A therapeutic recreation specialist uses the healing benefits of recreational activities to treat patients. A variety of activities involving arts and crafts, music, dance, drama, sports, games, animals and community outings may be used. The goal is to use these activities to help patients with assorted mental health and physiological problems.
Therapeutic recreation provides patients with a creative outlet and helps them feel good about themselves. The recreational activities reduce depression, stress and anxiety. They not only help with basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities, they assist in building confidence and in improving socialization skills.
To become a recreational therapist, it is necessary to have good educational credentials in recreational therapy or in any other health care-related subject. Many colleges offer bachelor’s degrees, associate's degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degree programs in various types of recreational therapies. It will be a good idea for a student who wants to become a recreational therapist to research the offered programs.
Program courses in recreational therapy include courses in patient health evaluation, treatment planning and program planning. Anyone who wants to become a recreational therapist must also study human anatomy, physiology, psychology and medical terminology. They must learn about different types of illnesses and disabilities, about professional ethics, and about the use of assistance devices and technology.
Qualities like patience, tact, humor, persuasive skills and good physical coordination are also necessary to become a recreational therapist. Recreational therapists must be comfortable working with people who are ill, disabled or have a variety of special needs. Having a sense of humor, some ingenuity and imagination is helpful is both empathizing with patients and adapting activities to individual needs.
In many states in the USA, in addition to professional qualifications, a therapeutic recreation specialist requires a state-approved license to practice. Many recreational therapists also obtain a certification from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. This is a voluntary certification that is approved by most employers.
The eligibility requirement for this certification is a graduate degree from an accredited institution. Candidates must complete two to three weeks of supervised internship and pass a written examination. Continuing education is essential to maintain the certification.
As regards employment, qualified recreational therapists can find health care jobs in private and government agencies. Therapeutic recreation specialists can pursue health care careers in hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, residential care facilities, mental health care facilities and special needs schools. Therapists with several years of experience in medical jobs may work in administrative, consultancy, research or teaching positions.