Recreational Therapist Job Description:
These days, a recreational therapist in skilled nursing facilities does a lot of management and documentation for the recreational therapy aids. In hospitals, recreational therapists run a lot of groups and educate people about their recreational choices. In one of my jobs, I worked in a group home setting for about 20 troubled boys and divided my time from planning recreational activities to running groups, managing a few recreation staff, team meetings and lots and lots of documentation and DMH billing.
With troubled boys, I helped them get positive forms of recreation into a their lives. I also exposed them to a wide variety of activities, such as arts and crafts, and took them to hockey games. They had never heard of hockey! I also took them horseback riding, we had basketball tournaments, they created friendship bracelets, played handball, flag football; I also took them rollerskating and bowling. They were in a group home, which is a transition between them leaving juvenile hall and going home.
For people with physical disabilities, like quadriplegics, a recreational therapist will find them new recreational activities or accommodations for old ones. A good example would be wheelchair basketball and paraskiing, which is like snow skiing on a wheelchair; they go snow skiing on one ski, sitting down. In psych wards, they use recreational therapy as a necessity. In nursing homes, recreational activities would include things like arts and crafts, card playing, etc. Basically, a recreational therapist creates a plan with goals, plans the activities, assists in the activities and supervises the acitivities.
What were the steps in your career as a recreational therapist?
I was a nursing major and worked in a hospital for two years during college as a phlebotomist; that is someone who draws blood. Everyone hates to see you coming! So I wanted a career where people were glad to see me. I just looked up "recreational therapist" in a school manual and found that the pre-recs for a recreational therapist were similar to a nursing career. When I talked to the college career counselor, I had already done two years of my schooling, so it would be only two more years to become a recreational therapist. Then I did a three month internship in a Denver group home for abused and neglected children.
What are the training requirements for a career as a recreational therapist?
There are three ways that you can become a recreational therapist. The first is majoring in it, the second way is the only way they offered it at my school, in a degree in Recreational Management with an emphasis in Recreational Therapy. Either way you must have recreational therapy, anatomy, physiology and psychology classes. Then you have a three month internship. Then you are eligible to sit for the national exam that is given twice a year. The third way is years of experience as a recreational aide and classes, the board keeps changing the requirements making this way increasingly harder to do.
Do you recall any memorable moments during your career as a recreational therapist?
The places that I have worked in have been tough situations, such as a home for abused and neglected children, then in downtown Los Angeles with troubled boys whose next stop would be prison. I will never forget playing a board game with a nine-year-old boy who I was warned about; he would have to be restrained if he lost the game. But after playing with him, that was not the case. Our relationship was such that I caught him cheating so that I would win.
Then there was a time when I was making friendship bracelets with my former gang members and the only colors we could use were purples, greens, pinks, orange and yellow as so to stay away from any gang affiliated colors. Despite the color choices, and to my surprise, that turned out to be one of their favorite activities.
For people seeking jobs in recreational therapy, what is the market like?
The biggest challenge is that many employers want to replace recreational therapists with recrational therapy aides, and just have one therapist to manage multiple aides. This cuts many recreational therapy jobs, reduces patient contact and our ability to make sure that clients meet their goals and objectives. Recreational therapy aides don't have a degree, are just out of high school and earn minimum wage.
Thanks to their low wages, recreational therapy aides are becoming more prevalent in nursing homes and elementary schools. The problem is they do not have the education that recreational therapists have, nor do they plan goals or chart the progress of clients. They're more like someone to hang out with. Some have been abusive to clients, and can become negligent. Recreational therapists are still widely used in hospital facilities, like spinal rehabilitation hospitals where quadriplegics need complicated activities.
What factors affect recreational therapist salaries?
Two things. One, those in management positions earn higher recreational therapist salaries. Two, jobs that people really don't want, like working in the prison system, tend to mean higher salary ranges for recreational therapists; or working in areas that people don't want to live in, like the middle of Nevada or Wyoming. Other than that, there doesn't seem to be much difference in recreational therapist salaries.
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