What Employment Opportunities are Available for Recreation Therapists?

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Recreational therapists design, coordinate, execute and monitor recreational programs (activities, hobbies, social events and/or exercises) for clients with medical conditions and/or disabilities. These health professionals use a variety of therapeutic techniques such as: music, art, crafts, dance, games, field trips and sports to support, improve and/or maintain an individual’s emotional, social and physical health and well-being. They also help reduce stress, depression and anxiety, strengthen emotional, mental and physical skills, increase self-confidence and self-esteem and improve social skills.

recreation therapists

Moreover, recreational therapists teach disabled clients how to build a strong support system and use readily available resources to assimilate into the community. If you are interested in becoming a recreational therapist, you may be wondering what employment opportunities are available. This article will provide you with the information you need to decide if recreational therapy is the right career for you.

Job Functions

As a recreational therapist, you will more than likely work at a rehabilitation center, skilled nursing facility, substance abuse treatment center, special education school, assisted living facility or clinic.

Your primary job duties may include the following:

  • Creating, organizing and/or monitoring therapeutic activities such as: dances, exercises, group activities, arts and crafts, social events and sports
  • Teaching clients, suffering from unilateral paralysis, how to regain basic motor skills on the mobile side of their body (i.e. picking up a spoon, putting on clothes, etc.)
  • Helping disabled clients utilize valuable resources (i.e. government assistance, public transportation, housing, etc.)

Career Outlook

The career outlook for recreational therapists looks positive in the future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013) reports that recreational therapy jobs are expected to increase 17% by the year 2020. This increase will occur as a result of the aging baby-boomer population. As people age they will need recreational therapists to help enhance their quality of life. In other words, recreational therapists will help disabled, injured and ill patients maintain a healthy, happy and productive life.

Career Prospects

Career prospects for recreational therapists are best for people who have bachelor’s degree and certification in recreational therapy. Prospects are also excellent for therapists who are certified in geriatric recreational therapy and/or those who work with the elderly population. Most recreational therapists work at skilled nursing (nursing homes) or residential care facilities (bls.gov). As the elderly population ages and more people enter assisted living, nursing homes or residential care facilities, the need for recreational therapist will also increase.

Pay Scale

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), you can expect to earn approximately $40,000 per year, as a recreational therapist. If you fall in the lower 10%, you can expect to earn approximately $24,000 per year and if you fall in the upper 10% you can expect to earn $63,000 or more per year (bls.gov). Be prepared to work evenings and some, if not all, weekends. Your work schedule will be based on the needs of your clients.

Alternative Employment Opportunities

Listed below are some alternative employment choices that may interest you in the case that you decide to advance your recreational therapy career.

  • Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists use a variety of therapeutic techniques to teach clients with medical conditions, injuries and disabilities how to perform their daily functions. In other words, they help clients improve and regain the skills they need to resume their careers and live a healthy, happy and productive life.

  • Rehabilitation Counselors

The main goal of rehabilitation counselors is to teach clients with mental, emotional and/or physical disabilities how to have an independent life. In other words, they help disabled clients overcome their adversities (social, personal and/or professional) so that they can seek gainful employment and live independently.

  • Physical Therapists

Physical therapists teach injured, ill or disabled clients how to effectively manage their conditions. They also help clients cope with pain and improve their mobility. Physical therapists play an important role in the treatment and rehabilitation of chronic illnesses, disabilities and injuries.

  • Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers are trained to teach students with emotional, mental, physical and learning disabilities. These teachers use a variety of teaching styles to provide classroom instruction to mild-to-moderately disabled students. In this case, teaching strategies are tailored to the student’s academic needs. Special education teachers also teach severely disabled students how to communicate (reading and writing), live independently and use simple math functions.

  • School Counselors

The main function of school counselors is to help students improve their communication and social skills. School counselors want their students to succeed both personally and professionally. In addition, they help students set and accomplish their goals. Career counselors are similar to school counselors except that career counselors typically work primarily with adults while school counselors typically work with children and teenagers. Career counselors help people identify what career-related areas are best for them. They also help individuals make the best career choices for them (i.e. going to college, enrolling at a technical school or seeking employment in their chosen field).

  • Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists provide services (evaluation, diagnosis and treatment) to clients who have swallowing and communication disorders. In some cases, speech-language pathologists can lower your risk of swallowing and communication disorders. They teach replacement communication techniques (i.e. sign language) to clients with little or no speaking abilities. Moreover, they help clients improve their ability to make sounds, strengthen their voices and/or read and write.

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