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Therapeutic Recreation/Recreational Therapy

Program Description

Just the Facts

Therapeutic Recreation/Recreational Therapy. A program that prepares individuals to plan, organize, and direct recreational activities designed to promote health and well-being for patients who are physically, mentally, or emotionally disabled. Includes instruction in the foundations of therapeutic recreation, leisure education and counseling, program planning, therapeutic recreational modalities, basic anatomy and physiology, psychology, medical terminology, human growth and development, patient observation and evaluation, special needs populations, and professional standards and ethics.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree

High School Courses

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See the high school courses recommended for programs in this pathway:

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Related Programs

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Additional Information

In a therapeutic recreation program, you may learn how painting can be used to help stroke victims regain the use of their hands. Or you may learn how to plan a dance that would help nursing home residents feel better and stay in shape.

Many universities and colleges offer programs in therapeutic recreation. Most programs offer bachelor's degrees. Some also offer graduate and postgraduate degrees. You can also get an associate's degree in the field.

"A therapeutic recreation professional has to be a very special person, because of the stress and pressure that goes with the job," says Lawrence Ham. He is a professor in the school of kinesiology and recreation studies at James Madison University.

Students have to realize that they are going to be working daily with people with disabilities, he says.

Programs cover a wide range of courses. These could include abnormal psychology, recreation management, body mechanics and youth justice issues. You may also spend a lot of time outdoors.

Entrance requirements vary. High school graduation is the minimum for many programs. You may also have to undergo a criminal background check. Expect to submit proof of your physical and mental health.

In high school, take biology. Courses in physical education and kinesiology are also recommended.

Ian Thumlert works with the Center for Health and Human Services at a community college. He recommends you also take social science courses like geography, history and sociology. Psychology is also good, if your school offers it.

Recreation therapists spend a lot of time putting together brochures, posters, reports and budgets. So get comfortable with word processors, spreadsheets and graphic design programs.

Get into sports or other forms of recreation like hiking or dance. It also helps if you know crafts or how to play an instrument.

A second language is also an asset. So are CPR, first aid and lifeguard certificates.

You should also volunteer. Many programs require volunteer experience.

Recreation centers, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers are good places to learn more about the field and its people. Being comfortable around all kinds of different people is key if you want to work in this field.

You may need to be certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC).

To become certified, you need to get a bachelor's degree, pass an exam and complete an internship of at least 480 hours under the supervision of a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, says the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Besides tuition and books, you may have to budget for things like camping gear, sports equipment and arts supplies.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Recreational Therapists

American Therapeutic Recreation Association
Resources for people in this field, including an internship directory

Activity Resources
Ideas for recreation therapy


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