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Recreational Therapist (CTRS) Certification Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What Is a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist?

A certified therapeutic recreation specialist (CRTS) provides recreational therapy to individuals with disabilities or illness. Certified therapeutic recreation specialists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, nursing homes, residential facilities, substance abuse clinics, community centers, schools, adult day cares, or hospice centers.

Recreational therapy, also called therapeutic recreation, is used with a wide variety of healthcare clients, from pediatrics to geriatrics, with needs including mental health, substance abuse, developmental disabilities, chronic illness, and more. The goal of recreational therapy is to increase a client's active participation in their life and community by bolstering their physical and cognitive functioning while also addressing social and emotional needs.

A recreational therapist coordinates care activities and interventions both individually and for groups of clients. These activities may include music, arts and crafts, sports, and exercise. The CRTS also documents clients needs and responses to activities.

What Is CTRS Certification?

To become certified as a recreational therapist, you need to meet the requirements of the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). Certification is not always necessary, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many employers prefer to hire individuals with the NCTRC's Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) designation. You can earn your CTRS certification by following either an academic path or an equivalency path, both of which are described below. Prerequisites for the CTRS program include completion of at least a bachelor's degree program and professional experience.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Required Experience 1-5 years; an internship can substitute for some years of work experience
Skills Necessary Patient assessment, recreational therapeutic treatment, patient guidance, treatment implementation
Exam Requirement 180-question examination

Recreation Therapy Certification Programs

Are you ready to learn how to become a certified recreational therapist? Many schools offer a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy or therapeutic recreation. For candidates who already possess a bachelor's degree in a different field, some colleges offer graduate courses for therapeutic recreation certification online, allowing you to take the classes required by NCTRC before you sit for your NCTRC exam.

NCTRC refers to the two options for earning certification as an academic pathway and an equivalency pathway.

Academic Pathway

The academic pathway is for students who choose a career in therapeutic recreation before beginning their schooling. For this option, you need to fulfill these therapeutic recreation certification requirements:

  • Earn a bachelor's degree with a concentration in recreational therapy.
  • Complete an internship of at least 14 weeks (or 560 hours). The internship must be supervised by a certified therapeutic recreation specialist.
  • Pass the NCTRC Certification Exam.

Equivalency Pathway

Candidates who have a bachelor's degree in a field other than recreational therapy can pursue the equivalency pathway to certification. This pathway requires you to:

  • Hold a bachelor's degree.
  • Complete specific coursework in therapeutic recreation or recreational therapy.
  • Prove that you have paid work experience, supervised by a CTRS, and using the Therapeutic Recreation process.
  • Pass the NCTRC Certification Exam.

Note: The NCTRC's current equivalency pathway for certification went into effect July 1, 2019. A previous option for equivalency requiring five years of full-time paid work experience will be phased out July 1, 2021.

The Examination

The NCRTC examination comprises 150 questions, which candidates have 3 hours to complete. It is designed to test candidates' competency on a range of subjects considered critical to professional practice. It is divided into six content areas:

  • Foundational Knowledge
  • Assessment Process
  • Documentation
  • Implementation
  • Administration of TR/RT Service
  • Advancement of the Profession

Certificate Programs

Many therapeutic recreation certificate programs are available for aspiring therapists who aren't planning on practicing in clinical settings and are not required to attain a bachelor's degree. Students trained in these programs may apply their skills in environments such as nursing homes, day care centers and rehabilitation facilities. Certificate programs may require students to take courses on topics such as aging, therapeutic recreation programming and psychology.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS reported an annual median salary of $48,220 for recreational therapists in 2019. The BLS also predicted a 8% increase in jobs for these professionals from 2019-2029, which is faster than average.

Recreational therapists are certified through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Candidates can either earn a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation, complete an internship, and pass the NCTRC exam; or earn a bachelor's degree in another subject, complete relevant approved coursework in therapeutic recreation, prove paid work experience, then pass the NCTRC exam. Recreational therapy is a growing field of work with many applications in the medical field and in community settings.

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