The career of a recreational therapist begins with a background in health, healing and the arts. A two-year degree, such as one obtained in an associate’s program, is sufficient to gain entry into this line of work. Further specialized skills in music, painting and other arts are also helpful in obtaining a steady job as a recreational therapist.

High School

A high school diploma or its equivalent is generally needed in this career. Those interested in working as a recreational therapist can begin their education with high school math, science and English courses. The communication, math and body systems knowledge in these classes are important in a recreational therapist education. Other important electives to consider include fine arts like painting, music and drama, health courses and home economics classes. Nutrition and cooking classes are sometimes helpful as well, depending upon where the therapist candidate wishes to work. Participation in musicals and art fairs is also beneficial as background experience.

Community College

After high school, individuals who want to become recreational therapists can enter a community college or its equivalent to obtain their associate’s degree in recreational therapy. This recreational therapist training takes approximately two years to complete. Students should expect courses in anatomy as well as psychology and physiology. Dance, music and other fine arts are also often included. Physical fitness classes in coaching and sports are also common electives in this type of program. An associate’s degree in this field typically costs between $5,000 and $9,000, depending upon the college a candidate chooses.

Four-Year University and Internship

While an associate’s degree in recreational therapy is enough to work in some venues, many positions do require additional education, internship experience and licensure. A bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy can either be earned instead of an associate’s degree or after earning one. A full four-year course in recreational therapy costs an average of $36,000. Students can expect to complete an internship during this type of program which serves as proof of experience to future employers. Classes regarding how to provide therapy for special clients, such as the elderly or children, may also be included.

Licensure and Certification

Though not all recreational therapists require certification, most employers do want therapists to have their National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification prior to being hired. To obtain this licensure, the bachelor’s degree must be completed. Then, applicants have to complete a written exam. An internship must also be completed prior to receiving certification. These minimum requirements may include other stipulations depending on which state the candidate lives in. The cost to apply for this certification is $400. Applicants who choose to apply before meeting all of the requirements may be charged additional fees.
As with many other medical professions, the more education a recreational therapist completes, the better job look he or she faces. Pay also typically rises when therapists increase their training and experience. Annual continuing education credits are sometimes necessary in this field. Yearly recertification is also required to retain a professional title or work in certain positions, such as supervisor roles.