In general, these specialized creative arts and recreational therapists use activities such as art, music, dance, or exercise as tools to help a patient who is physically, socially, mentally, and/or emotionally handicapped to reach his or her fullest potential.

In conjunction with a physician and other health care professionals, each patient is evaluated to  determine his or her needs, the extent of the disability, and the potential for rehabilitation. Next, a therapy plan of specific activities is custom designed for each patient. Goals may be short-term or long-term and vary according to the extent of the patient’s handicap.

Therapeutic recreation attempts to physically and socially rehabilitate patients who have chronic physical, psychological and social handicaps. It involves recreation services that give the patient an opportunity to participate in recreational, leisure and group activities specifically designed to aid in recovery from or adjustment to illness, disability or a specific social problem.

Art and music therapists are practicing artists and musicians who combine these talents with professional training in psychology. They devise programs that use their specific artistic talents and health skills to help prevent or alleviate physical, mental and social problems. They work to improve self-confidence and self-control and to relieve depression and anger. Patients are encouraged to deal with these problems by expressing themselves through music and art. Prevention of mental illness is also an important part of art and music therapy.


Students interested in art therapy should develop a strong background in the fine arts through education and training. Volunteer work or summer employment in a rehabilitation setting would give a student experience in the art therapy field.

For persons interested in music therapy, a wide-range knowledge of music and its background is a must. It is also important to know the basics of playing several different musical instruments to teach patients to read music and play basic notes. Volunteer work or summer employment in a rehabilitation setting is also recommended to give students experience in the music therapy field.

To become a certified music therapist you must complete an accredited bachelor’s degree program in music therapy. Bachelor’s degrees in art therapy are also available; however, a master’s degree is usually required in order to practice as an art therapist. Students in these programs must complete an internship in order to graduate and receive certification. Those who wish to work in public schools must complete further courses to be eligible for a teaching certificate.

High school students interested in a career in therapeutic recreation should become involved with physical education, public speaking, sports, dramatics, music, clubs, and other activities, all of which will help develop skills in basic recreational leadership. Interested students might work as volunteers or paid employees in playgrounds, camps, hospitals, or public and community facilities to gain experience in working with people.

Both two and four-year degree programs are available in recreational therapy. Responsibilities and employment opportunities increase with the level of educational preparation. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of education for professional status in therapeutic recreation.


Preparation for the master’s degree program in art therapy is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university with a major in studio art and/or psychology. Master’s degree course curricula in art therapy include courses in psychology, psychotherapy, counseling, plus the history, theory and practice of art therapy.

A major in music therapy emphasizes music, history, theory, conducting, arranging, instrumental and vocal studies, and group performance. Other college courses must be in biological sciences, humanities, sociology, anthropology, English composition, and psychology.

Recreation therapy course work includes math, biological sciences, psychology, and classes to develop leadership, communications and activity skills. Programs in therapeutic recreation include classroom instruction, as well as supervised clinical field experience.


Graduates of approved master’s degree programs in art therapy are eligible to apply for registration status as registered art therapist (A.T.R.). Voluntary certification is available for music therapists through the American Association for Music Therapists or the National Association of Music Therapists.

Voluntary credentialing for recreation therapists is available through the American Association for Rehabilitation Therapy and the National Therapeutic Recreation Society. With further education and experience, executive positions in administration, research and teaching or in the conducting of training programs are available.


Art and music therapists may work in centers for the elderly, hospitals, clinics, community mental health agencies, day care facilities, public and private school systems, special service agencies, and private practice.

Recreation therapists are employed in state schools and state hospitals, prisons, orphanages, community recreational facilities, hospitals, schools for the blind, and homes for the elderly. Job growth is expected to increase 17% from 2010-2020.


American Art Therapy Association
225 North Fairfax Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(888) 290- 0878

American Dance Therapy Association
10632 Little Patuxent Parkway, Ste 108
Columbia, MD 21044

National Therapeutic Recreation Society
22377 Belmont Ridge Rd
Ashburn, VA 20148
(800) 626- 6772