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FAQ About Recreational Therapy
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FAQ ABOUT recreational therapy (RT)


Recreational therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being. 

Further, "Recreational Therapy” means a treatment service designed to restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participation in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition.

  • Therapeutic Recreation is the field
  • Recreational Therapy is the practice
  • Recreational Therapists are the practitioners
  • The CTRS (Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist) is the qualified provider


A recreational therapist utilizes a wide range of activity and community based interventions and techniques to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and leisure needs of their clients. Recreational therapists assist clients to develop skills, knowledge, and behaviors for daily living and community involvement. The therapist works with the client and their family to incorporate specific interests and community resources into therapy to achieve optimal outcomes that transfer to their real life situation.


Research supports the concept that people with active, satisfying lifestyles will be happier and healthier. RT/TR provides services which are based on the individuals' interests and lifestyle and allows them to better engage in therapy and apply these functional improvements to all areas of their life. Ultimately, it allows them to generalize their therapeutic outcomes to their life after the healthcare team is no longer involved resulting in greater health maintenance over time. RT/TR aims to improve an individual's functioning and keep them as active, healthy and independent as possible in their chosen life pursuits.


Recreational Therapists may work with a wide range of individuals requiring health services including geriatric, mental health, addictions, general medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, developmental disabilities and pediatric clients.


Most recreational therapists are employed by health care agencies and work in traditional inpatient hospitals or health facilities but an increasing number are being hired in residential facilities, community mental health centers, adult day care programs, substance abuse centers, hospice care, community centers, and in school systems. There is a growing trend for recreational therapists to work in private practice providing services in the home and community as well.

Here is some information about Recreational Therapists and the different settings where you can find them working:

Behavioral Health
Children and Adolescents
Community Based Services
Management of Recreational Therapy
Older Adults
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
School Systems
Military Service Members and Veterans


RT/TR embraces a definition of "health" which includes not only the absence of "illness", but extends to enhancement of physical, cognitive, emotional, social and leisure development so individuals may participate fully and independently in chosen life pursuits. The unique feature of RT/TR that makes it different from other therapies is the use of recreational modalities in the designed intervention strategies. RT/TR is extremely individualized to each person by his or her past, present and future interests and lifestyle. The recreational therapist has a unique perspective regarding the social, cognitive, physical, and leisure needs of the patient. Incorporating client's interests, and the client's family and/or community makes the therapy process meaningful and relevant. Recreational therapists weave the concept of healthy living into treatment to ensure not only improved functioning, but also to enhance independence and successful involvement in all aspects of life.

HOW ARE recreational therapy SERVICES RECOGNIZED?

Recreational means a treatment service designed to restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participation in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition (ATRA 2009). Recreational therapists are standard treatment team members in rehabilitation services. Recreational Therapy is listed as a rehabilitation therapy service in the Joint Commission (JC) standards. In addition, recreational therapists are designated as treatment team members (based upon need) in the acute brain injury, the post-acute brain injury, and the inpatient rehabilitation standards of the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) includes recreational therapy in the mix of treatment and rehabilitation services used to determine federal compliance in skilled nursing, rehabilitation (physical and psychiatric) and long-term care facilities. Therapeutic Recreation is specifically indicated as a Related Service under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A few states regulate this profession through licensure, certification, registration, or regulation of titles.

WHAT ARE THE OUTCOMES OF Recreational therapy?

Current research indicates a significant number of positive health outcomes resulting from participation in RT/TR programs:

  • Improvement in Physical Health Status
  • Improvement in Psychosocial Status
  • Improvement in Cognitive Status
  • Improvement in Life, Recreation &Community Activities


A qualified recreational therapist is someone who is nationally certified as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS), usually referred to as Recreational Therapists. Qualified professionals are certified through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC), which requires a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university, a formal internship and the passing of a national certification examination. A CTRS must maintain their credential every five years through the NCTRC recertification process. Academic programs in Therapeutic Recreation or Recreational Therapy emphasize course work in the physical, biological, and behavioral sciences and recreation and leisure theory.

HOW CAN I GET recreational therapy SERVICES?

Many health care facilities have a therapy referral process in place, and include RT/TR as part of their standard referral process for other ordered therapies and services. Once the referral for RT/TR is made, usually by the physician or health care professional responsible for the client's care an assessment should be completed by the CTRS. On many inpatient program units a standard order is provided for each new resident "to evaluate for RT/TR services". Clients from outpatient, home health or community programs may also be appropriate for RT/TR, and the referral is done on a case-by-case basis.

WHERE IS Recreational therapy HEADED IN THE FUTURE?

According to the US Department of Labor, "The rapidly growing number of older adults is expected to spur job growth for recreational therapy professionals and paraprofessionals in assisted-living facilities, adult daycare programs, and other social assistance agencies. Continued growth also is expected in community residential care facilities, as was daycare programs for individuals with disabilities."


The American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) is the national membership organization representing the interests and needs of recreational therapists. The association is directed by an elected board of directors with over 42 volunteer teams and committees, focused on areas such as public policy, coverage and reimbursement, diagnostic specialty groups, education and research. ATRA operations are managed by a Board of Directors elected by the Membership and Administrative functions are managed by Association Management Systems (AMS) in Hattiesburg, MS. The association provides a vast array of membership services focusing on professional practice, professional development, external affairs, advocacy, treatment networking, and educational services. Specifically, ATRA leads the profession with nationally recognized professional standards of practice, code of ethics, and competency guidelines.

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