Recreational Therapy Degrees: Master's, Bachelor's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a recreational therapy program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's degree and master's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Recreational Therapy: Degrees at a Glance

Recreational therapy is the use of recreational activity to promote wellness in patients. Recreational therapists can work in a variety of environments, including rehabilitation facilities, psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and schools.

Recreational therapy is a growing field, and as the baby-boom generation grows older, the need for recreational therapists is predicted to grow, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projected that employment for all recreational therapists would grow by 17% between 2010 and 2020.

Generally, a bachelor's degree is the education requirement for pursuing this career. Many employers also look for applicants that are certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in helping improve others' well-being through recreational activities Those interested in specializing in a specific area such as geriatrics or developmental disabilities
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Recreational Therapist ($41,000)* Similar career path to those with a bachelor's degree
- Recreational Therapy Director; generally requires 7+ years of experience ($86,000)**
- Master Clinician (unavailable)
Time to Completion 4 years, full-time 2-3 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - General courses
- Major required courses
- Internship
- 10-12 courses
- Internship and/or Thesis
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent Bachelor's degree
Online Availability Yes None found

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (July 2012 figure).

Bachelor's in Recreational Therapy

Bachelor's degree programs in recreational therapy, such as the Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation, can provide instruction on using music, sports, art, crafts, and a number of other activities to improve clients' physical and emotional health. These types of programs are largely science-based, with a strong focus on medical concepts. In addition, you will find courses in psychology, as well as physical activities. Most programs will require an internship prior to graduation. You may also have to complete field experience in addition to the internship.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Help individuals improve their wellness through a range of activities
  • Aging population can lead to good job prospects*
  • Degree offers employment options in a variety of settings, from hospitals to schools to private, individual sessions

Cons

  • Salary potential for recreational therapists can be slightly lower than average
  • Certification requires supervised internship for 480 hours, in addition to the bachelor's degree*
  • Broad range of knowledge needed for the bachelor's degree does not allow for as much specialization as the master's

Sources: *National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.

Courses and Requirements

Coursework for this degree involves medical and psychological education. You will also complete courses that tie these concepts into therapeutic use for clients. Your studies will generally include both lecture and practical experience.

Courses you are likely to find in this program include:

  • Psychology
  • Kinesiology
  • Sociology
  • Physiology
  • Introduction to therapeutic recreation

In addition to standard coursework, you will likely be required to complete an internship. Due to the hands-on nature of this degree, this internship can be fairly lengthy and may be the equivalent of several courses' worth of academic credit.

Online Course Info

Online programs are available for this degree, though they are rare. Because the degree requires a significant amount of hands-on education, degree courses are often better taught in person.

There are online programs that offer continuing education in the geriatric specialty of therapeutic recreation. In addition to continuing education credits, some of these programs offer certification within the specialty. These courses are generally information based, building on the knowledge and hands-on experience earned in the baccalaureate program.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

A good way to get ahead with this degree is to gain experience in the field you wish to work in. Many of the areas where a recreational therapist may find work are also in need of volunteers. If you intend to work in a hospital setting, seeking a volunteer position at a hospital would be a good choice. If you intend to work in geriatrics, you may wish to volunteer at a nursing home. If you want to work with children, perhaps you could find a local library or activities program that needed assistance. Volunteering may also help you connect with future potential employers, giving you a further advantage when seeking employment after graduation.

The BLS also notes that job prospects should be best for recreational therapists who have certification, such as the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist credential. However, this will require an internship and passing an exam.

Master's in Recreational Therapy

Advanced programs, such as the Master of Science in Recreation Therapy, are not as common. These programs are designed to provide a further understanding of therapeutic recreation, as well as specialize in a particular field of recreational therapy. Graduate-level classes in this program can be small, rarely having more than fifteen students.

Though a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy is most directly related to the master's degree, there are many disciplines that would serve well as a basis for the master's degree, including psychology, education, and communications. Entering the program with a degree other than recreational therapy may require you to take leveling classes in order to be eligible for certification after graduation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You can specialize in a particular area of therapeutic recreation
  • A master's degree may lead to management or director positions
  • Advanced studies can compliment another degree to improve your skill at promoting patient well-being

Cons

  • You may be applying to many of the same jobs as applicants with a bachelor's degree and experience
  • Better-paying jobs (such as director positions) can require seven or more years of experience
  • As with the bachelor's degree, certification requires a 480 internship in addition to a degree*

Sources: *National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.

Common Courses and Requirements

Courses in this program are meant to improve your skills at utilizing recreational therapy to help build patients' health and well being, whether you begin the program with a degree in recreational therapy or some other complementary discipline. Typical courses found in this program include:

  • Advanced recreational therapy
  • Program design
  • Philosophy of leisure and recreation
  • Research in recreation

In addition to coursework, you will be required to complete an internship, thesis, or final project for the program. Some programs will require the internship in addition to a thesis or final project.

Online Course Info

Master's degree programs in recreational therapy are rare. Currently, online programs at this level are not available. As much of this program requires practical experience, campus-based classes will better provide you with education in the skills in this field. Although they will provide different training, you can find programs in related fields, such as occupational therapy.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Experience in recreational therapy is important with potential employers. Finding internships or volunteer positions will help in finding positions after graduation. Seeking extra education in arts, such as painting, music, or sculpture, may also help in getting ahead with a master's in recreational therapy. An increased knowledge of the arts will likewise increase the variety of techniques that can be applied to your therapeutic work. This may open opportunities in groups that are looking for a particular type of recreational therapist, such as for musical therapy or therapy involving outdoor activities.

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