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Recreational Therapist

Job Outlook: 7% (Faster than average)

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What Recreational Therapists Do About this section

recreational therapists image
Recreational therapists engage patients in therapeutic activities, such as swimming.

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based medical treatment programs to help maintain or improve patients’ physical, social, and emotional well-being. These therapists use a variety of techniques, including art expression; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings.


Recreational therapists typically do the following:

  • Assess patients’ needs through observation, medical records, tests, and discussions with other healthcare workers and patients and their families
  • Develop and implement treatment plans that meet patients’ goals and interests
  • Engage patients in therapeutic activities, such as exercise, games, and community outings
  • Help patients learn social skills needed to become or remain independent
  • Help patients to reduce and cope with stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Document and analyze a patient’s progress to ensure that their goals are met and to modify treatment as needed

Recreational therapists use recreation-based medical treatment to help people reduce depression, stress, and anxiety; recover basic physical and mental abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively.

Recreational therapists are trained to use interventions to help patients of all ages. For example, they may help people with physical disabilities by teaching them adaptive sports. Therapists also may inform people about how to use community resources and participate in recreational activities.

These therapists also help people improve their mental health. They may provide interventions to help patients develop social and coping skills for managing their depression or anxiety.

Therapists may work with physicians or surgeons, registered nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, teachers, or occupational therapists. Recreational therapists are different from recreation workers, who organize recreational activities primarily for enjoyment.

Work Environment About this section

Recreational therapists
Therapy may be provided in a clinical setting or out in a community.

Recreational therapists held about 17,600 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of recreational therapists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 40%
Government 18
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 14
Ambulatory healthcare services 8
Social assistance 7

Recreational therapists work in an office setting for planning or other administrative activities, such as patient assessment, but they also may travel when working with patients. Therapy may be provided in a clinical or community setting. For example, therapists may take their patients to recreation centers or parks for sports and other activities.

Some therapists spend a lot of time standing when actively working with patients. They also may need to physically assist patients or lift heavy objects, such as wheelchairs.

Work Schedules

Most recreational therapists work full time. Some recreational therapists work evenings and weekends to meet the needs of their patients.

How to Become a Recreational Therapist About this section

Recreational therapists
Most recreational therapists need a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy or a related field.

Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree to enter the occupation. Employers may require or prefer therapists to be certified.


Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree in a healthcare field, such as recreational therapy, or in recreation and fitness.

Recreational therapy programs include courses in physiology, human anatomy, and psychology. Bachelor’s degree programs usually include an internship.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Employers may require or prefer recreational therapists to be certified. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential. Candidates may qualify for certification in more than one way. For example, one option requires a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, completing a supervised internship, and passing an exam. Another option also requires passing an exam but allows candidates with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated subject to qualify with a combination of education and work experience. In order to maintain certification, therapists must either pass an exam or complete work experience and continuing education requirements after a specified number of years.

The NCTRC also offers certification in specialization area designations, including adaptive sports and recreation, behavioral health, and developmental disabilities. Therapists also may earn certificates from other organizations to show proficiency in specific therapy techniques, such as aquatic therapy or aromatherapy.

A small number of states require recreational therapists to be licensed or certified. For specific requirements, contact a state’s licensing board.

Some employers prefer to hire recreational therapists who have basic life support (BLS) or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Recreational therapists need to give clear instructions during activities or for healthy coping techniques. They also must write clearly in documenting patient progress.

Compassion. Recreational therapists may deal with people who are in pain, so they should be empathetic when providing support to patients and their families.

Leadership skills. Recreational therapists must be engaging and able to motivate patients to participate in a variety of therapeutic activities.

Listening skills. Recreational therapists must pay attention to patients’ concerns in order to determine an appropriate course of treatment.

Patience. Recreational therapists may work with patients who require more time and special attention than do others.

Resourcefulness. Recreational therapists must be both creative and flexible when customizing treatment plans and adapting activities or programs to meet patients' needs.

Pay About this section

Recreational Therapists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners


Recreational therapists


Total, all occupations



The median annual wage for recreational therapists was $47,940 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,610.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for recreational therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $64,780
Ambulatory healthcare services 54,370
Hospitals; state, local, and private 50,970
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 43,570
Social assistance 37,660

Most recreational therapists work full time. Some recreational therapists work evenings and weekends to meet the needs of their patients.

Job Outlook About this section

Recreational Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners


Total, all occupations


Recreational therapists



Employment of recreational therapists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 1,500 openings for recreational therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


As large numbers of the U.S. population move into older age groups, more people will need recreational therapists to help treat age-related injuries and illnesses. Older people are more likely than younger people to experience Alzheimer’s disease, a stroke, or mobility-related injuries and to benefit from treating these conditions with recreational therapy. Therapists also will be needed to help healthy seniors remain social, active, and independent in their communities as they age.

In addition, the number of people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, is growing. Recreational therapists will be needed to help patients maintain their mobility, learn how to manage their conditions, and adjust recreational activities to accommodate physical limitations. Therapists also will be needed to plan and lead programs designed to maintain overall wellness through participation in activities such as camps, day trips, and sports.

Employment projections data for recreational therapists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Recreational therapists

29-1125 17,600 18,200 4 600 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information on careers and academic programs in recreational therapy, visit

American Therapeutic Recreation Association

For more information about certification, visit

National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification


For a career video on recreational therapists, visit

Recreational Therapists


Recreational Therapists


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