Is there a difference between recreational therapy and activity programs?

Recently, we wrote about recreational therapy. However, if you have visited a long-term care center or similar facility, you may have heard of their activity program. You might be wondering: Are activity programs the same as recreational therapy? There are some differences and some similarities.

There are two key differences between recreational therapy and activity programs. First is how the service is paid for: A facility employing recreational therapists can charge Medicare/Medicaid and other insurers for the services of the therapist, while a facility employing an activity professional cannot charge Medicare/Medicaid or other insurers for the activity professional’s services. Secondly, activity programs are primarily provisioned for geriatric populations in a variety of settings that may include other populations with special needs, whereas recreational therapies serve people of various ages and abilities across a wider spectrum of settings.

Recreational therapy and activity programs do have some things in common. The National Association of Activity Professionals (NAAP) represents activity professionals who work in primarily geriatric settings and provides them opportunities for certification, professional development and personal growth. They describe the activity practice as similar to recreation therapy: “is based on assessment, development, implementation, documentation, and evaluation of the programs provided and the unique needs and interests of each individual served.” Both activity professionals and recreational therapists use recreational and leisure activities to help the people they serve reach their full potential. Activity programs, like recreational therapy, are directed and provided by professionals who are trained and certified to provide such services. To learn more about certification requirements for activity professionals and recreational therapists, please visit the NAAP page on certification information and the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation.

If you are an activity professional, or someone interested in what activity professionals do, check out the following resources:

  • Activity Director Today is an online magazine that provides activity ideas, advice, and links to NAAP and the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals (NCCAP), along with links to websites of interest, job ads, care plan case studies, and communities.
  • Activity provides activity ideas specific to activity professionals working with the Alzheimer’s and dementia community. Some of the activities include sensory bags, puppet therapy, matching games, and reminiscence activities.
  • Not Just Bingo provides articles and resources for the busy activity professional. The articles section includes articles on general activities, games and exercise, club ideas, outings, activities for people with dementia, activity planning, volunteers, family activities, and residents’ health. They also provide quick tips, resources, examples of activity calendars, and different activity guides.

The following NIDILRR-funded projects are great resources for activity professionals and recreational therapists:

  • Increasing Community Participation in Adults with Schizophrenia (90IF0086) uses Independence through Community Access and Navigation (ICAN), a new community-based intervention, to decrease sedentary behavior and increase community participation in adults with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. ICAN is a recreational therapy intervention that is theoretically grounded in Self-Determination Theory to promote independent, community-based recreation participation through the use of an individualized placement and support model.
  • Interactive Exercise Technologies and Exercise Physiology for People with Disabilities (90RE5009) utilizes an advanced engineering research and development program that uses new technologies to address the high rates of inactivity in teens and adults with disabilities. The key target areas for the research and development projects of this Center are to improve access to recreation and exercise venues and equipment, increase opportunities for participation in beneficial exercise, utilize technology to support a better adherence to regular exercise, and the promotion of regular exercise and active lifestyles for people with disabilities.
  • The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTCIL) (90RT5015) has the objective of increasing the continuity of community living and full community participation of people with disabilities. Five of the thirteen projects within the RTCIL evaluate the efficiency of programs, policies, and practices so as to improve services and supports that provide community participation opportunities. They address consumer participation needs in housing, recreation, community participation, and civic involvement.

If you are an activity professional or recreation therapist, do not forget to check out SCI-Hard, a video game developed by the NIDILRR-funded Technology Increasing Knowledge: Technology Optimizing Choice (TIKTOC) Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) for people with spinal cord injury (SCI). The game introduces the player to new challenges and obstacles all while trying to save the world from mutated animals! If you work with 13-29 year olds with SCI, check out TICTOK’s study that evaluates the effectiveness of gaming to augment the self-management of teens and young adults with SCI.

This post has been updated to claify the educational requirements and job responsibilities of both recreational therapists and activity professionals. To lear more about these professions, follow the links above.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Is there a difference between recreational therapy and activity programs?

  1. CP says:

    As a former Activity leader, all I can say is that the only difference is that the company can make money with therapy. Programs were EXACTLY the same, but had to be quantified and qualified for maximum benefit. Fun is a by-product, not the goal, of a RT. Our programs suffered greatly.

    • mpgarcia says:

      That’s how our staff who was a rec therapist describes the difference between an activity program and rec. therapy. Yes, Fun is a by product of RT, but RTs make sure that residents are having fun as well. We are sorry to hear that your programs suffered.

  2. D. Doss says:

    I am a current Activity Director. I do not have a problem with recreational therapy because my facility has 2 secure units with residents who have Alzheimer or Dementia so the more people doing activities with the residents the better. My problem is that, even though one of our resources has confirmed that both therapy and activities can take credit for certain things, the therapy department will not document the activities in the computer. When you add hand held instruments and sing-a-long to exercise this in an activity. There needs to be communication. All departments need to work together to make the residents life better. I have one to one activities that need to be done for many residents so therapy department doing a few group activities is not going to take any work away from me. It is true though that if the resident is doing recreational therapy, they can’t do an activity at the same time. It will be the facility that suffers as a result of no documentation. It took me forever to get the therapy department to give me a log of ADL’s that could be counted as activities
    (painting nails will never be therapy)..

    • mpgarcia says:

      We agree that there needs to be communication between the Activities Department and the Rec TX Department and that all departments need to work together for the sake of the residents. No documentation also has an effect on the residents. If the facility suffers, so do the residents. We are glad that you got the tx department to give you a log of ADLs that could be counted as activities. Keep fighting the fight!

      As for painting nails not being therapy…we are going to disagree there. Because it can be counted as a sensory stimulation situation and, depending on the resident’s hand function, the resident may be able to do some of the nail painting themselves….it could be counted as therapy. However, it is all a matter of perspective!

  3. Pingback: If you liked… Is there a difference between recreational therapy and activity programs? | Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.