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Recreational Therapy Degree

Recreational therapy is a type of treatment service designed to boost the physical and emotional well-being of patients. A recreational therapist will work with patients in a variety of different settings to achieve this goal.
Depending on an individual’s particular career goals, there are a number of degree options available which may be pursued to become a recreational therapist.

What is Recreational Therapy?

Recreational therapy is a form of therapy which makes use of a wide range of techniques and interventions to promote health and wellness. This includes those circumstances in which a patient needs rehabilitation or remediation to restore or improve physical, mental, emotional, or social functioning after an injury or illness. 

What does a Recreational Therapist Do?

Recreational therapists use a wide variety of intervention techniques and activities to improve the physical, emotional, cognitive, leisure, and social needs of their clients. Intervention techniques will vary drastically depending on individual clients.
Some of the duties and tasks of a recreational therapist include:

  • Analyzing individual patients and making specific treatment plans based on their needs
  • Evaluating how effective these treatments and intervention plans are
  • Recordingand analyzing how well a client is making progress
  • Organizing activities such as arts and crafts, music, drama, dance, games and sports, as well as community reintegration field trips for clients
  • Helping patients effectively cope with mental issues such as depression, stress, and anxiety
  • Teaching patients with disabilities how to use community resources and reintegrate into society
  • Teaching patients social and coping skills which can allow them to be independent 

Types of Recreational Therapy Degrees

The field of recreational therapy is very hands-on. Every degree offered in this particular area takes a practical approach to learning and students are required to complete internships, fieldwork, and gain practical experience as part of the degree program. For these reasons, there is no degree for recreational therapy which can be taken completely online. There are however, certain hybrid programs which incorporate online learning with practical components.

Associate's Degree in Recreation Therapy

This is the most basic qualification in recreational therapy and enables you to seek out basic entry-level positions in the field. It must be noted that with this degree you are not eligible for certification as a recreational therapist. The program aims to give students an introduction to the basics of patient interaction as well as the historical, practical, and theoretical aspects of recreation therapy. Some programs even require students to do some field work.
Entry Requirements

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Must be 18 years of ages
  • Some programs require applicants to take a proficiency test in English and math

This degree is 2 years in duration. Some of the courses offered in the program include:

  • Recreation therapy program planning
  • Counseling
  • Recreation leadership skills
  • Therapeutic recreation techniques
  • Recreation for special needs
  • Sociology

Bachelor of Science in Recreation Therapy

This degree is essential for those individuals who are looking to become a certified recreational therapist. The program involves class-room instruction as well as hands-on and practical learning opportunities.
Entry Requirements

  • High school diploma or its equivalent
  • If you’ve done an Associate’s degree, then you can submit those transcripts
  • ACT or SAT scores

The duration of this program is typically 4 years. The courses offered in this degree include:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Client assessment
  • Recreation therapy administration
  • Human development
  • Therapeutic recreation for the elderly
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Therapeutic recreation for the disabled

Master of Science in Recreation Therapy

For those looking to work in administrative roles in recreation therapy, a Master’s level qualification is necessary. The program combines an in-depth study of the assessment and evaluation of patient health as well as management and administration in the field. Students will be required to do field work and carry out advanced research in recreation therapy.
Entry Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy
  • If you’ve done your bachelor’s in another subject area, you may be required to take additional courses
  • GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement

The duration of this program is typically 2 years. The program has a strong emphasis on management and administration in the field. As part of the program, students must complete and submit a master's thesis.
Typical courses offered in this program include:

  • Recreational therapy finance management
  • Statistical analysis
  • Recreation and leisure research methods
  • Modification and recreation for disabled individuals
  • Program management
  • Financial administration
  • Therapeutic recreation program development
  • Art therapy
  • Leisure management theory and practice
  • Recreation and leisure trends and issues


Certification is a means by which you can prove your knowledge, experience, and qualifications in the field. Although certification is not required by law, according to BLS, most employers prefer to hire individuals who have certification.
Certification may be sought from The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) which offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential.
To get a certification, candidates must have:

  • a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy
  • completed a supervised internship (this is normally completed as part of your degree program) of at least 560 hours
  • Clear the exam - The exam has 180 questions and must be completed in 3 hours. It tests your knowledge in four areas: foundational knowledge, recreational therapy practice, recreation therapy organization, and professional advancement.

To maintain certification, students must take additional continuing education classes.
The NCTRC also offers five specialty certifications in the following areas of practice:

  • behavioral health
  • community inclusion services
  • developmental disabilities
  • geriatrics
  • physical medicine/rehabilitation

Job Outlook and Salary

Here is the data for the recreational therapy field according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • In 2012, the annual median salary for recreational therapists was $42,280
  • The top ten percent in the profession  earned more than $67,280
  • The projected employment growth in the profession between now and 2022 is 13% - this is about as fast as the average rate of growth for most professions which is 11%
  • Listed below is the 2012 annual median salary of recreational therapists in the top five industries in which they worked:



Hospitals; state, local, and private


Ambulatory health care services


Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)


Residential care facilities


Source: BLS

  • Most recreational therapists work full time
  • 1 in 5 recreational therapists work part time
  • According to BLS “therapists who specialize in working with the elderly or who earn certification in geriatric therapy may have the best job prospects”

Recreational therapy is a field which aims to produce and carry out a wide variety of treatment plans to help patients. These patients may have physical, emotional, mental, social, or other issues which need addressing. Through techniques and methods like art and games, a recreational therapist works to rehabilitate these clients. To become a recreational therapist you need at least a bachelor’s degree as well as certification.

States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 1660 0.11 1.26 18.13 37720
Florida 1130 0.14 1.68 17.97 37370
Illinois 960 0.16 1.92 17.9 37240
Texas 760 0.07 0.78 16.62 34570
New York 650 0.07 0.85 20.12 41840


How Long Does It Take to Complete a Recreational Therapy Degree?

A number of schools, such as the Nova Southern University, Indiana Tech and the Temple University, are offering Recreational Therapy programs. Students can enroll in a 4-year undergraduate Bachelor of Science (B.S) in Recreational Therapy or a 1-year Master of Science (MS) in Recreational Therapy. If you want a service-focused career, and want to help people transform their lives, then enrolling in this degree would be ideal for you.

What Are the Requirements to Complete a Recreational Therapy Degree?

Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Recreational Therapy have to complete around 120 credits and those enrolled in the Master of Science in Recreational Therapy have to complete 36 credits. They have to study various modules such as Health Care Ethics, Rehabilitation Principles & Case Management, and Recreational Therapy for Individuals with Mental Illness. This program trains students to assess people’s mental and physical needs, implement and plan interventions and train them to evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions.

How Much Can I Make after Completing a Recreational Therapy Degree?

After completing a degree in Recreational Therapy, graduates can work as Recreational Therapists or Recreation Therapy Assistants. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median pay of Recreational Therapists was $47,860 in 2018. In 2016, the number of jobs in this field was 19,200. Moreover, employment in this field is predicted to grow by 7% between 2016 and 2026, which is as fast as the average for all other professions

Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:Where can I get a recreational therapy certification?

A:The organization responsible for issuing these certifications is called the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). It is a nationally recognized credentialing organization for the profession of therapeutic recreation. The organization was established in 1981, as an independent, non-profit institution, and it now represents over 12,000 Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists.

Q:What different types of recreational therapy programs are available?

A:Recreational therapy programs are designed to provide students with skill and knowledge regarding recreational therapy treatment and how it is used to rehabilitate a person's functioning and promote health. Recreational therapy programs are offered at associate, bachelor, masters, and certificate level. Many accredited colleges are offering programs in this field.

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