Career Education - Learn about all careers, career pay salary, job outlook

How to Become a Recreational Therapist

Recreational therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Most employers require therapists to be certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC).


Most recreational therapists need a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation or a related field. Though less common, associate’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees are also available.

Therapeutic recreation programs include courses in assessment, human anatomy, medical and psychiatric terminology, characteristics of illnesses and disabilities, and the use of assistive devices and technology. Bachelor’s degree programs usually include an internship.

Certification and Licenses

Most employers prefer to hire certified recreational therapists. Hospitals and other clinical settings often require certification by the NCTRC. The council offers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential to candidates who pass a written certification exam and complete a supervised internship of at least 480 hours. 

NCTRC also offers specialty certification in five areas of practice: geriatrics, behavioral health, physical medicine/rehabilitation, developmental disabilities, or community inclusion services. Although therapists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, in some cases therapists may qualify for certification with an alternate combination of education, training, and experience.

Some states require recreational therapists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. As of 2010, only Oklahoma, North Carolina, Utah, and New Hampshire required recreational therapists to hold a license. For specific requirements, contact the state’s medical board.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Recreational therapists should be kind, gentle, and sympathetic when providing support to clients and their families. They may deal with clients who are in a great deal of pain or under severe emotional stress.

Critical-thinking skills. Recreational therapists should be able to quickly think of adaptations to activities when a client’s therapy plan requires adjustment.

Leadership skills. Recreational therapists must be organized and able to plan, development and implement intervention programs in an effective manner.

Listening skills. Recreational therapists must listen to a client’s problems and concerns. They can then determine the course of treatment or therapy program appropriate for that client.

Patience. Recreational therapists may work with clients who need more time and special attention than other clients.

Speaking skills. Recreational therapists need to communicate well with their clients. They need to be able to give directions during activities or instruct a client on healthy coping techniques.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition