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Can a Felon Become a Recreational Therapist?

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When it comes to getting a job after their release from prison, felons find it challenging. They may think no one will hire them, but there are resources available.

This is the opportunity for felons to begin a new profession. Those with interest or experience with healthcare and rehabilitation might consider a career in recreational therapy.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a recreational therapist.

  • What is a Recreational Therapist?
  • What Education/Training Does a Recreational Therapist Need?
  • How Much Does a Recreational Therapist Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Recreational Therapist?

A recreational therapist helps people reduce stress and anxiety while recovering from physical and mental challenges. He or she uses arts and crafts along with sports and other activities. He or she also assists people with disabilities fit into their environment by helping them develop social and coping skills.

A recreational therapist plans, directs, and coordinates treatment programs for individuals with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses using a variety of techniques to improve a person’s well-being in the following areas:

  • Physical
  • Social
  • Emotional

Recreational therapies include:

  • Music
  • Sports
  • Games
  • Arts and crafts
  • Animals
  • Dance, movement, and drama
  • Aquatic activities
  • Community outings

There are many functions a recreational therapist serves, including:

  • Evaluating a patient’s needs
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Planning intervention to help a patient meet his or her goals
  • Involving patients in therapeutic activities
  • Helping patients with social skills
  • Educating patients about stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Evaluating interventions

Among the important qualities to be successful as a recreational therapist are:

  • Compassion
  • Communication
  • Patience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Detail-orientation
  • Problem-solving skills

What Education/Training Does a Recreational Therapist Need?

Typically, a recreational therapist needs at least a bachelor’s degree. Most employers want a recreational therapist who is certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC).

A recreational therapy program involves classes in:

  • Assessment
  • Human anatomy
  • Medical terminology
  • Illnesses and disabilities
  • Use of assistive devices

There are three ways to gain certification as a recreational therapist. The first method requires a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, completing a supervised internship of at least 500 hours, and passing an exam. The other routes involve an exam after completing a bachelor’s degree in a related or an unrelated subject.

Certification as a recreational therapist is in five main categories:

  • Behavioral health
  • Community services
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Geriatrics
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation

How Much Does a Recreational Therapist Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there were approximately 19,200 practicing recreational therapists in the U.S. in 2017. The median annual income for a recreational therapist was $47,680. The median income is that amount at which half of recreational therapists earned more and half earned less.

Experience will make a difference in how much a recreational therapist earns annually. The area of the country in which a recreational therapist works also impacts salary. Those on the East or West coast typically earn more than a recreational therapist that works elsewhere.

This job area is expected to grow approximately 7% between 2016 and 2026, which is average. This field is expected to increase because of age-related illnesses and injuries, including stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

An Opportunity for Felons?

A felon can pursue any degree he or she wants. Approximately 60% of colleges consider criminal history in their admissions process, although there is no standard policy regarding a background check. Any felon that wants to get a degree in preparation for becoming a recreational therapist can find a college that will accept him or her.

The difficulty for felons may come after college, when looking to get certified and finding a job.

Sanctions may be issued by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) for a variety of reasons. Anyone who has been convicted of, pled guilty to, or pled no contest to a felony or misdemeanor directly relating to therapeutic recreation practice will be ineligible to apply for certification for a period of three years.

Convictions include a number of felonies involving:

  • Rape
  • Abuse of an individual
  • Use of a weapon
  • Violence
  • Sale, distribution, or possession of controlled substance
  • Assisting someone to obtain credentials by fraud or deception

A candidate must include all information relating to any type of felony conviction.

Many recreational therapy programs do a background check on applicants for their program. As many as 84% of recreational therapy programs require a background check of students at least once during their enrollment.

Each state board for licensure establishes its own criteria. While each state board sets its own standard for a background check, they all consider relevant factors such as type of offense, potential for harm to the public, and potential for reoccurrence of criminal activity.

Some states indicate that “an explanation of how a felon’s character has been rehabilitated” is factored into a decision on licensing. In some states, a crime of moral turpitude or a narcotics offense can result in a denial of a licensing application.

The board then considers the type of felony, how long ago it occurred, and an applicant’s age at the time of the crime. Decisions are always made on a case-by-case basis.

A felony or misdemeanor conviction is not an automatic disqualification, but full disclosure must be made. A candidate should retain legal counsel for a background investigation if there is a criminal offense record.

An applicant must submit a written personal statement explaining in detail all legal issues regarding the circumstances, dates, and locations of crimes.

Each state board has a regulation that any person achieving a recreational therapist certificate is of good moral character. Good moral character is demonstrated through a lack of a history of dishonest actions or felony convictions. Each board considers:

In order to be successful in their pursuit of becoming a recreational therapist, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background while filling out applications. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a backgroud check, this is fraud and could lead to more time spent in prison.

Having their record expunged can give felons the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a recreational therapist. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It’s a big challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to become a recreational therapist. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding in becoming a recreational therapist.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a recreational therapist with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

1 thought on “Can a Felon Become a Recreational Therapist?”

  1. Ron, Hello. I’m a former incarcerated. I spent a lengthy incarceration term for a charge that was inflated and not all the way correct. I have successfully completed all sanctions, parole, and other requirements to become an honest, law abiding citizen again. As you may know having felonies makes it difficult to thrive in the work place. I possess gifts and talents to be an asset in the work force. It is more about an opportunity. Any good places to start and or look. Please let me know, Thankyou, christopher


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