What Is a Recreational Therapist and Is It a Rewarding Career Choice?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover what a recreational therapist is and whether it is a good career choice based on salary, duties, responsibilities, training, job satisfaction, etc.

[Featured Image]:  A recreational therapist, wearing a blue shirt and holding a chart.  He is talking to a patient.

A recreational therapist designs and delivers recreational-based treatment to address the needs of patients with physical or mental illnesses, injuries, or disabilities. As a recreational therapist, you would provide treatments as programmes to improve or maintain a person's cognitive functions, physical health, and mental well-being. 

According to a survey by Career Explorer, recreational therapists rate their jobs as very meaningful, with a 3.4 out of 5 [1].

What is a recreational therapist?

Recreational therapists support their patients through arts and crafts, music, dance, drama, sports, swimming, movement, and community trips. If you were to work as a recreational therapist, you would design interventions to help reduce anxiety, depression, stress, and physical symptoms and aid recovery. You also help people socialise since having a physical disability or being isolated through illness can cause a lack of confidence and increased anxiety. 

With this in mind, many programmes occur in groups, bringing patients with similar needs together for therapy. Recreational therapists also work with individuals and their families to ensure their support appropriately meets the patient's needs and interests. 

What are the primary duties and responsibilities of a recreational therapist?

Recreational therapy covers a wide range of activities and serves various individuals. Whoever you are working with, your duties and responsibilities as a recreational therapist will primarily cover the following:

  • Evaluating the needs of patients by reviewing medical records, speaking with family members and other medical professionals, observing and interviewing the patients, and conducting tests

  • Creating and delivering treatment plans that include recreational activities to address the needs of patients

  • Designing and delivering group programmes to meet the needs of patients requiring similar treatment or recovering from the same condition or injury or those with similar interests

  • Planning interventions to keep patients safe and supported

  • Supporting patients to develop social skills and build confidence

  • Teaching patients ways to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression through various activities

  • Recording patients' progress and reporting to relevant parties

  • Continually evaluating programmes and implementing best practices

  • Collaborate with other members of a patient's treatment plan 

Where do recreational therapists work?

Recreational therapists are office-based when they plan programmes and interventions and assess patients. However, they also travel to meet patients in the community and deliver programmes, which may be held at community venues, outdoors, or at people’s homes.

Many recreational therapists work in hospitals, health care facilities, or care agencies. A growing number work in health centres, schools, residential facilities, hospices, and rehabilitation centres funded by a government agency or privately. 

As recreational therapy is so varied, workplaces and community facilities vary too. Recreational therapy programmes in the community might encompass the following services:

  • Supporting children with cancer, using sports to stay active, and providing a social environment

  • Aiding people with physical disabilities to integrate back into the community through recreational activities

  • Supporting people with anxiety and depression with gentle social activities such as arts and crafts

  • Working with groups of elderly patients to keep them moving through dance and movement classes

  • Integrating veterans back into the community and helping them to manage symptoms of PTSD

  • Using dog therapy as a way to alleviate symptoms of depression in patients

Do recreational therapists have high job satisfaction?

A study by Career Explorer looking at job satisfaction found that recreational therapists, on average, rate their job happiness as 3.4 out of 5, putting them in the top 37 percent of careers [1].  The same study also showed that recreational therapists enjoy their work environment, scoring 3.6 out of 5, although they scored less when evaluating their salary. 

What do recreational therapists earn?

According to Glassdoor [2], the median pay for a recreational therapist is £37,133 per year. The likely range spans from £31,000 to £45,000. Salary tends to be higher for those employed by government departments and agencies than those employed by nursing and social care facilities.

How do I qualify as a recreational therapist?

To work as a recreational therapist, you usually need a bachelor's degree in a health-related subject and a relevant degree to apply for entrance to the NHS Scientist Training Programme. This is required if you want to be a certified recreational therapist. You can pursue a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy or a health care field, such as recreation and fitness, rehabilitation science, recreation management, psychology, or health education. Typical courses you'll take include:

  • Therapeutic recreation

  • Anatomy

  • Psychology

  • Assistive devices and technology

  • Medical and psychiatric terminology

  • Characteristics of illness and disability

  • Assessment

  • Biology

  • Event management

You will also likely serve as an apprentice in your bachelor's degree programme.

Where can I study to become a recreational therapist?

Bachelor's degrees in recreational therapy are available across the UK and typically take four years to complete. Studying a recreational therapy programme online is also possible, but these options are rare, as most degrees offer hands-on experience. Degree courses also usually offer an apprenticeship as part of the programme. If this isn’t the case, you will need to organise your apprenticeship or placement to log the required practical hours. 

What options are there for further development?

Some recreational therapists specialise in a specific area by earning a master's or doctoral degree with a particular focus. For example, you could focus on therapy types such as art or sports. Alternatively, you could take a direction related to the demographic you serve.

A wealth of courses, such as sports, art, or certificates for working with groups, can aid your continued professional development in certain areas. 

Get started.

To start your career as a recreational therapist, look at some short courses that introduce you to topics covered, such as Healing With the Arts, delivered by the University of Florida, or Music for Wellness, offered by Berklee College of Music. These courses are also great options for ongoing professional development if you are already certified as a recreational therapist.

Article sources


Career Explorer. “Are recreational therapists happy?, https://www.careerexplorer.com/careers/recreational-therapist/satisfaction/.” Accessed June 17, 2024.

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