What is Recreational Therapy?

According to the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC), Recreational Therapy is defined as:

“…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.”

What does that mean?

A Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) delivers Recreational Therapy services to their clients by:

  • Assessing a client using specific tools, interviewing the client and/or his loved ones, reviewing medical records, and consulting with an interdisciplinary team to determine the specific strengths and needs of each client.
  • Developing an individualized plan using recreational activities to address the client’s need areas. Measurable goals and objectives are created to track progress.
  • Providing recreation activities and treatment services with each client’s goals in mind.
  • Documenting and evaluating the client’s progress after recreation-based treatments.
  • Modify or implement new goals based on the client’s progress.

What types of services do Recreational Therapists provide?

By using diverse recreation activities and leisure experiences, a Recreational Therapist allows a client to learn, thrive, and grow. Recreational Therapists see recreational as a healing tool–not just enjoyable or diversional activities.

Some of the many activities include:image of a recreational therapy activity

  • Arts and Crafts
  • Creative Expression
  • Physical Activities
  • Sports
  • Community Integration
  • Leisure Education
  • Music, Dance, and Drama
  • Horticulture Activities
  • Meditation
  • Spiritual Awareness
  • Pet Therapy
  • Team Building
  • Games
  • Social Experiences
  • Outdoor Adventures

What are the Benefits of Recreational Therapy Services?

The need areas addressed are specific to each client. Recreational Therapy can help:

  • Build self-confidence
  • Recover basic motor function
  • Improve cognition
  • Increase socialization
  • Develop appropriate social skills
  • Increase emotional resilience
  • Develop a positive leisure lifestyle
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Explore spirituality
  • Increase strength and well-being
  • Cultivate empathy
  • Reduce stress
  • Cultivating a sense of purpose in life
  • Develop meaningful relationships
  • And much more

Where is Recreational Therapy Practiced?

Recreational Therapy is a diverse profession practiced in a variety of settings. Some of the settings include:

  • Behavioral Health
  • Child and Adolescent Services
  • Community Services
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Military Service and Veterans with Disabilities
  • Services for Older Adults
  • Addiction Treatment
  • Autism and Developmental Disorder Services
  • Schools/Special Education
  • Residential Facilities for those with Significant Disabilities
  • Private Practice

What Makes Recreational Therapy Unique?

Recreational Therapists have the opportunity to address the challenges of clients using activities they love or by exploring new, engaging leisure pursuits. This gives clients an opportunity to explore how their leisure lifestyle can help them become more independent and face their unique challenges. As we all know, the choices we make in our free time directly impact our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Recreational Therapists guide clients and  help them make informed decisions about how positive leisure activities can change the trajectory their lives.

How Does Someone Become a CTRS?

To become a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist through NCTRC, one must complete a bachelor’s degree at an accredited college including a formal internship. Then the potential candidate must pass the national certification examination. Once someone becomes certified, they must maintain their credential every five years by completing continuing education units, documenting work experience, and/or passing the examination again.

Learn More About Recreational Therapy

Recreational Therapy is a powerful, and sometimes misunderstood, intervention with the potential to change lives. If you are interested in joining this fulfilling profession or curious about how Recreational Therapy can help you, check out these sites for more information:

The Real Recreation Therapist Blog offers information, insights, advice, and inspiration for those using recreation as a healing modality. Explore several articles covering a variety of topics to learn how recreation improves lives. Since you’re already at the page, go ahead and check out some articles.

The Therapeutic Recreation Directory is a resource for Recreational Therapists and other Activity Professionals. The site provides treatment ideas, information, and an opportunity for those in the profession to connect with others.

The American Therapeutic Recreation Association seeks to empower and inform Recreational Therapists. It is the only national membership organization representing the interests and needs of Recreational Therapists.

Want to learn more about the occupational outlook of Recreational Therapists? The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers this information.


Recreation is therapy! Don’t undervalue the power of leisure to help, heal, restore, rehabilitate, and transform lives.

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