by Laura Nelson
After looking through careers relating to the field of recreation, I believe I found one that pertains to me the most. The career I decided to investigate is Recreational Therapy. I have always considered studying to be a therapist of sorts and this career combines that thought with the field of recreation. The official definition of therapeutic recreation according to the American Therapeutic Recreation Association is that “Therapeutic Recreation is the provision of treatment services and the provision of
recreation services to the persons with illnesses or disabling conditions.” This just means that recreational therapists provide treatment to people with mental, physical and/or emotional disabilities by providing them with recreational opportunities.
Recreational therapists work with nurses, physicians, psychologists and other types or therapists. They work along with these people to help a patient recover or to strengthen their emotional and/or physical well-being. How they go about helping their patients differs strongly from case to case. However, they always start by getting information from medical records, medical staff, family members and the patients themselves to figure out the patient’s capabilities, needs and interests. With that information they plan, direct and
possibly even participate in treatment programs to aid in the patient’s rehabilitation and help them to participate in the community and prevent future medical problems. After rehabilitation they will continue to help counsel and encourage development in their patient’s leisure activities. They continually talk and discuss how things are going with other members of the treatment plan and evaluate the therapy programs. Keeping the patient active in programs even when the direct therapy is done is very important to the recreational therapist because they want the patients to continue to better themselves. The
therapist will prepare and submit reports and charts to the whole treatment team to reflect the patient’s reactions and evidence of progression or regression.
Some recreational therapists design programs to treat specific diseases and disabilities. One of the most popular programs they develop are for the purposes of building and maintaining motor and social skills in their patients. Some of the different types of therapy they provide include art therapy, music therapy, pet therapy, aquatic programs, lifestyle counseling, assertiveness training, anger management, horticulture, humor therapy and play therapy. All of these different types of therapy are used to help reduce depression, stress and anxiety, to recover basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities, build confidence, help them socialize effectively as well as eliminate the effects of their illness or disability. Therapists use the programs to develop specific skills at the same time as they are providing opportunities for exercise, mental stimulation, creativity and fun. Most importantly, the recreational therapist’s job is to enhance the independence
and successful involvement in recreation in all aspects of their patient’s lives.
Recreational therapists have a few choices when it comes to what type of environment they want to work in. The majority of recreational therapists, about 70%, work in hospitals, nursing homes or personal care facilities. The remainder work in residential facilities, community mental health centers, adult day care programs, correctional facilities, substance abuse centers and other similar programs and centers. Not very many are self-employed and they usually contract their services out to community agencies and long-term care facilities. In the hospital settings, recreation therapists treat and rehabilitate individuals with specific health conditions in cooperation with the patient’s
doctor, psychologists, social workers and other therapists. In long-term and residential care facilities, they use leisure activities and in particular structured group programs to improve
and maintain their client’s general health and well-being. A community-based recreational
therapist may work in park and recreation departments, special education programs for school districts or programs for older adults and people with disabilities. Facilities in community recreational therapy may include assisted living centers, adult daycare and substance abuse rehabilitation centers. When working with clients in community integration programs, they may travel locally to instruct the clients with things like public transportation and other public areas such as parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants and theatres. Recreational therapist’s type of work will obviously differ with whatever environment they decide to work in.
The amount or type of education needed to be a recreational therapist is generally the same but does also differ a little depending on where they decide to work. The most common path to become a recreational therapist is by getting a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation. Those are the usual requirements for entry-level positions but one can qualify for paraprofessional positions with an associate’s degree in therapeutic recreation or a healthcare related field. Most employers prefer to hire people who are certified therapeutic recreation specialists. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification Agency is what one must go through to get certified. To become certified one must have a bachelor’s degree, pass a written certification exam given by the agency and complete and
internship of at least 480 hours. There are additional requirements in order to maintain certification and to recertify. Hospital and clinical settings are very particular with requirements when it comes to education and certification whereas others such as nursing homes may only require an associate’s degree or training in some sort of art, music or
drama therapy. Requirements all depend on where you want to work and what they too require.
The salary also depends on what type of setting the recreational therapists decides to work. The median annual earning of recreational therapists as of 2003 was $32,540, which is up almost $2,000 from 2002. However, the median annual earnings for recreation therapists in nursing care facilities was $25,010 as of 2002. There were approximately 27,000 recreational therapists in the United States in 2002. As for the job outlook, there are mixed ideas on whether or not the job market will grow, stay the same or get worse. One thought is that because hospitals and nursing homes are having to make cut backs these days, the job market will be tight because recreational therapists are likely the first to be cut. On the other hand, as the population ages, there may be an increased demand for recreational therapists in other settings such as retirement homes, senior citizen centers and assisted living centers. Overall the job outlook is not looking favorable but job prospects are more favorable with those with a clinical background.
There are other important things to have if considering a career in recreational therapy. A good knowledge of psychology will help in figuring out and treating their patients. Right in line with that, a basic understanding of therapy and counseling will help in their everyday interaction with their patients. Problem solving skills is one of the most important skills to have because they are going to be faced with new and challenging problems everyday. Students interested in recreational therapy should consider studying human anatomy, physiology, abnormal psychology, medical and psychiatric terminology, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, professional ethics and the use of assistive devices and technology. Overall, people interested in becoming a recreational therapist should try to become well-rounded individuals.
To get more first hand information on what is like to be a recreational therapist, I interviewed a man named Ben Curti. He is an Oncology Recreational Therapist in the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Salem, North Carolina. He works with adult cancer patients and provides recreational therapy services to them. He uses techniques such as stress management, psycho-emotional support, relaxation techniques and social group support activities. He also specializes in expressive arts where he mainly uses piano and plays for his patients. He is also a current board member at the American Therapeutic Recreation Association. He is also involved in a group called the National Cancer Survivor’s Day Committee and is current teaching a therapeutic recreation class at Winston-Salem University. His education includes getting a B.A. from Central Michigan University in Recreation with a therapeutic emphasis. His favorite thing in his job is how rewarding it feels to help the cancer patients with all their struggles. It was obviously that he loves the hospital he works at and all the staff he works with. The part of the job that he does not enjoy includes having to see when his former patients relapse and the pain that they go through. He also expressed that he is not the norm when it comes to people in this field because he has been in the field for 25 years while most drop out after a few years and find different professions. One of his main points he stressed was that if interested in the field, I should start doing volunteer work now not only to build up a resume but to see if I am cut out for the field.
After learning all this information about Recreational Therapy and talking to someone who truly enjoys it, I have come to respect the career on a whole new level. A great deal of patience and confidence is needed in someone to be a good recreational therapist. I feel like it would be a good career for me and that if I worked on a few areas such as leadership and becoming better at dealing with stubborn or strong-willed people
that this career would fit me really well. I love helping people feel better and enjoy watching the progress that people make when recovering. I am very good at being an active listener and being sensitive to people’s needs, which is incredibly important in this field. I am still very interested in this career and would recommend it to anyone who thinks it would suit them because it is a very fulfilling career.