The role the recreational therapists plays in the healing of a patient involves the use of sports, dance, music, artistic endeavors, animals, recreational outings, games, craft work, and other therapies to address all areas of health; mental, physical, and emotional. Through the use of such varied techniques, the recreational therapist, also known as a therapeutic recreation specialist, helps the patient overcome emotional and mental problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression. They also help patients improve basic motor skills that may have been lost due to illness or accidents. In addition, the therapist attempts to integrate patients into community activities and resources while helping them regain confidence and independence. Although some of the tasks are similar to those performed by recreation workers, the goal of the recreational therapist is to improve the functioning and health of the patient suffering from illness or disabilities, whereas the recreation workers simply provide enrichment and enjoyment.
Working as a team with doctors, other therapists, the patients, and their families, the recreational therapist devises therapeutic interventions based on the clients’ medical needs and personal interests. Each treatment is individualized to a specific patient. As interventions are used, the recreational therapist documents how the patient responded, participated, and progressed.
Entry-level positions require a minimum bachelor degree with average hourly salaries for all recreational therapists approximately $20.00.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2009, the mean hourly wage was $19.84 with the mean annual salary at $41,270. The hourly wage for the 10th percentile was $11.78 with an annual wage of $24,510. The 90th percentile had an hourly wage of $29.89 and an annual wage of $62,170.*
The highest salaries for recreational therapists realized in federal jobs with an annual mean wage of $63,250. Specialty hospitals ($47,560), general medical and surgical hospitals ($44,840), employment services ($44,750), and state governments ($44,560) were the remainder of the top five highest paying employers.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Industries with the highest levels of employment of recreational therapists were nursing care facilities, general medical and surgical hospitals, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, state governments, and community care facilities for the elderly. Top paying states were the District of Columbia, California, Washington, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Training and Education Requirements
A bachelor degree in therapeutic recreation is generally the minimum requirement for positions in this field. Recreation majors with a concentration in therapeutic recreation from four-year colleges are also qualified. Associate degrees holders in recreational therapy and other health related associate degrees are qualified to do paraprofessional jobs. Course work for the bachelor degree includes anatomy and physiology, psychology, medical terminology, therapeutic assessment and treatment planning, design and evaluation of interventions. Additionally, courses in ethics, assistive technologies, written communication, and characteristics of disabilities and disorders. Fieldwork in the form of internships is a part of the degree program. There are over 100 academic programs available throughout the United States that offer bachelor degrees in recreational therapy. Master and doctorate programs are also available and will generally lead to increased starting salaries.
Job Description and Outlook
Recreation therapists work in a variety of health services environments. Hospitals and rehabilitation centers employ recreation therapists to work with patients with illnesses, injuries, and other disorders requiring rehabilitation. They will work with teams of doctors, nurses, and other therapists to devise programs of activities that will help the patient reenter normal life situations with confidence. Other recreational therapists work in long-term care facilities with the goal of maintaining and enhancing the patients’ health and functioning.
Many recreational therapists work through community organizations with the elderly and disabled. They may work with special education students in school settings, assist with therapeutic activities offered in adult day-care centers or assisted-living facilities, or assist in the rehabilitation of substance abusers.
Within each setting, the recreational therapists devises specific, individualized therapies targeting particular medical needs. This is done using an array of activities that not only provide needed therapies, but offer enjoyment, mental stimulation, relaxation, confidence-building, and social interaction.
Recreational therapists generally work at least 40 hours per week. They may spend most of their time within clinical settings or in the community assisting clients with varied activities including using public transportation, recreational facilities, school settings, and community events. Considerable time is devoted to consultations with other health professionals that are involved with the treatment of the patient. Recreational therapists working for school districts will attend meetings with parents, students, and educational professionals while planning the best program to address the needs of the special education student both in school and while transitioning to life after school.
Recreational therapists must be able to work with the sick and disabled, sometimes lift equipment, and have excellent interpersonal and written communication skills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for recreational therapists positions is supposed to grow more rapidly than average. Fastest job growth is expected in community care and nursing care facility settings. Those working in facilities caring for the elderly, disabled, and substance abuse clients will see the most growth.*
Although job growth is expected to grow due to the increasing numbers of elderly requiring therapeutic care, competition for positions is expected. In 2008 there were over 23,000 jobs with a quarter of these in long-term nursing care facilities. Most of the remainder worked in hospitals, for state and local governments, and in residential programs. It is also expected that the need for recreational therapists in school setting will increase as federal funding for special education services is extended.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
It is expected that cost cutting efforts in a weak economy will affect the way therapeutic recreation is provided. Less care will be given in a hospital setting and will shift to outpatient facilities. It is also likely that many duties of the recreational therapist will be shifted to aids to reduce cost. Regional competition is expected as jobs shift to metropolitan areas.
Prospects for advancement in the career include moves to supervisory and administrative positions. Positions that do not involve directly working with clients include teaching, research, and consultation services that work with other agencies providing client services.
Although certification is not required, many employers prefer recreational therapists that have certification through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. With the expected competition for positions, certification benefits the job applicant. Requirements for certification include a bachelor degree from an accredited college, a written examination, and the completion of 480 hours of supervised internship. Recertification requires completion of 50 hours of continuing education during the five-year certification cycle.
Specific areas of certification are also available such as art or music therapy. Currently, only four states require licensure, Utah, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.
Professional organizations for recreational therapists include the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA). This is the oldest and largest organization for this career and seeks to remain a member-lead association representing the unique needs of this segment of the health care industry. Another national association is the National Therapeutic Recreation Society. The Therapeutic Recreation in Public Schools (TRIPS) is for therapists who work for school districts. There are many associations in other countries and in individual states.
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