Education, Consulting & Mentorship for Aging Service Professionals


Recreation Therapist vs. Activities Director

One major question in our various fields is: What is the difference between recreation and activities? What is the difference in Recreational Therapy and being an Activities Director?
Do these careers overlap? And, what are the pathways to obtaining these careers?

1. What are the differences? While these two careers overlap in various aspects; there are significant differences between what a Recreational Therapist and/or a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist can do compared to an Activities Director. TR as a field of study aims to use recreation as a means to improve quality of life in people of ALL ages and abilities, by using their interests to obtain specific goals. In short, recreation therapists utilize recreational services to achieve a specific outcome. This could be, to improve fine motor skills by aiding someone in knitting who just had a stroke, develop social emotional skills to better associate with others with someone who has Autism, or while bowling help someone improve their balance and strength. These sessions, whether they be group or individuals are meaningful in the sense that TR has an end result (in most cases); similar to Occupational Therapy or Physical Therapy. TR is aiming to lead people to live Independent Leisure Lifestyles. Therapeutic Recreation Specialists work in an array of areas from Nursing Homes, to psychiatric facilities, to rehab houses, and more.
Activity Directors are those trained to work in the field of geriatrics, and provide meaningful, engaging activities for seniors in a variety of settings from assisted living, to long term care, to even hospice. AD’s and their assistants use their knowledge to create person-centered programming for all residents in their facilities to target specific needs from social, physical, creative, religious and more.

Do these fields overlap?  Of course they do, most noticeably in geriatric field. Though these professions are different in key aspects, they tend to overlap each other. While, TR’s ideal goal is to aid specific people in maintaining their highest level of functioning by means of recreation, it tends to get caught in the middle of other therapies geriatric facilities employ (PT, OT, etc.) TR seems to get lost in the mix.  Therefore, depending on your facility the two fields might merge with TR care plans, but you’re still calling BINGO on Wednesdays! *cough cough* Overall, regardless of specifics both fields aim to improve quality of life for those we are serving and provide meaningful connections through fun, play and creativity!

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  1. Coming from a recreation therapist i do agree the professons differ but Bingo is an activity used as a therapeutic tool to engage those whose lack social stimulation to increase and improve their social well being. Bingo is a cognitive stimulating activity that can help maintain cognitive abilities in those individuals. Bingo can be considered a physically stimulating activity for someone trying to improve pincer grip and flexibility in fingers. We have different programs with the same goals so we are not doing the same thing every day, any recreational or leisure activity can be considered therapeutic depending on the needs and ability of the person.

    1. Hi Liz! Thank you for your comment! I too agree that Bingo is a great cognitive game for those who enjoy it and it also improves hand dexterity, number and letter recognition and much more!
      But, to be used as an actual TR modality, those playing bingo would essentially need to be care-planned for those specific purposes (as I’m sure you know!) I was essentially making a light hearted joke about Bingo as it is always assumed in long term care that the game is essential to our elders! Again, thank you for your comment!!

    1. Hello!
      That would be wonderful. Please send me an email if you wish to talk about some sort of partnership/collaboration.

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    Question if anyone can answer for me? I work in Newington CT. as the Director of Recreation in a long-term/rehab facility. I have a candidate interested in working with me who does not have her Certification in Therapeutic Recreation, however she has her Certification with the National Certification Council For Activity Professional. Does this meet the requirements for documentation of MDS, and other Therapeutic Recreation Documentation required for the state regulations. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you all. Lets keep our Resident’s Happy no matter what their abilities are. We are their life line to the outside world!!! Stay Safe.

    1. Hi Karen! Federal/CMS Regulations (if you are working under Section F of the MDS, meaning your department is running as a mandated Activities/Recreation Department….NOT as Recreation Therapists utilizing Section O along with with other therapies) then YES, someone with an activities certification does meet requirements for MDS documentation. Any other questions feel free to email me at

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