There are four items required to become a recreational therapy assistant: completion of post-secondary education, work experience, physical health, and interpersonal skills. A recreational therapy assistant works under the supervision of a recreational therapist. He or she is responsible for interacting directly with clients to improve their health through recreational activity.
Recreational therapy is a relatively new field, developed after World War I as a method of encouraging physical movement in badly injured soldiers. The basic principle was to improve the mental outlook and the physical strength through a range of recreational activities. The techniques developed for this group have been enhanced and expanded to include seniors and people with developmental and physical disabilities.
The first step to become a recreational therapy assistant is to locate a post-secondary program at a community or career college in recreational therapy. The programs offered at the university level are more theoretical in nature, and are required to become a recreational therapist. The therapy assistant programs are typically one to two years in length and combine classroom and work experience terms.
In order to gain admission to this program, students should have high school credits in communication and physical health. Part of the admissions process is a personal interview. A background in physical activities provides a wealth of knowledge on different techniques that improve hand-to-eye coordination and footwork. Personal experiences facing adversity are very valuable in this type of role, as empathy is a critical factor in patient recovery.
When selecting a program to become a recreational therapy assistant, check the schools' links to community organizations, the types of work terms available and the level of interaction with the recreational therapist training programs. The number and quality of work terms available have a direct impact on the opportunities available to you and the types of experiences that can be added to your resume. Almost all recreational therapy assistant programs offer a dedicated work term.
Work placement programs provide an opportunity to gain experience under the direct supervision of a recreational therapist. Potential placement locations include senior centers, programs for the developmentally delayed, and rehabilitation centers. The work term is a great opportunity to gain both valuable experience and references.
A high degree of physical fitness is required to become a recreational therapy assistant. This job is very physically demanding. Assistants may be expected to physically move and support clients through a series of exercises designed to challenge, strengthen, and stretch the body. A positive outlook and stable mental health are also very valuable in this role.