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What is this job like?

Recreational therapists help people who are sick or hurt to get active again. They use sports, games, arts, crafts, and music to help patients build confidence and get back into life. These therapists are not the same as the recreation workers who conduct games and pastimes for fun.

Recreational therapists find out what patients need. They do this by looking at medical records and talking to other staff. They also listen to the patients and their families. They then make up a program to help the person. For instance, they might help a right-handed girl who can't use her right arm any more to throw a ball with her left arm.

Recreational therapists often work in special rooms at hospitals. They might also work with clients on a playing field or in a swimming pool. They plan events and keep records in offices. They generally work a 40-hour week. This may include some evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How do you get ready?

A college degree in recreation therapy is usually required. There are about 140 training programs in the U.S. Most programs offer bachelor's degrees. Some offer other degrees, such as associate or master's.

A national board certifies therapeutic recreation specialists. They must get a bachelor's degree. Then, they have to pass an exam.

Recreational therapists should be at ease working with disabled people. They have to be patient and tactful. They need imagination to adapt games to a person's needs. They must have good physical skills to show people how to do some activities.

How much does this job pay?

The middle half of all recreational therapists made between $23,180 and $38,620 a year in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $18,130. The highest-paid 10 percent made more than $47,180 a year.

How many jobs are there?

Recreational therapists held about 27,000 jobs in 2002. Almost a third worked in hospitals, and another third worked in nursing care facilities. A small number of therapists were self-employed.

What about the future?

Employment of recreational therapists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2012. They will serve a growing number of older persons and persons with disabilities. Hospitals and nursing homes will provide jobs. Adult day care, assisted-living, social service, and physical and psychiatric rehabilitation sites will also provide a lot of jobs.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Art therapists
  • Counselors (rehabilitation counselors)
  • Dance therapists
  • Drama therapists
  • Music therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Orientation therapists for blind and visually-impaired persons
  • Physical therapists
  • Recreation and fitness workers (aerobics instructors, fitness trainers, personal trainers)
Where can you find more information?

More information about recreational therapists can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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