Home page

Recreational Therapists

At a Glance

  • Work with patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and day care centers
  • Use a variety of treatment techniques, from dance to games
  • Work with doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and others
  • Have a bachelor's degree
  • May need to be certified

Career summary

Recreational therapists plan and carry out treatments and activities for people with illnesses or disabilities.

Recreational therapists may also be called therapeutic recreation specialists.

Recreational therapists engage clients in a variety of activities, including:

Recreational therapists also offer instruction in stretching and breathing techniques. They talk with patients to help ease any depression, stress, or anxiety. Their goal is to keep clients physically and mentally healthy. They plan activities around clients' interests as well as their needs.

Recreation therapists work in a variety of settings, including:

Some recreational therapists work with people who have disabilities. They help clients learn social skills and other skills required to live independently. They also help them learn to use resources such as a public transportation system or community recreation centers.

Recreational therapists usually work with other health care workers including doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and physical and occupational therapists to set up a treatment plan. They review medical records and also talk to family members. They keep detailed records and write reports.

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to recreational therapists.

Common work activities

Recreational therapists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, recreational therapists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Recreational therapists frequently:

It is important for recreational therapists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for recreational therapists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Recreational therapists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a recreational therapist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Most recreational therapists have a bachelor's degree. Recreational therapy programs include courses in assessment, treatment, and program planning. They also teach anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology. These programs are available at community colleges and some universities.

On-the-job training

New therapists generally receive up to one month of training on the job.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Most employers prefer candidates who are certified therapeutic recreation specialists. Applicants should be patient and have good physical coordination. Employers prefer applicants who are comfortable working with people who are ill or have disabilities.

Some employers will hire recreational therapists who do not have any experience. Other employers prefer to hire recreational therapists who have one or two years of experience.

An internship of 600 hours is required by some employers. Therapists who teach and do research often must complete doctorate degrees. Some employers prefer applicants who have conducted an internship in a specialty area related to the position for which they are applying.


Find summer or part-time work as a therapy aide in a hospital, clinic, or summer camp. Recreational therapists should enjoy a variety of recreation and leisure activities as well as working with people. Being in good physical shape is also important, as this job requires stamina.

Costs to workers

Many therapists are certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. The application fee is $100 and the exam is $325. The annual certification renewal and professional eligibility maintenance fees are $80 each. Recreational therapists usually supply their own lab coats and pay dues to a professional association.

#http://nctrc.org/documents/ProfessionalEligibilityApplicationInstructions.pdf (external link) (PDF file)

#no changes to state or NCTRC fees, 3/5/10 lh or 4/5/11, 3/24/15 cj. Updated exam fee 1/10/17 cj. Fees/info same 3/19/19 cj.


Recreational therapists practicing in Washington must be registered with the Department of Health. Registration requirements include:

For more information, contact:

Washington State Department of Health
Health Systems Quality Assurance
Office of Customer Service (external link)

PO Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504

Certification is also offered by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (external link). To become certified, recreational therapists must:

Therapists must earn continuing education credits to renew their certification every five years.

#Checked state licensing & nat'l registration 3/19/19 cj. 2/11/20

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Recreational therapists (SOC 29-1125)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $20.39 $23.33 $27.63 $33.62 $40.03
Monthly $3,534 $4,043 $4,788 $5,826 $6,937
Yearly $42,400 $48,530 $57,460 $69,930 $83,270
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $22.34 $26.08 $30.37 $38.40 $45.94
Monthly $3,872 $4,520 $5,263 $6,655 $7,961
Yearly $46,473 $54,229 $63,171 $79,869 $95,550
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $18.89 $21.50 $24.06 $27.54 $32.18
Monthly $3,274 $3,726 $4,170 $4,773 $5,577
Yearly $39,301 $44,723 $50,040 $57,280 $66,927
    Vancouver Hourly $16.75 $19.00 $32.89 $36.75 $39.11
Monthly $2,903 $3,293 $5,700 $6,369 $6,778
Yearly $34,838 $39,500 $68,412 $76,436 $81,343
United States Hourly $14.23 $17.90 $23.01 $29.63 $37.04
Monthly $2,466 $3,102 $3,988 $5,135 $6,419
Yearly $29,590 $37,220 $47,860 $61,630 $77,050

Wages vary by employer, area of the country, and the therapists' level of experience.

Recreational therapists who work full time often receive benefits. Common benefits include health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Recreational Therapists (SOC 29-1125)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 203 18.7% 16.1% 19
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 10 0.0% 8.6% 1
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 16 6.3% 14.1% 1
    King County 68 29.4% 19.6% 8
    Pierce County 32 31.3% 15.2% 4
    Snohomish County 12 25.0% 12.4% 1
    Spokane County 44 15.9% 13.9% 4
United States 19,800 7.1% 5.2% 1,100

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation will be steady. The growth of the aging population will increase the need for recreational therapists who treat age-related illnesses and injuries.

Rehabilitation, home health care, and programs for those with disabilities will create the most jobs. Job opportunities in hospitals will decline, as services shift to outpatient settings.

This occupation is very small so the total number of job openings will be low. However, some openings will occur as current therapists retire or leave this occupation for other reasons.

Other resources

American Dance Therapy Association (external link)
10632 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 108
Columbia, MD 21044
American Horticultural Therapy Association (external link)
2150 N 107th Street
Suite 205
Seattle, WA 98133
American Therapeutic Recreation Association (external link)
11130 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 350
Reston, VA 20191
Association for Experiential Education (external link)
PO Box 13246
Denver, CO 80201-4646
National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (external link)
16 Squadron Blvd., Suite 101
New City, NY 10956


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster