Recreational therapists, or therapeutic recreation specialists, provide treatments and recreation activities to individuals with illnesses or disabling conditions to improve or maintain physical, mental and emotional well-being and help reduce depression, stress and anxiety.
Recreational therapies help patients recover basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities, build confidence and socialize more effectively. Treatments may incorporate arts and crafts, animals, sports, games, dance and movement, drama, music and community outings.
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Patients are evaluated with information from standardized assessments, observations, medical records and discussions with medical staff and family members as well as the individual. Recreational therapists may instruct patients in relaxation techniques, stretching and limbering exercises, proper body mechanics for participation in recreation activities, and pacing and energy conservation techniques. Additionally, therapists observe and document patients' participation, reactions and progress.
Recreational therapists should not be confused with recreation workers, who organize recreational activities primarily for enjoyment.
Overall employment of recreational therapists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2010.
Employment will decline slightly in the two largest sectors employing recreational therapists — hospitals and nursing homes — as services shift to outpatient settings and employers emphasize cost containment. However, significant growth is expected in assisted living, outpatient physical and psychiatric rehabilitation, and services for people with disabilities.
Opportunities should be best for persons with a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation or in recreation with an emphasis in therapeutic recreation.
Recreational therapists held about 29,000 jobs in 2000. Almost 40 percent of salaried jobs for therapists were in nursing and personal care facilities, and more than 30 percent were in hospitals. Others worked in residential facilities, community mental health centers, adult day care programs, correctional facilities, community programs for people with disabilities and substance abuse centers. A few therapists were self-employed, generally contracting with long-term care facilities or community agencies to develop and oversee programs.
Therapists may advance to supervisory or administrative positions. Some teach, conduct research, or consult for health or social services agencies.
In acute health-care settings, such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers, recreational therapists treat and rehabilitate individuals in collaboration with physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers and physical and occupational therapists.
In long-term and residential care facilities, recreational therapists use structured group activities to improve and maintain general health and well being. They may also treat clients and provide interventions to prevent further medical problems and secondary complications related to illness and disabilities.
Community-based therapeutic recreation specialists may work in park and recreation departments, special education programs for school districts, or programs for older adults and persons with disabilities (e.g., those in assisted living, adult day care and substance abuse rehabilitation centers). Therapists help clients develop specific skills while providing opportunities for exercise, mental stimulation, creativity and fun.
Median annual earnings for recreational therapists in 2000 were $32,520 in hospitals and $23,240 in nursing and personal care facilities. Salaries ranged from $17,010 to $43,810 a year.
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