeutic recreation assistants since the average annual salary is higher than that of recreational therapists.

What is the projected outlook/growth for the profession?

The Occupational Outlook Handbook (2016) stated a projected growth of 12 percent within the field between 2014 and 2024. An independent study was conducted by Hoss (2012), focused on the city of Spokane, Washington in an attempt to ascertain projected growth. The study concluded that there would be a greater than 15 percent growth by 2018.

Possible reasons for this growth are the rise in popularity of outpatient treatment over hospitalization and long term care facilities. It is also possible that the rising need for recreational therapists is in result to many veterans returning from active duty over the past decade. Recreational therapy has shown to be effective in working with returning active duty military personnel (Hawkins, Townsend, & Garst, 2016).


American Therapeutic Recreation Association (2013). Standards for the practice of recreational therapy. Retrieved March 30, 2016, https://www.atra-online.com/assets/pdf/standards/pdfstandardsSOP-RT.pdf.

American Therapeutic Recreation Association (n. d.). Retrieved March 30, 2016, from https://www.atra-online.com/pop.

American Therapeutic Recreation Association (n. d.). Job Opportunities. Retrieved March 30, 2016, from https://www.atra-online.com/job-opportunities/jobs.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, (2015, May). 29-1125 Recreational Therapists. Retrieved March 30, 2016, from http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291125.htm.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Recreational Therapists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/recreational-therapists.htm (visited March 30, 2016).

Hawkins, B. L., Townsend, J. A., & Garst, B. A. (2016). Nature-Based Recreational Therapy for Military Service Members: A Strengths Approach. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 50(1), 55-75.

Hoss, M. A. K. (2012). The recreational therapy work force: One county’s view. American Journal of Recreation Therapy, 11(4), 38-46.

National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Paths to Certification. (2016). Retrieved March 30, 2016, from http://nctrc.org/new-applicants/paths-to-certification/.

National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Specialty Certification. (2016). Retrieved March 30, 2016, from http://nctrc.org/about-certification/specialty-



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