What is recreational therapy?

If you are injured or sick or have a chronic disability, it may be difficult for you to perform daily activities. You may benefit from the skilled services of a rehabilitation team to help you fully recover. An important member of this recovery team is your recreational therapist. A recreational therapist is a healthcare professional who helps you maximize your physical and mental health through recreational activities.

Recreation therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is not a game. Your leisure therapist will use activities to help you move and feel better. A physical or occupational therapist might use exercise to improve functional mobility, while a recreational therapist uses recreational activities to help you regain mobility and improve your well-being. Activities may include puzzles and games, cooking or outdoor activities such as horseback riding or hiking.

This article will take a closer look at recreational therapy and the many benefits it can provide. It can help you determine whether recreational therapy is a good way to recover for you or a loved one.

Definition of Recreation Therapy

Recreation therapy is a health care profession that uses activity-based interventions to help you move and feel better after an injury or illness or chronic disability. Interventions are usually based on recreational activities you enjoy doing and are designed to help you restore your physical, functional and emotional health.

Recreation therapists are trained to assess your condition and intervene in ways that help you maximize your social, mental, and physical health. The main goals of recreational therapy are to reduce depression and anxiety, and to help you socialize comfortably in your community.

Examples of Therapeutic Recreation Activities

Therapeutic recreation is more than just playing games. It involves using specific activities to help you regain your independence in your community.

Examples of activities a recreational therapist might perform might include:

  • Art, such as painting or drawing
  • cooking
  • community outing
  • Participate in sports
  • team exercise class
  • Dance

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The key to a positive recreational therapy experience is that planned activities should target your emotional and physical needs and abilities. It should also be what you want to do.

Recreation Therapy vs. Other Types of Therapy

You may be familiar with other types of therapists, such as physical therapists and occupational therapists. These professionals help people return to pain-free functional activities after an injury or illness. If you are unable to move your upper body after a fall, your physical therapist can measure your shoulder range of motion and strength and develop treatment strategies to help you improve your arm use.

Physical therapy can help you recover

Recreation therapists are similar to other types of therapists. They will meet with you regularly to help you recover from an injury or to help you socially engage with your community in a positive way. During your initial meeting with a recreational therapist, they will assess your condition and understand how your emotional and physical needs are preventing you from reaching your full potential as a person.

During therapeutic recreation, you and your therapist will engage in activities that help you move and feel better. During this activity, your therapist may give you specific tips or ideas to improve your movement and your ability to interact with your environment.

Who can benefit from recreational therapy

The American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) states that individuals of all ages and abilities can benefit from working with a recreational therapist. Children, adolescents, adults and seniors with permanent or temporary disabilities can participate in recreational therapy and enjoy the benefits provided.

People with physical and mental conditions can equally benefit from the skilled services of a recreational therapist. Therefore, if you are not feeling well or emotionally, working with a therapist can help you as part of your recovery and recovery process.

Be sure to consult your healthcare provider before starting a new treatment.

Does recreational therapy work?

Whenever you engage in any health care activity or treatment, you should ask whether the treatment can help your specific situation. This is no different from recreational therapy.

A 2018 review of recreational dance use in children aged 5 to 21 found evidence that the therapy has many benefits. These include:

  • reduce obesity
  • Improve bone health
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • improve self-image
  • reduce anxiety

Another 2018 study examined the health improvements of wounded military members following a week-long recreational therapy wellness retreat. The 127 service members who participated in the study showed significant improvements in outcome measures of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress, anxiety and depression after withdrawal.

Health improvements persisted at the three- and six-month time points after completing the recreational therapy retreat. This suggests that therapeutic recreation can provide significant long-term emotional and psychological benefits to wounded military personnel.

Recreation therapy appears to be an effective treatment for improving the well-being of an injured or disabled person with limited side effects.

Recreation therapist professional background

So, what does it take to become a professional recreational therapist? Most therapists have a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy or recreational studies. During school, the focus will be on art, psychology and music classes. After graduation, students can take the state exam and become a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS).

While it is not necessary to be a CTRS to work, many employers will look for recreational therapists who hold this certification. If you become certified, you are required to take regular continuing education courses and go through the recertification process every five years.

Interested in becoming CTRS?

If you are interested in becoming a leisure therapist, you can visit ATRA to find a study program near you.

Sign up for recreational therapy

How does a person start receiving recreational therapy services? The best way to start working with a recreational therapist is to visit your healthcare professional and ask for a referral. They can make sure you are suitable for services and may help you find a therapist.

If you are in an inpatient hospital, a leisure therapist may spend time with you. Just as working with a physical therapist or occupational therapist can help you move better in a hospital, working with a recreational therapist in a rehabilitation hospital can be a daily occurrence to help you reintegrate into the community after discharge.

Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Activities

insurance coverage

One question people ask about recreational therapy is, “Does my insurance cover the services of a recreational therapist?” Short answer: It depends.

If you have Medicare insurance, recreational therapy is a covered service for people with certain diagnoses and certain circumstances. Therapeutic recreation is a covered rehabilitation service if you are in an inpatient rehabilitation facility. If you receive outpatient recreational treatment, you should make sure you have a doctor’s prescription and proof of medical necessity in order to be eligible for Medicare reimbursement.

If you have private insurance, it’s a good idea to call your insurance provider and ask about recreational therapy coverage. If you do not have insurance, you can expect to pay between $100 and $150 per recreational treatment. Each session should last about one to two hours.

Are you disabled under Social Security rules?


Recreation therapy, also known as professional therapeutic recreation, is an allied health specialty that helps you improve functional mobility and emotional stability. In doing so, you can socially interact in the community. This is especially important if you have limited mobility due to injury, illness or chronic disability.

If you are interested in working with a leisure therapist, seek a referral from your healthcare professional. Keep in mind that costs vary depending on your insurance coverage.

VigorTip words

Having a chronic disability or functional limitation due to illness or injury can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Working with a team of rehabilitation specialists can help you improve your mobility and ability to perform everyday tasks comfortably. A professional who can help you restore your emotional and functional health is a recreation therapist.

Engaging in therapeutic recreational activities can help you reduce anxiety and depression, increase your well-being, and improve your functioning in everyday tasks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you do recreational therapy yourself?

    While you may engage in recreational activities that help reduce anxiety or depression, recreational therapy is a health care specialty of its own. Working with a recreational therapist can be an important step in ensuring you function optimally in your community.

  • How much does relaxation therapy cost?

    You can expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $100 per hour with a recreational therapist.

    understand more:

    What you need to know before getting out-of-network care

  • Do recreational therapists suggest activities based on personal interests?

    Some of the activities you do with your recreational therapist may be based on your personal interests. Other times, you may be asked to spend time doing a new activity to achieve your goals in recreational therapy.