What Recreational Therapists Do
Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses.
Recreational therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and government parks and recreation departments. Most therapists work full time.
How to Become a Recreational Therapist
Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Many employers require therapists to be certified.
The median annual wage for recreational therapists was $48,220 in May 2019.
Employment of recreational therapists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,700 new jobs over the 10-year period.
Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. These therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings to help maintain or improve a patient’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.
Recreational therapists typically do the following:
- Assess patients’ needs using observation, medical records, tests, and discussions with other healthcare professionals, patients’ families, and patients
- Develop treatment plans and programs that meet patients’ needs and interests
- Plan and implement interventions to support the client in meeting his or her goals
- Engage patients in therapeutic activities, such as exercise, games, and community outings
- Help patients learn social skills needed to become or remain independent
- Teach patients about ways to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression
- Document and analyze a patient’s progress
- Evaluate interventions for effectiveness
Recreational therapists help people reduce depression, stress, and anxiety; recover basic physical and mental abilities; build confidence; and socialize effectively.
They use interventions, such as arts and crafts, dance, or sports, to help their patients. For example, a recreational therapist can help a patient who is paralyzed on one side of his or her body by teaching patients to adapt activities, such as casting a fishing rod or swinging a golf club, by using his or her functional side.
Therapists often treat specific groups of patients, such as children with cancer. Therapists may use activities such as kayaking or a ropes course to teach patients to stay active and to form social relationships.
Recreational therapists help people with disabilities integrate into the community by teaching them how to use community resources and recreational activities. For example, therapists may teach a patient who uses a wheelchair how to use public transportation.
Therapists may also provide interventions for patients who need help developing social and coping skills. For example, a therapist may use a therapy dog to help patients manage 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.
Recreational therapists held about 19,900 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of recreational therapists were as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||38%|
|Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)||13|
|Ambulatory healthcare services||9|
They use offices for planning or other administrative activities, such as patient assessment, but may travel when working with patients. Therapy may be provided in a clinical setting or out in a community. For example, therapists may take their patients to community recreation centers or parks for sports and other outdoor activities.
Some therapists may spend a lot of time on their feet actively working with patients. They may also need to physically assist patients or lift heavy objects such as wheelchairs.
Most recreational therapists work full time. Some recreational therapists work evenings and weekends to meet the needs of their patients.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of recreational therapists.
For more information and materials on careers and academic programs in recreational therapy, visit
American Therapeutic Recreation Association
For more information about certification, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Recreational Therapists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/recreational-therapists.htm (visited ).