If a person wishes to become a recreation specialist, also known as a recreational therapist, he or she must usually earn a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation from an accredited college or university. The aspiring recreation professional can also earn a degree in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation. Those who earn associate's degrees in recreational therapy may also be qualified to work in some paraprofessional positions in this particular field.
Students enrolled in a recreation therapy program will take a variety of courses related to the field. For example, they may take basic courses such as anatomy and physiology, medical and psychiatric terminology, and abnormal psychology. Students will also be expected to successfully pass courses in assessment, treatment, program planning, intervention design, and evaluation.
A person who wants to become a recreation specialist usually needs to pass a certification examination administered by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Most employers prefer that their recreation therapists are certified by this particular licensing agency. Those who pass the exam will also be required to complete an internship that consists of approximately 480 hours.
A recreation specialist provides recreational services to those who are physically disabled, elderly, or mentally ill. Through the use of arts and crafts, physical activity, drama, music, dance, and organized outings, the recreation therapist strives to improve or maintain the health of patients. The recreation therapist's goal is to boost patients' self-esteem, relieve patients' anxieties, provide them with socialization, and improve gross and fine motor functions.
Anyone who decides to become a recreation specialist can expect to work in a variety of settings. Some recreation therapists may work in hospitals. Others may work in nursing homes, acute-care facilities, mental hospitals, or rehabilitation centers. Still others may work in schools, adult day cares, park and recreation departments, or assisted-living centers. They provide their therapeutic services in conjunction with the services provided by physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and occupational and physical therapists.
After the recreation specialist observes, assesses, and reviews the medical history and condition of a patient, the therapist devises individual treatment plans for the client. The therapist will then conduct therapeutic interventions that suit the needs of the patient. For example, patients who need to develop social skills will be encouraged to interact and play games with other patients. Patients who suffer from paralysis on one side of the body may be taught how to throw a ball using the arm that is unaffected by the disability.
Anyone who wishes to become a recreation specialist may be required to lead patients in stretches and exercises that relieve stress and contribute to a more relaxed state of mind. The therapist may even lead clients in activities that permit them to explore their creativity through the use of art, music, dance, and drama. Throughout the process, the recreation specialist must observe patients and document how they participate and progress through the therapeutic program.