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Major in Recreational Therapy
By Lauren Elrick
There’s something deeply healing and beautiful about the arts. Right along with that, not a lot beats the rush of endorphins after a run, or the warm, comfortable feeling that comes after you commune with a group of friends. Whether it’s going for an early morning swim at the local community pool, watching the velvet curtains close on a magnificent theatrical performance, listening to a majestic symphony, or having a deep conversation with another person, the worlds of art, endorphins, and people does something glorious for the soul. But what do these three fields have in common?
The arts, exercise, and community outings are all vehicles that recreational therapists use to help others. Recreational therapy is a great gift to many people, and without recreational therapists, many people would simply fail to heal or develop as quickly as they may have otherwise. Recreational therapists coordinate, plan, and direct recreation-based activities and programs for people who have disabilities or are recovering from an illness or injury. Using a variety of modalities, such as art, exercise, music, dance, sports, community outings, and aquatics, these therapists help maintain and improve a patient’s social, emotional, and physical well-being.
Whether it’s teaching patients how to cope with anxiety or depression, implementing plans to prevent a patient from harming him or herself, or helping a patient learn social skills, recreational therapists play a big role in helping those with long-term disabilities or illnesses. They may also assist patients via observations, medical tests, discussions with the patient’s family, and through specific treatment plans. By evaluating the patient’s progress over time, a recreational therapist can evaluate which interventions are most effective.
The majority of recreational therapists are employed by hospitals or nursing care facilities, but many are also employed by the government or through retirement communities. They may work with surgeons, nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, or occupational therapists as they assess a patient’s progress. Depending on the patient, therapists may also end up traveling with the patient and his or her family to continue care on the go.
Most recreational therapists generally need a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy or a related field. Courses usually include studies on human anatomy, assessment, psychiatric terminology, disabilities, and the use of assistive devices. Certification is also an important part of education for therapists, and most hospitals prefer to hire certified recreational therapists. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential, which requires a bachelor’s degree, an internship of 560 hours, and passing an exam. Other pathways to getting certified include a bachelor in an unrelated field combined with additional classes and work experience, as well as passing the exam.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for recreational therapists is 12% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than average due to the aging baby boomer population and the shortage of medical personnel expected in the coming years. In 2015, the median pay for recreation therapists was $45,890 per year with the highest 10% earning around $71,790. Government positions paid the most while retirement facilities were recorded as paying the least. Most recreational therapists work full time, but some work part time depending on the company they work for.
It’s important for recreational therapists to have some key skills: compassion is a must as kindness and empathy when working with patients and their relatives can really make a big difference in how cared for a family feels. Other important skills to have are leadership tendencies, good listening skills, patience, resourcefulness, and great communication skills.
If you’ve always dreamed about your life’s work centering around caring for others, but the educational requirements for nursing or becoming a doctor have always been a bit overwhelming, consider recreational therapy. You really get the best of both worlds, and you’ll be able to make a difference in someone’s life by using tools that all humans need in their life in one way or another.