American Therapeutic Recreation Association

Welcome to ATRA

The Organization

The American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) is the only national membership organization representing the interests and needs of therapeutic recreation specialists, also known as recreation therapists. Recreation therapists are healthcare providers who plan, direct, deliver, and evaluate recreation-based interventions for individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions. They provide research-informed interventions that are based on client assessments and targeted client outcomes.

ATRA, was incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1984 as a non-profit, grassroots organization in response to growing concern about the dramatic changes in the healthcare industry. As a result of this response, ATRA has grown from a membership of 60 individuals in June 1984 to 2,200 in 2014.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, there were approximately 19,800 jobs across the nation. "Employment of recreation therapists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As the large baby-boom generation ages, they will need recreation therapists to help treat age-related injuries and illnesses, such as strokes.  Recreation therapists will also be needed to help patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity" (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-2015 Edition).

The median annual wage for therapeutic recreation specialists was $42,280 (or $20.33 per hour) in 2012. It was estimated that 2,700 positions will be added form 2012-2022 (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-2015 Edition).

The field currently requires a bachelors degree and nearly all positions require certification by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). [See for more details concerning the certification program.] There are approximately 86 degree programs in the United States.

The Organization

ATRA was formed 1984 as an independent organization representing the needs and issues of the therapeutic recreation profession. The association is directed by an elected board of directors with over thirty-five volunteer committees and task forces, focused on areas such as public policy, coverage and reimbursement, diagnostic specialty groups, higher education, and evidence-based practice. ATRA is guided by these foundational concepts.

Since the inception of ATRA, the organization has emphasized the importance of grassroots involvement from the membership. As such, the formation of chapter affiliates is a very important feature within the association, relying on the individual chapter affiliates to provide constant feedback and information on the issues facing the profession to the Board of Directors. As a result, the Board of Directors added a position to the Board representing the Chapter Affiliate Council (chair elected by the chapters).

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. ATRA provides one mid-year conference and one annual conference each year at different locations across the country. Additionally, the ATRA Academy was developed to provide quality, competency training and skill-based continuing education through webinars. Dozens of professional books and guidelines, as well as promotional items, are available in the ATRA web store.

Our Practice

Our services play a critical role in the comprehensive rehabilitation of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions. We contribute to the broad spectrum of healthcare through delivery of treatment services, leisure education, and through the provision of physical and recreational activities - each of which is instrumental in improving and maintaining physical, cognitive, and psycho-social functioning, preventing secondary health conditions, and enhancing independent living skills and overall quality of life.

Individuals who use our services become more informed and active partners in their own healthcare. Prescribed activity assists individuals in coping with the stress of illness and disability and prepares them for managing their illness and/or disability so they may achieve and maintain optimal levels of independence, productivity, well-being, and quality of life.

A degree in therapeutic recreation or recreation therapy is required to be considered for jobs in most healthcare, social service, or community settings.

National certification is provided by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). Many employers insist on hiring individuals with the professional certification designation Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS). For more information about national certification, go to

Some states also regulate our profession through licensure, certification, registration or regulation of titles. For more information about state regulation click here.

With a degree in therapeutic recreation or recreation therapy, a qualified provider may work in a variety of organizations and settings such as:

  • Free-standing rehabilitation hospitals
  • Rehabilitation units in general hospitals
  • ‚ÄčLong-term care or skilled nursing facilities
  • Comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities
  • Inpatient and outpatient mental health/psychiatric facilities
  • Substance abuse rehabilitation facilities
  • Home healthcare agencies
  • Residential facilities for persons with disabilities
  • Adult day medical care centers
  • Centers for independent living
  • Non-profit disability/recreational agencies

A Viable, Cost-Effective Healthcare Option

The number of Americans requiring health and rehabilitation services continues to increase due to an aging population, disabling conditions, improved treatment services for acute and chronic disabilities, and greater survival rates. Therefore, the need to access a broad range of cost-effective and efficacious services is crucial.

The provision of quality services that lead to expected outcomes, while reducing overall healthcare costs, is the bottom line in therapeutic recreation services. Recreation therapy should be included as a viable option to meet the needs of consumers with disabilities. Ultimately, the ability to choose the most appropriate mix of healthcare options will afford the provider the most cost-effective approach to meet the unique needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabilities. Reducing the length of stay and hospital or system recidivism, promoting independent community living, and maximizing individual productivity in society are all positive outcomes of our services.

Citation:  Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Recreational Therapists, at Bureau of Labor Statistics (visited January 21, 2014).