What Is Recreational Therapy?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 24, 2024
3 min read

Recreational therapy is much like occupational therapy. Recreational therapists use activity-based methods to help you overcome your injury, illness, or disability. Recreational therapy involves individual and group counseling to help improve your well being and functioning of the: 

  • Physical
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Cognitive
  • Spiritual

According to the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC), a recreational therapist addresses the needs of someone with an illness or debilitating conditions with activity-based interventions. 

Recreational therapists focus on healing the “whole person” through psychological and physical recovery and well-being. Recreational therapy is a specific health care approach that requires specific education and training. 

The required recreational therapist education includes licensing by the Department of Professional and Occupational Licensing (DOPL) and a certification from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) in most states. Many employers also prefer you have at least a bachelor’s degree. 

After becoming a recreational therapist, continued education and certification renewal are required every five years. 

Recreational therapists work with a team to help patients of all ages recover. The team they work with includes:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Physical therapists
  • Occupational therapists

Recreational therapists used structured group or individual activities to help their patients improve their physical or social skills. They do this through exercise, mental stimulation, creative projects, and other fun activities. Recreational therapists also help their patients work on their basic reasoning skills and help reduce depression and anxiety. 

Recreational and occupational therapy take different approaches to improving someone’s quality of life.

Recreational therapy. Recreational therapists use activities and community engagement to help improve your overall well being. Recreational therapy helps you develop skills, knowledge, and behaviors to improve your daily life and community involvement. 

Occupational therapy. Occupational therapists help you relearn things you used to do but no longer can because of an injury, illness, or other condition. Occupational therapy combines life science and social science. Occupational therapists know how to support you and use your environment to help you lead a better quality of life. 

Recreational therapy can:

Improve strength and physical fitness. Recreational therapists use a nontraditional approach to build your strength. This includes tai chi and dance. These activities are especially important for people who have experienced weakness from illness or hospitalization. 

Alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms. When participating in physical activity, endorphins are released, making you feel good. These hormones are also created when you're social or being creative. Recreational therapists use this approach through:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Dramatic expression
  • Creative writing
  • Any group activity like cooking or gardening

Recreational therapy is excellent for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because it helps them improve their mental and emotional coping mechanisms. 

Build social connections and strengthens self-esteem. Recreational therapy helps boost self-esteem through the social connections created in the community. The therapy brings people together to keep them from isolating themselves or feeling worse about their condition. 

Support cognitive function. Another part of recreational therapy includes games like crossword puzzles and chess that are good for your brain. These activities help stimulate your brain and support overall healthy functioning. 

Reestablish functional independence. After a severe injury, recreational therapy is combined with occupational and physical therapy to help provide more tools for recovery. 

If you're interested in becoming a recreational therapist or need one, talk to your doctor. They'll be able to help you find the right person for your condition.

Setting your mind, body, and spirit on the right track can help you heal from your illness, injury, or other condition. Depending on the severity of your condition, though, you'll likely be working with a team of different therapists. They'll work with your doctor to ensure you're on the right treatment path.