How to Become a Recreation Therapist

How to Become a Recreation Therapist: Career Path Guide

If you want to become a recreation therapist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career in this field:


A career as a recreation therapist is well suited for those that are passionate about helping individuals who suffer from injury or illness to improve or maintain their health or quality of life.


Those who become recreation therapists are trustworthy, responsible and compassionate people. They enjoy working with people from a variety of backgrounds, and are able to easily foster personal relationships and partnerships. Aspiring recreation therapists must also have the mental and emotional capacity to complete the necessary educational requirements to enter into this career.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a recreation therapist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Recreation Therapist

To become a recreational therapist you typically need a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, leisure studies, psychology, or a related field, although the educational requirements may vary by employer.


Employers may prefer to hire graduates that have a degree in a field related to recreation therapy that involved internship or practicum experience.


Coursework that is applicable to a career as a recreation therapist includes human anatomy, assessment, medical and psychiatric terminology, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, and the use of assistive devices and technology.



Recreation Therapist Job Description

Recreation Therapists (also known as Recreational Therapists and Therapeutic Recreation Practitioners) are responsible for working with people that have illnesses and disabilities, in order to improve their health and quality of life through leisure and recreation related activities such as arts and crafts, drama, music, dance, sports, games, and field trips.


These professionals play a valuable role in enhancing the quality of life for individuals with physical, cognitive, emotional or social limitations.



Recreation Therapist Job Duties

• Work to remove barriers that prevent patients from participating in recreational and leisurely activities

• Educate patients as to the physical, social and mental health benefits that surround recreational activity participation

• Help patients practice skills and improve their ability to participate in leisure and community activities

• Assess the needs, skills, interests and values related to recreation and leisure

• Develop intervention plans and programs

• Monitor and evaluate intervention plans and programs



Certification Needed to Become a Recreation Therapist

In the United States most employers, such as hospitals and other clinical settings, require therapists to be certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC).


In Canada, many employers prefer to hire recreation therapist candidates that have Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist credentials. Some employers may also only hire candidates that are registered with their local provincial recreational therapist association (where applicable).



Other Requirements For Becoming a Recreational Therapist

The following is a list of additional attributes that employers may require of recreation therapists. Even if they are not required to gain employment, it is recommended to acquire them, as they are very useful for this career.


• First aid and CPR certification

• Training in group-based fitness instruction or therapy

• Specialized training in patient assessment

• A valid driver's license



Who Hires Recreation Therapists?

Recreation Therapists are hired by organizations involved in development and administration of leisure and recreation activities for people with illnesses and disabling conditions. These organizations may include:


• Hospitals and related healthcare facilities

• Long-term care and assisted living facilities

• Rehabilitation clinics

• Non-profit organizations

• Private community-based agencies

• Day programs and outpatient services 

• Rehabilitation centres

• Municipal government departments 



Personal Traits Needed to Become a Recreation Therapist

In order to become effective in a career as a recreation therapist, you need to posses certain key personality characteristics. These traits will allow you to endure the various highs and lows of the job, as well as maintain interest and engagement in your work.


• Enjoy working with people from a variety of backgrounds

• An interest in helping others to cope with anxiety, depression or build confidence

• Able to work independently and as part of a team

• Able to foster partnerships and personal relationships

• Enjoy developing and participating in innovative programs

• Compassion for the challenges of others

• Able to use good judgment in a variety of situations

• Must be trustworthy

• Have a caring and compassionate personality






Recreation Therapist Salary

The salary level of recreational therapists can vary depending on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many others.


Recreation Therapist Salary Alberta: According to Alberta Health Services, the pay scale for Recreation Therapists ranges from $34.33 to a top rate of $48.25 (2013 figures). Reliable figures for the rest of Canada aren't available at this time.


Recreation Therapist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the Recreational Therapists occupational group earn a median salary of $39,410 per year.



Careers Similar to Recreation Therapist

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Recreation Therapist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Dance Therapist

Music Therapist

Occupational Therapist


Recreation and Leisure Supervisor



References: How to Become a Recreation Therapist

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a recreation therapist.



Occupations in Alberta:Recreation Therapist.” (April 11, 2014). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 12, 2020.

Healthcare:Recreational Therapists.” (December 4, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 12, 2020.

Clinical Services:Becoming a Recreation Therapist.” (n.d.). The Ottawa Hospital website. Retrieved January 12, 2020.



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Scholarships for Becoming a Recreation Therapist

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Recreation Therapist can be found on the following pages:


Exercise Science Scholarships

Human Ecology Scholarships

Kinesiology Scholarships

Nursing Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Recreation Therapist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a recreation therapist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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