Recreational Therapist

A recreational therapist uses therapeutic interventions to help people with injuries, illnesses and disabilities restore their physical health and well-being. They help improve independence in your daily life. They also help reduce stress, anxiety and depression and help increase your self-confidence and ability to interact in your community.

What is a recreational therapist?

A recreational therapist is a healthcare provider who uses leisure activities to help you reach your goals. Recreational therapists work with people with injuries, illnesses and disabilities. They plan and carry out treatment programs for their patients.

A recreational therapist focuses on your interests to come up with a plan for treatment. They plan activities that will help you develop skills and behaviors to improve your quality of life. They can help you reach your:

  • Functional goals.
  • Physical goals.
  • Emotional goals.
  • Social goals.
  • Psychological goals.
  • Cognitive goals.

Recreational therapists try to make therapy as maintainable and useful as possible. They do so by focusing on activities you enjoy and skills you have an interest in learning. They also try to involve your family and community. By doing so, you can transfer aspects of your therapy to your daily life. You’ll continue to reap the benefits of therapy after your time with a therapist is over.

Recreational therapists work in a wide range of settings. Many recreational therapists work in hospitals. They may also work in:

  • School systems.
  • Mental health facilities.
  • Substance abuse programs.
  • Local parks and recreational departments.
  • Adult day care centers.
  • Nursing homes.
  • Hospice care centers.


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What education does a recreational therapist need?

To become a recreational therapist, a candidate needs extensive education and training.

First, they must get a four-year undergraduate degree. Some candidates graduate with a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy. Others graduate with a bachelor's degree in a related field such as recreation or leisure studies. They usually have a minor or concentration in recreational therapy. During these programs, they learn about:

  • Assessment.
  • Human anatomy.
  • Psychiatric and medical terminology.
  • Characteristics of disabilities and illnesses.
  • Assistive devices and technology.

Most recreational therapists are Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS). This means the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) has certified them. NCTRC certification shows that a recreational therapist has the knowledge and skills to practice in the field. Most employers want certification. To become certified, a candidate must complete the following requirements:

  • A bachelor's degree.
  • A supervised internship or field placement of at least 560 hours.
  • Passage of the NCTRC national certification exam.

What other skills and qualities does a recreational therapist need to succeed?

A recreational therapist must exhibit many empathetic qualities. They must also have the skills necessary to communicate with and help their patients. These skills and qualities include:


A recreational therapist needs to be kind and sympathetic when providing support to you and your family. They need to use empathy when helping you if you’re in pain or under emotional stress.


A recreational therapist must be able to work with patients and their families when they need more time and/or special attention.


A recreational therapist must be able to plan and execute an intervention program in an effective way. They must engage with their patients and be able to motivate them to take part in a wide range of therapeutic activities.


A recreational therapist must be able to tailor a specific treatment plan for their patients. They must be innovative and flexible when adapting activities or programs to fit their patients' needs.


A recreational therapist must listen thoughtfully to their patients' issues and concerns. Then they can decide on the correct course of treatment.


A recreational therapist must be able to communicate well with their patients and their family. They must be able to give clear instructions during activities or directions on healthy coping strategies.


What does a recreational therapist do?

A recreational therapist uses a wide variety of recreational and leisure-based activities. They use these activities to help you reach your goals. They use community-based techniques and interventions to put together a treatment plan. Treatment plans are unique and designed for each patient. They use state-of-the-art evidence to design these programs. In this way, the programs result in a high level of success.

Recreational therapists work to help improve your physical, cognitive, emotional and social needs. They help you develop skills and behaviors that you can use for daily living in your community.

Your recreational therapist will work with you and your family to incorporate your interests. They’ll use community resources to help you achieve optimal success. You’ll be able to transfer what you learn to real life.

Recreational therapists work with everyone from pediatric patients to geriatric clients. They may work with people with addictions or mental health disorders. They work with people with developmental disabilities. They also work with people with health conditions such as cancer or rare diseases.

What types of activities does a recreational therapy program offer?

Your recreational therapist usually tries to select activities that match your interests. Some activities that may be part of your recreational therapy program include:

Creative arts

Offering similar benefits to art therapy, your recreational therapist will use art-based interventions to lead creative arts. You’ll create art to explore your feelings and settle any emotional conflicts. Your art will help nurture self-awareness and manage behaviors. You'll also develop social skills, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.

Music programs

Your recreational therapist will use music to help you accomplish goals such as reducing stress. Similar to music therapy, these programs can also help improve your mood and elevate your self-expression. Music therapy experiences may include listening to music to help motivate you to reach for your goals.

Physical activity

Participating in sports and physical activity isn’t only good for your physical health. It’s good for your mental and emotional health, too. Physical activity triggers various chemicals in your brain. These chemicals have a direct effect on your happiness, self-esteem and stress. Physical activity may include a range of sports, including adapted sports for people with disabilities.

Games and puzzles

Board games and jigsaw puzzles provide you with the chance to laugh and socialize. At the same time, you’re learning to engage with others and develop healthy attitudes.

Dance and creative movement

Through dance and movement, you’re challenged to move physically. But you’re in a supportive, structured environment. The intimate connection with music frequently makes dance feel less like exercise. You'll find it's more like a leisure activity.


Participating in drama activities provides an opportunity for you to express your creativity. You also develop new skills and may discover new interests.


Participating in a cooking class can foster teamwork. It can also help you become more independent and learn new skills.

Outdoor activities

Outdoor programming can help you gain independence, learn new skills and develop self-esteem. Examples include high/low ropes courses, swimming, hiking and horseback riding.

A big focus of recreational therapy is socialization. While reaching for your functional goals, you may attend many group sessions to help foster socialization with others. This also helps increase your independence in starting your own social conversations and/or activities with others.


How can I find a recreational therapist?

To make an appointment with a recreational therapist, talk to your healthcare provider. If you’re in need of recreational therapy, they can set you up with the resources you need. They want to help you and will do everything they can to get you back to 100%.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Although recreational therapists use play in their role, it isn’t always fun and games. A recreational therapist uses their training to help you reach your goals. They can help you improve your self-esteem and develop independence. They’ll use recreational and leisure activities to help with your recovery. If you’d like to give recreational therapy a try, reach out to your healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/25/2022.

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