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Recreational Therapist Interview

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Recreational Therapist Career Interview

Michael Sutherland, M.Ed., CTRS (Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist) is a recreational therapist at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, and he works with patients who have neurological conditions.

Recreational Therapist Career Path

Michael always had a passion to help people, and recreational therapy (RT) is a natural path for that.

“I was curious about physical therapy,” he says, “but I decided that RT sounded more interesting as it allowed for more creativity.”

The difference between recreational therapy and other types of therapy, such as rehabilitation, is the importance of leisure in the treatment plan.

“This includes assessing leisure as it existed for the patient before hospitalization; use of familiar, new or adapted leisure to achieve specific outcomes (physical, cognitive, emotional, social or other); and educating/counseling the patient in understanding the importance of leisure even after discharge,” Michael explains.

Recreational Therapist Experiences

Michael has a Master’s degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of Toledo. While earning his degree, he underwent many “real-world” experiences in recreational therapy.

“I had two 50-hour clinical experiences and one 600-hour internship,” he recalls. “The university has since expanded the clinical rotations from two to five (physical rehab, psychology, pediatrics, community and long-term care).

He has previously worked in a number of hospitals and care facilities, including St. Anne’s Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Lakewood Hospital in Lakewood, Ohio; and Grandview Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

Michael currently works at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

Recreational Therapist Degree Programs

Although a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy is required for all RT jobs, if one wishes to advance further, a master’s degree or even a doctoral degree in therapeutic recreation may be necessary.

Recreational Therapist Job Description

Michael provides recreational therapy services to patients with brain injuries, amputations, strokes, multiple traumas, and other neurological conditions.

“Those services include assessment, care plan development and implementations, reporting at care conferences, patient education, and community reintegration,” he says. “I work within an interdisciplinary framework, utilizing this opportunity to co-treat the patient with other disciplines when appropriate.”

“I also provide weekly pet therapy programming and seasonal horticulture therapy programming,” Michael continues. “I supervise multiple students per NCTRC standards, and I developed and maintained the hospital’s Adapted Sports and Recreation Program.”

Recreational Therapist Daily Routine

“A normal day would include reviewing medical records of patients, planning interventions to achieve specific goals, conducting interventions with patients using leisure activities as treatment modalities, providing leisure education and counseling to help ensure a return to meaningful leisure discharge, documenting my patients’ treatments and results, and communicating with other therapists, nurses, doctors and rehab staff,” Michael explains.

Recreational Therapist: Steps to Success

A successful recreational therapist needs to be creative, patient, and have good communication and writing skills.

“You also need the ability to lead groups,” says Michael. “You need to be able to work as part of an interdisciplinary team and to manage your time well. You need a good background in medical terminology as well as a thorough understanding of medical conditions, and you must have a genuine caring and compassion for others.”

Recreational Therapist Job Opportunities

Compared to other healthcare-related occupations, recreational therapy requires a lot less in terms of education, so it is a great way to help people medically without spending 10 (or more) years in medical school.

According to Michael, the job market for recreational therapists in the future will be pretty good, and opportunities only increase with more education and additional degrees.

Recreational Therapist Favorite Aspect

“Meeting and working with a variety of interesting people,” Michael explains. “Getting them to realize the importance of leisure in their lives and recognizing that it is possible to ‘get well’ using leisure as therapy.”

Recreational Therapist’s Future Ambitions

Michael hopes that his love of working with adapted sports, or sports modified to meet the needs of persons with a disability or injury, will expand his career in the future.

“I would love to work at one of the larger rehab hospitals (such as Shepherd Hospital in Atlanta or Craig Hospital in Denver) to run their adapted sports program,” he says.

Advice for Prospective Recreational Therapists

“Spend a day with a recreational therapist to see if you would enjoy the job as a career,” Michael advises. “Volunteer in various settings in which a recreational therapist is likely to work.”

He adds, “If you do a job that you love, you will never have to work a day in your life!”


  • Linda Johnson

    I have always believed in the awesomes powers of recreation and how it can fulfills your life. Over the past 26 years, I have had the opportunity and priviledge to share this belief with numerous patients, residents, consumers and individuals.

    I think your last comment, “If you do a job that you love, you will never have to work a day in your life” should be our motto as recreation therapist. I believe this to be true.

  • Cheryl Sharpley

    I am interested in learning about recreational activities that would help depression. I am currently in school and would greatly appreciate any suggestions.

  • myFootpath Advisor

    Thank you for contacting myFootpath with your question. The health professionals listed on our site are unfortunately not part of our staff, and therefore we are unable to answer any medical or psychological questions. For guidance and help with issues relating to depression, you may want to contact the American Psychological Associations.

  • Jasi

    Hi, I am interested in becoming a certified recreational therapy specialist. I was just wondering what the difference between a licensed recreational therapist and a certified therapeutic recreation specialist is. Also what school could recommend and is there a online program available ?

  • myFootpath Advisor

    The term “licensed” generally refers to a license you would receive from the state in order to practice recreational therapy. Once you have the required degrees, you’ll need to check the states you live in and see if you must be licensed as a recreational therapist in order to practice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Utah, and New Hampshire required licensure to practice as a recreational therapist.

    Certification for is a voluntary, but is preferred by many employers. In order to become certified as a certified therapeutic recreation specialists, you must first earn the necessary degrees. You would then seek certification (which involves passing an exam and completing an internship) from the the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.

    The courses for this degree may not be offered online, and many therapy courses involve hands on, in person training. For more school and education information, visit our recreational therapy career profile.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great plan! You can call 1-866-305-8525 and one of our representatives can help you find a school in your area. We look forward to assisting you in your degree search!

  • Anonymous

    I would recommend you contact your professional organization to get more information. You can find information here: http://atra-online.com/