How long does it take to become a recreational therapist?

Have you ever wondered about the time it takes to become a recreational therapist? Worry less I am here to give you the details on everything you need to know about this career choice ranging from but not limited to degree, skills, salaries, and job opportunities.

There are several factors that contribute to determining the time frame in this career choice including the educational path chosen, the country or region where you are pursuing your education, and your own individual circumstances. I wouldn’t talk about the time frame without you understanding who a recreational therapist is.

Who is a recreational therapist?

A recreational therapist is a healthcare professional who uses recreational activities and interventions to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social well-being of individuals with various disabilities or illnesses.

They work with people of all ages and backgrounds, including those with physical disabilities, mental health conditions, developmental disabilities, and chronic illnesses.

The primary goal of recreational therapists is to enhance the quality of life and functional abilities of their clients through purposeful and enjoyable activities.

They assess individuals’ needs and abilities, develop tailored treatment plans, and facilitate therapeutic interventions that promote physical fitness, cognitive skills, social interaction, and emotional well-being.

Recreational therapists may incorporate a wide range of activities into their treatment plans, such as sports, games, arts and crafts, music, dance, drama, gardening, outdoor adventures, and other recreational pursuits.

They focus on utilizing these activities to address specific therapeutic goals, including improving motor skills, enhancing cognitive function, increasing socialization, reducing stress, managing pain, and boosting overall emotional and psychological well-being.

Top 10 Skills of a Recreational therapists

  1. Assessment Skills: Recreational therapists need to have strong assessment skills to evaluate the needs, abilities, and interests of their clients.
  2. Therapeutic Relationship-Building: Building a trusting and therapeutic relationship with clients is crucial for recreational therapists.
  3. Activity Planning and Adaptation: Recreational therapists must be skilled in planning and adapting activities to meet the specific goals and needs of their clients.
  4. Creativity and Resourcefulness: Being creative and resourceful is essential for recreational therapists to design engaging and meaningful therapeutic activities.
  5. Knowledge of Human Anatomy and Physiology: A solid understanding of human anatomy and physiology is important for recreational therapists, especially when working with individuals with physical disabilities or injuries.
  6. Group Facilitation and Leadership: Many recreational therapy interventions involve group activities.
  7. Emotional Intelligence and Empathy: Recreational therapists need to be emotionally intelligent and empathetic to understand and respond to the emotional needs and challenges of their clients.
  8. Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Communication: Collaborating with other healthcare professionals, such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, and nurses, is common for recreational therapists.
  9. Cultural Competence: Cultural competence is important in recreational therapy to respect and understand the diverse backgrounds and beliefs of clients.
  10. Documentation and Evaluation: Recreational therapists should have good documentation and evaluation skills to maintain accurate records of client progress, document treatment plans, and assess the effectiveness of interventions.

How long does it take to become a recreational therapist

Types of recreational therapy

There are several types of recreational therapy that are used to address different therapeutic goals and cater to the needs of individuals with varying disabilities or conditions.

Physical Recreational Therapy

This type of therapy focuses on improving physical fitness, mobility, and motor skills. It may include activities such as sports, exercises, swimming, hiking, cycling, and adapted physical activities to enhance strength, coordination, endurance, and overall physical well-being.

Cognitive Recreational Therapy

Cognitive recreational therapy aims to enhance cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, problem-solving, and decision-making.

Activities may involve puzzles, board games, memory exercises, brain teasers, computer-based programs, and interactive activities that stimulate cognitive function.

Social Recreational Therapy

Social recreational therapy is designed to improve social skills, interpersonal relationships, and community integration.

It involves group activities, team-building exercises, group outings, cooperative games, and socialization opportunities to foster communication, cooperation, empathy, and social interaction among individuals.

Expressive Arts Therapy

This form of recreational therapy utilizes creative and expressive activities to promote emotional well-being, self-expression, and personal growth.

It may include art therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, and other creative outlets to facilitate emotional expression, stress reduction, and exploration of personal experiences and feelings.

Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy utilizes outdoor activities and adventure-based experiences to promote personal growth, self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and teamwork. It may involve activities such as wilderness expeditions, rock climbing, ropes courses, camping, and outdoor adventure challenges to encourage individuals to overcome challenges and develop resilience.

How long does it take to become a recreational therapist?

Since you have read to this length, let’s dive into the cardinal purpose of this write-up. Here is a general outline of the typical timeframes involved in becoming a recreational therapist:

Bachelor’s Degree: Most aspiring recreational therapists start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, therapeutic recreation, or a related field. A bachelor’s degree program typically takes around 4 years to complete on a full-time basis.

Master’s Degree (Optional): While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for entry-level positions, some individuals choose to pursue a master’s degree to further enhance their knowledge and skills.

A master’s degree in recreational therapy or a related field usually takes an additional 1 to 2 years of full-time study.

Internship/Clinical Experience: As part of the educational requirements, aspiring recreational therapists typically complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours or an internship in a healthcare or therapeutic setting.

The duration of the internship can vary, but it is often around 480 to 640 hours, which may take several months to complete.

Certification (Optional): After completing the necessary education and clinical requirements, some individuals choose to pursue certification as recreational therapists.

Certification requirements vary by country and region. In the United States, for example, the certification process through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) typically involves meeting specific education and experience requirements, passing a certification exam, and maintaining ongoing professional development.

I hope the above help answer your query on how long it takes to become a recreational therapist.

Recreational therapist degree and certification

To become a recreational therapist, individuals typically need to obtain a degree in recreational therapy or a related field. The specific degree requirements may vary by country and region.

In the United States, for instance, most recreational therapists hold a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, therapeutic recreation, or a related discipline.

In addition to obtaining a degree, many recreational therapists choose to pursue certification to demonstrate their competence and commitment to the profession. In the United States, the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential.

The certification process typically involves meeting specific education and experience requirements, passing a certification exam, and maintaining ongoing professional development.

Recreational therapist jobs

Recreational therapists can find employment in various settings where their expertise in therapeutic recreation is valuable. Here are some common job settings for recreational therapists:

  1. Hospitals: Recreational therapists work in hospitals, including general hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and psychiatric hospitals.
  2. Rehabilitation Centers: Recreational therapists play a vital role in rehabilitation settings, such as physical rehabilitation centers and specialized clinics.
  3. Mental Health Facilities: Recreational therapists are employed in mental health settings, including psychiatric hospitals, psychiatric wards, and community mental health centers.
  4. Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care Facilities: Recreational therapists work with older adults in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
  5. Community Centers: Recreational therapists may be employed by community centers, municipal recreation departments, or non-profit organizations to develop and implement recreational programs for community members of all ages.
  6. Schools and Educational Institutions: Recreational therapists may work in schools, including special education programs and therapeutic schools, to support students with disabilities or behavioral challenges.
  7. Private Practice: Some recreational therapists establish their own private practices, offering individualized therapeutic services to clients.
  8. Outdoor and Adventure Programs: Recreational therapists may work in outdoor education programs, adventure therapy programs, or wilderness therapy programs.

Recreational therapist salary

The salary of a recreational therapist can vary based on several factors, including education, experience, location, employer, and job setting. Salaries can also vary between countries and regions.

United States

In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides data on the median annual wage for recreational therapists.

As of May 2020, the median annual wage for recreational therapists was $49,890. The lowest 10% earned less than $32,220, while the highest 10% earned more than $80,940.

It’s important to note that these figures are approximate and can vary depending on the factors mentioned earlier.


In Canada, the salary range for recreational therapists varies by province and experience level.

According to the Canadian national job bank, the median annual wage for recreational therapists in Canada is around $66,000. However, salaries can range from $40,000 to $90,000 or more, depending on factors such as location and experience.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the salary of recreational therapists can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and employer.

According to the National Careers Service, the starting salary for a qualified recreational therapist in the NHS can range from £24,907 to £30,615 per year. With experience, senior positions or advanced practice roles may offer higher salaries.

Please note that these salary figures are approximate and can change over time. It’s important to consider that salaries may also be influenced by factors specific to the individual, such as qualifications, certifications, additional skills, and negotiation abilities.

Additionally, salaries can vary based on the specific demand for recreational therapists in different regions and healthcare systems.

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