Recreational therapists hold almost 19,800 jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. About 38 percent of these jobs are at hospitals and 15 percent at nursing care facilities. Other employers include hospitals, residential facilities, adult day care centers, and substance abuse centers, and state and local government agencies. Some therapists are self-employed. Employment opportunities also exist in long-term rehabilitation, home health care, correctional facilities, psychiatric facilities, and transitional programs.
There are many methods for finding out about available jobs in recreational therapy. A good place to start is the job notices and want ads printed in the local newspapers, bulletins from state park and recreation societies, and publications of the professional associations previously mentioned. A useful Internet resource for job listings is The Therapeutic Recreation Directory (https://www.recreationtherapy.com). State employment agencies and human service departments will know of job openings in state hospitals. College career services offices might also be able to put new recreational therapy graduates in touch with prospective employers. Internship programs are sometimes available, offering good opportunities to find potential full-time jobs.
Recent graduates should also make appointments to meet potential employers personally. Most colleges and universities offer career counseling services. Most employers will make themselves available to discuss their programs and the possibility of hiring extra staff. They may also guide new graduates to other institutions currently hiring therapists. Joining professional associations, both state and national, and attending conferences are good ways to meet potential employers and colleagues.
Newly graduated recreational therapists generally begin as staff therapists. Advancement is chiefly to supervisory or administrative positions, usually after some years of experience and continuing education. Some therapists teach, conduct research, or do consulting work on a contract basis; a graduate degree is essential for moving into these areas.
Many therapists continue their education but prefer to continue working with patients. For variety, they may choose to work with new groups of people or get a job in a new setting, such as moving from a retirement home to a facility for the disabled. Some may also move to a related field, such as special education, or sales positions involving products and services related to recreational therapy.
Tips for Entry
Take a college preparatory program in high school, because you will need a variety of skills including computer, psychology, science, language and communication, business, athletics, and the arts to be a successful recreational therapist.
Earn a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy and become licensed in your state.
Take on part-time or summer work as a counselor or coach, and work part time in a nursing home or hospital.
Consider pursuing an advanced degree to open the door to more advanced positions and higher salaries.
Attend conferences and seminars to continue your education once in the field.