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Recreational Therapist Careers

Learn how to become a recreational therapist.

man standing on hilltop on crutches
man standing on hilltop on crutches

Throughout its long evolution, recreational therapy (its practitioners are known as recreational therapists or therapeutic recreation specialists) has helped people across the globe who have become mentally or physically injured become active again.

Recreational therapists understand better than some other specialists how to use creative therapeutic methods to help their patients get over the stages of grief, build confidence again, and regain control of their lives.

Some therapies include:

  • Music
  • Sports
  • Games
  • Arts and crafts
  • Animals
  • Dance, movement and drama

Besides physical activity, recreational therapists also help individuals with illnesses and disabilities maintain physical, mental and emotional stability by assessing medical records, weighing observations from family members and medical staff. By using recreational activities, these therapists help patients reduce stress and anxiety, combat depression and recover motor skills and reasoning functionality. Recreational therapists also help patients with disabilities reenter the community by teaching them how to understand and use community resources and facilities.

Recreational Therapist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Employment Statistics, the job growth for recreational therapists is 10% through 2030, which is slightly above average compared to all careers nationally (8%). Take a look at median annual salaries:

Recreational Therapists

National data

Median Salary: $47,940

Projected job growth: 10.4%

10th Percentile: $31,710

25th Percentile: $37,850

75th Percentile: $61,470

90th Percentile: $80,610

Projected job growth: 10.4%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $46,660 $33,870 $71,120
Arkansas $47,000 $36,570 $77,560
Arizona $48,380 $37,020 $73,790
California $78,610 $38,180 $95,370
Colorado $46,660 $29,430 $73,240
Connecticut $59,770 $37,110 $86,630
District of Columbia $76,230 $38,000 $99,070
Delaware $36,990 $35,460 $59,080
Florida $46,660 $29,010 $77,290
Georgia $46,640 $29,580 $59,770
Iowa $46,730 $36,070 $71,180
Idaho $47,670 $36,750 $61,250
Illinois $57,970 $37,990 $85,920
Indiana $37,840 $23,700 $60,780
Kansas $29,680 $23,440 $46,640
Kentucky $47,570 $36,780 $71,120
Louisiana $46,640 $36,710 $59,380
Massachusetts $47,850 $37,310 $76,340
Maryland $47,610 $26,490 $75,170
Maine $48,350 $36,930 $66,560
Michigan $47,610 $37,020 $61,860
Minnesota $47,940 $35,010 $74,250
Missouri $46,690 $36,570 $67,660
Mississippi $29,730 $23,180 $59,180
North Carolina $46,870 $36,930 $61,970
Nebraska $50,000 $36,930 $67,020
New Hampshire $54,040 $47,320 $68,710
New Jersey $61,160 $46,950 $96,520
New Mexico $37,240 $29,320 $51,060
Nevada $47,010 $36,630 $75,130
New York $59,770 $38,000 $78,460
Ohio $47,360 $37,110 $61,250
Oklahoma $37,020 $25,420 $60,420
Oregon $60,190 $47,340 $78,460
Pennsylvania $48,660 $33,820 $74,070
South Carolina $46,690 $36,800 $61,300
Tennessee $38,840 $30,110 $66,790
Texas $54,410 $33,090 $85,170
Utah $37,850 $29,430 $64,900
Virginia $46,910 $36,000 $73,610
Washington $59,080 $46,910 $77,830
Wisconsin $47,000 $35,750 $64,850
West Virginia $36,710 $29,130 $73,790
Wyoming $48,170 $43,680 $73,260

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Recreational Therapist Work Environment

The majority of recreational therapists are employed in nursing care facilities, but other institutions, such as hospitals, residential care facilities and state and government agencies, also provide employment opportunities. Recreational therapists may choose to maintain a private practice and these therapists will work with community programs, school special education programs or assisted living or substance abuse rehabilitation centers.

Training and Education

Psychology students interested in becoming a recreational therapist will need at least a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation. This recreational therapist degree program offers training in assessment, treatment, program planning and intervention.

Certification is not mandatory for recreational therapy jobs, but it is generally acknowledged that employers prefer candidates who have obtained certification from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. This credential is awarded to recreational therapists who have passed a written exam and completed a supervised internship of at least 480 hours.

Now that you’ve learned about the benefits of recreational therapy, finding the right accredited psychology school will help you achieve your career goals and get on the path to becoming a recreational therapist.

Sources: Recreationtherapy.com