Therapeutic Recreation

What is Therapeutic Recreation?

Therapeutic Recreation contributes to the broad spectrum of health care by improving and maintaining physical, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning, preventing secondary health conditions, enhancing independent living skills, and overall quality of life. Therapeutic Recreation uses treatment (recreational therapy), education, and recreational opportunities to achieve the above goals.

Recreational Therapy uses a variety of interventions to treat physical, social, cognitive, and emotional conditions associated with illness, injury, or chronic disability. Recreational therapy includes an educational component which enables individuals to become more informed and active partners in their own health care by using activities to cope with stress of illness and disability. These services assist individuals with managing their disabilities so they may achieve and maintain optimal levels of independence, productivity, and well-being, and enter/re-enter the mainstream of community life.

Therapeutic Recreation services also include the provision of recreation opportunities (e.g., wheelchair sports, exercise and fitness programs, social activities, etc.) which can minimize health care costs by allowing individuals with disabilities mechanisms to prevent declines in physical, cognitive, social, and emotional health status, and thereby reducing the need for medical services.

Therapeutic Recreation services are provided by qualified professionals with training and education in therapeutic recreation/recreational therapy, and who are certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, Inc. (NCTRC). NCTRC is recognized by the National Commission on Certifying Agencies. The professional certification designation is Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS)

Therapeutic Recreation is a well-established part of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services. These services are found in a variety of settings depending on the needs of the consumer. Settings in which services are traditionally delivered include: freestanding rehabilitation hospitals, rehabilitation units in general hospitals, long-term care and skilled nursing facilities, comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities, inpatient and outpatient mental health/psychiatric facilities, substance abuse rehabilitation facilities, home health and community settings, and residential facilities for persons with disabilities. In addition, Therapeutic Recreation services are provided in communities where preventive health services are addressed by community hospitals, schools, parks and recreation, and other human service agencies.

Comprehensive rehabilitation services has proven to be cost-effective and Therapeutic Recreation, as a component, offers a diversity of benefits to persons with a range of disabilities. A survey conducted by the Health Insurance Association of America indicated a savings of $11 for every $1 spent on rehabilitation. Research has demonstrated that quality comprehensive rehabilitation services reduce long-term hospitalization and nursing home stays for stroke patients. The reduction of long-term institutionalization stay saves the American economy $17,000 per year per resident. In addition, research evidence indicates that Therapeutic Recreation prevents secondary disability and contributes to overall health and well-being by raising the level of life quality experienced by persons receiving these services.

Therapeutic Recreation Specialists are included as members of the core treatment team in physical rehabilitation services in the quality of care standards issued by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). Therapeutic Recreation Specialists are principal team members in psychiatric rehabilitation, substance abuse treatment, and physical rehabilitation services in both inpatient and outpatient settings. In addition, Therapeutic Recreation Specialists are designated as members of the comprehensive core treatment team in standards of care for acute brain injury, post-acute brain injury, and inpatient rehabilitation issued by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Furthermore, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) includes Therapeutic Recreation in the mix of treatment and rehabilitation services used in skilled nursing, long-term care, and rehabilitation facilities.

What Is Therapeutic Recreation was taken from: Therapeutic Recreation: Responding to the Challenges of Health Care Reform - A Joint Statement Issued by the American Therapeutic Recreation Association and the National Therapeutic Recreation Society (1994).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2000-01 Occupational Outlook Handbook, "employment of recreational therapists is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2008, because of anticipated expansion in long-term care, physical and psychiatric rehabilitation, and services for people with disabilities."

In addition, the 2000-01 Occupational Outlook Handbook states that "health care facilities will provide a growing number of jobs in hospital-based adult day care and outpatient programs and in units offering short-term mental health and alcohol or drug abuse services. Rehabilitation, home-health care, transitional programs, and psychiatric facilities will provide additional jobs. The rapidly grown number of older adults is expected to spur job growth for therapeutic recreation specialists and recreational therapy paraprofessionals in assisted living facilities, adult day care programs, and social service agencies. Continued growth is expected in community residential facilities as well as day care programs for individuals with disabilities."

Median annual earnings of recreation therapists were $39,410 ($18.95 per hour) in 2010. To learn more about the job growth in this field click on the arrow below.

           O*Net Online     



If you have the following attributes, this profession may be for you:

  • accepting
  • caring
  • compassionate
  • committed to excellence
  • cooperative
  • empathetic
  • flexible
  • good communication skill
  • non-judgmental
  • people-oriented
  • tolerant
  • understanding

Page last modified June 15, 2015