California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Recreational Therapists in California

May also be called: Activity Coordinators; Activity Directors; Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists; Recreation Therapists; Rehabilitation Therapists; Therapeutic Recreation Specialists

What Would I Do?

Recreational Therapists provide treatment services and recreation activities to individuals with disabilities or illnesses. Therapists treat and maintain the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of clients using a variety of techniques, such as music, arts and crafts, animals, sports, games, dance and movement, drama, social activities, and community outings. Therapists help individuals reduce depression and anxiety. They also help individuals recover basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities, build confidence, and socialize effectively to enable greater independence as well as reduce or eliminate the effects of illness or disability. Recreational Therapists also help integrate people with disabilities into the community by helping them use community resources and recreational activities.

Therapists regularly evaluate the patient’s progress and effectiveness of the treatment plan. They work closely with the entire health care team, such as physicians, nurses, and psychologists when planning and modifying the patient’s treatment program.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Observe, analyze, and record patients' participation, reactions, and progress during treatment sessions, modifying treatment programs as needed.Psychology
Counsel and encourage patients to develop leisure activities.Therapy and Counseling
Develop treatment plan to meet needs of patient, based on needs assessment, patient interests and objectives of therapy.Customer and Personal Service
Instruct patient in activities and techniques, such as sports, dance, music, art or relaxation techniques, designed to meet their specific physical or psychological needs.Speaking
Encourage clients with special needs and circumstances to acquire new skills and get involved in health-promoting leisure activities, such as sports, games, arts and crafts, and gardening.Persuasion
Confer with members of treatment team to plan and evaluate therapy programs.Critical Thinking
Plan, organize, direct and participate in treatment programs and activities to facilitate patients' rehabilitation, help them integrate into the community and prevent further medical problems.Coordination
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Recreational Therapists provide services in special activity rooms but also plan activities and prepare documentation in offices. They work in psychiatric or general hospitals, nursing homes, schools, correctional facilities, or other institutions. When working with clients during community integration programs, they may travel locally to instruct the clients regarding the accessibility of public transportation and other public areas, such as parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants, and theaters.

Recreational Therapists generally work a 40-hour week that may include some evenings, weekends, and holidays. They may lift and carry heavy equipment involved in their recreational activities.

There has been little or no unionization of Recreational Therapists. However, those who work for the State of California may join the Service Employees International Union.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Recreational Therapist may appeal to those who enjoy communicating with and assisting others. Recreational Therapist occupations involve helping and being of service to people. They also involve teaching, offering advice, and promoting learning and personal development.

Recreational Therapists should be comfortable working with persons who are ill or who have disabilities. They must be patient, tactful, and persuasive when working with people who have a variety of special needs. Ingenuity, a sense of humor, and imagination are needed to adapt activities to individual needs, and good physical coordination is necessary to demonstrate or participate in recreational activities.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2015 for Recreational Therapists in California was $64,478 annually, or $31.00 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2015Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$39,535$64,478$76,697
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2015 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits generally include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Recreational Therapists who are self-employed must provide their own benefits and retirement.

What is the Job Outlook?

Recreational Therapists may experience slower growth in overall employment. However, the continued growth in the number of older adults is expected to increase the need for those who work in nursing care facilities, community care facilities for the elderly (including assisted-living facilities), adult day care programs, and other social assistance agencies. Job opportunities are also expected in residential and outpatient settings that serve disabled persons or those diagnosed with mental retardation, mental illness, or substance abuse problems. Transitional and home health care programs will provide additional jobs.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Recreational Therapists is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Recreational Therapists are expected to increase by 14.3 percent, or 200 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Recreational Therapists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
1,4001,60020014.3300
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 20 new job openings per year is expected for Recreational Therapists, plus an additional 30 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 50 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Recreational Therapists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
203050
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

A bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation, or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation, is the usual requirement for entry-level recreational therapy positions.

Early Career Planning

High school preparation courses in art, music, drama, or athletics, are an asset for many jobs. Part-time or volunteer work as an activity coordinator, playground leader, or relief counselor in a nursing home, recreation center, mental health facility, or camp for persons with disabilities provides valuable skills and experience.

Work Study Programs

The California Department of Developmental Services offers students a paid internship in recreation therapy at some of their developmental centers. The program is a 720-hour program and is certified by the California Board of Recreation and Park Certification (CBRPC) and the National Therapeutic Recreation Society (NTRS). The program is designed to provide interns with the opportunity to put into practice the concepts and practices they learned in school.

California also offers Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) for Recreational Therapists. One such program is titled Therapeutic Recreation/Recreational Therapy. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is required for individuals certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS). Additionally, it is important for Recreational Therapists to keep their skills current by taking additional college courses and attending workshops and conferences.

Certification

Most employers prefer to hire candidates who are certified. The NCTRC offers a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist credential. The California Board of Recreation and Park offers a Recreation Therapist certificate.

Most employers require Therapists to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS).
For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Recreation, Therapeutic Recreation, and Recreational Therapy.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Recreational Therapists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Nursing Care Facilities 21.4%
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 20.5%
Psychiatric & Substance Abuse Hospitals 17.6%
State Government 8.8%
Federal Government 7.3%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Students can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at colleges and universities. Those working within the industry may recommend an interested candidate for jobs. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Recreational Therapists.

  • Assisted Living and Elder Care Services
  • Community Care Facilities
  • Counseling Services
  • Hospitals
  • Mental Health Services
  • Nursing and Convalescent Homes
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals
  • Psychotherapists
  • Residential Care Facilities

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

With additional education and experience, Recreational Therapists may advance to supervisory or administrative positions. Some teach, conduct research, or consult for health or social services agencies. Some may explore self-employment.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Recreational Therapists with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Child, Family, and School Social WorkersGuide
Occupational TherapistsGuide
Physical TherapistsGuide
Recreation WorkersGuide
Rehabilitation CounselorsProfile

Other Sources

  • California Board of Recreation and Park Certification
         www.cprs.org
  • California Department of Developmental Services
         www.dds.ca.gov
  • Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc.
         www.atcb.org
  • Certification Board for Music Therapists
         www.cbmt.org
  • National Recreation and Park Association
         www.nrpa.org

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-1125
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Recreational Therapists29-1125.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)SAI
   Art Therapists29-1125.01
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)SAI
   Music Therapists29-1125.02
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)ASI
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Therapeutic Recreation/Recreational Therapy 512309
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Adapted Physical Education083580