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A guide to certification
in therapeutic recreation

The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification outlines its standards, requirements and future plans.

By Nonna J. Stumbo

Credentialing has the potential to impact many professions and is playing an increasingly important role in therapeutic recreation. On a national level, recent changes in the structure and autonomy of the administrative board of the credentialing body and the upgrading of standards have begun to affect the employability of therapeutic recreation practitioners. However, as with any new idea or process, information may be slow in reaching the individuals it affects the most.

The purpose of this article is to provide information about the history, current structure, purpose, operations and standards of the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC), the body responsible for setting national standards for therapeutic recreation personnel.

Common terms

Several terms are often used interchangeably and may be used differently by various professions. Generally, credentialing is the umbrella term used to describe any process or mechanism which reviews an individual's credentials or qualifications. Certification is one mechanism for credentialing and usually involves the review of the individual's education and experience, and may involve an examination. It is normally conducted by a nongovernmental body. Persons who are not certified may not use the specified title. Therefore, certification is typically referred to as "title control."

Licensure is a similar process of reviewing an individual's qualifications, but differs from certification in that it: (1) is usually run by a governmental agency (e.g.. State Board of Licensure), (2) requires individuals who practice to be licensed (Others may not practice in the given profession.) and (3) is administered on a state-by-state basis (States are given control of their own licensure bills.). Licensure is often referred to as "practice control."

Registration, in its most strict definition, is the listing of individuals who meet some pre-established criteria in order to carry out their work. For example, solicitors must register with the Chamber of Commerce before selling door-to-door. Accreditation is another term which is often used in conjunction with credentialing. However, this term refers to educational institutions or programs meeting predetermined standards and, therefore, does not review the qualifications of individuals.

Credentialing in therapeutic recreation

In the late 1940s and early '50s three professional membership organizations existed for therapeutic recreation personnel: the Hospital Recreation Section of the American Recreation Society, the Recreational Therapy Section of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and the National Association of Recreational Therapists. Each group served a different segment of the therapeutic recreation work force; that is, military hospital workers, adapted physical educators in special schools and state school personnel.

In 1953, the three groups decided to communicate through a special network and established the Council for Advancement of Hospital Recreation. This three-member group represented each organization and advanced communication among the varying segments.

Illinois Parks and Recreation 19 November/December 1986


One result from this combined effort was a National Voluntary Registration Plan for Hospital Recreation Personnel in 1956. This plan was the first consolidated attempt to review the qualifications of therapeutic recreation personnel.

When the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) was formed in 1965/'66, the National Therapeutic Recreation Society (NTRS) became the sole organization representing all facets of therapeutic recreation. As the primary professional organization, NTRS also assumed the responsibility for the National Voluntary Registration Plan. With growing recognition that the membership body should be a separate entity from the credentialing body, the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) was formed in 1981.


The NCTRC requires a
two-year notification
period before any revision
increasing qualifications
can be implemented.

What is NCTRC?

The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification is the national credentialing body for therapeutic recreation personnel. It is financially and administratively autonomous from all professional membership groups, such as NRPA, NTRS, the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). The NCTRC became incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the fall of 1984.

It has a threefold purpose: (1) to establish national evaluative standards for the certification and recertification of individuals who attest to the compotencies

Illinois Parks and Recreation 20 November/December 1986


Personnel Standards of NCTRC

(January 1, 1986*)

Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Professional

A. Baccalaureate degree or higher from an accredited college or university with a major in TR or a major in recreation with an option in TR. (Nine semester hours or 12 quarter hours of TR content courses [at least three courses] and nine semester hours or 12 quarter hours in general recreation content courses [at least three courses] and 18 semester or 27 quarter hours in supportive course-work and 360-hour field placement experience under agency supervisor who is a CTRS.)

B. Baccalaureate degree or higher from an accredited college or university with a major in recreation and two years full-time paid experience in TR program. Expires after October, 1987, review. (Nine semester hours or 12 quarter hours of general recreation content courses [at least three courses] and 18 semester or 27 quarter hours of supportive coursework and two years full-time paid experience in TR program.)

Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Provisional

A. Baccalaureate degree or higher from an accredited college or university with a major in TR, a major in recreation with an option in TR, or a major in recreation. Academic preparation must include one of the following: nine semester or 12 quarter hours of TR content courses or nine semester or 12 quarter hours of general recreation courses or a combination of nine semester or 12 quarter hours of TR and general recreation courses. This allows two-year temporary certification while person acquires academic preparation as defined in Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Professional Option A standards.

B. Baccalaureate degree or higher from an accredited college or university with a major in recreation. (Nine semester or 12 quarter hours of general recreation content courses [at least three courses] and 18 semester or 27 quarter hours of supportive coursework). This allows two-year temporary certification while person acquires two years full-time paid experience in TR as defined in Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Professional Option B standards.

Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Professional Equivalency Baccalaureate degree or higher from an accredited college or university:

1. A degree in one of the following areas: art education, dance, drama, early childhood education, music education, physical education, psychology, rehabilitation, sociology or special education, and

2. Five years full-time paid experience in TR program, and

3. 18 semester or 27 quarter hours of upper division or graduate credits in TR or general recreation courses.

Therapeutic Recreation Assistant Paraprofessional

A. Associate degree from an accredited educational institution with a major in TR or a major in recreation with an option in TR. (Six semester or eight quarter hours of TR content courses [at least two courses] and six semester or eight quarter hours of general recreation courses [at least two courses] and 12 semester or 18 quarter hours in supportive coursework and 360-hour field placement experience in TR under agency supervisor who is CTRS or CTRA.)

B. Associate degree from an accredited educational institution with a major in recreation and one year full-time paid experience in TR program. (Six semester or eight quarter hours of general recreation courses [at least two courses] and 12 semester or 18 quarter hours in supportive coursework and one year fulltime paid experience in TR program.)

Therapeutic Recreation Assistant Paraprofessional Equivalency

A. Associate degree or higher from an accredited educational institution with a major in one of the following areas: allied health, art education, dance, drama, gerontology, human services, mental health, music education, or physical education and one year full-time paid experience in TR program.

B. Completion of NTRS 750-hour training program of TR personnel with official certificate.

C. Four years full-time paid experience in TR program.

*For a more complete description of NCTBC standards, please refer to the official application form.

of the therapeutic recreation profession, (2) to grant recognition to individuals who voluntarily apply and meet the established standards and (3) to monitor adherence to the standards by certified therapeutic recreation personnel.

The NCTRC is currently managed by a nine-member board of directors which is selected annually. The positions on the board include four certified professionals, three certified para-professionals, one consumer of therapeutic recreation services and one employer of therapeutic recreation personnel.

The professional and paraprofessional positions are elected by the certified membership; the remaining two positions are appointed by the NCTRC chair. Each director serves a three-year term. The Council meets twice each year and maintains several working committees, such as Finance, Elections, and Test Development and Research.

Under the Council's administration, two additional boards exist. The Certification Review Board meets twice per year (April and October) and is responsible for reviewing individual applications according to the Council's established standards. The Appeals Board meets once per year (April) and reviews applications of those individuals appealing the decision of the Certification Review Board. These boards consist of other individuals not currently serving on the NCTRC board of directors.

Whom does NCTRC certify?

The NCTRC certifies therapeutic recreation personnel from across the country who voluntarily submit their credentials for review. It does not certify adapted physical education specialists, social workers, special educators, occupational therapists or other professionals. Currently, approximately 8,000 individuals are certified by the NCTRC.

Certification is available at two levels: Professional - Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and Paraprofessional - Therapeutic Recreation Assistant. In


Illinois Parks and Recreation 21 November/December 1986



the broadest sense, the professional level is for those who possess a four-year degree in therapeutic recreation. The paraprofessional level is for persons who possess a two-year degree. Specific standards are outlined in the box on page 21.

What is the application process?

First, the individual must obtain an official application from the NCTRC office. The application then should be reviewed by the individual to assess which path to certification is most appropriate.

Once the application is completed, it should be sent with appropriate transcripts, fee and supportive information to the NCTRC office. (The Certification Review Board meets in April and October; the application must be postmarked by the 15th of the preceding month to be reviewed.) The NCTRC office will acknowledge receipt of the materials and notify the individual of any missing materials.

The Certification Review Board then reviews the application at its next meeting; individuals should be notified about its decision within four to six weeks. Applicants who are approved will receive a certificate and a card, have their name placed in the next registry and receive future NCTRC mailings.

If the application is denied, an explanation for the denial will be sent. The individual then has the right to petition to the Appeals Board, either in writing or in person, during its annual meeting. The decision of the Appeals Board is final.

The certificate is issued for a two-year period. Prior to its expiration, the individual should obtain a renewal application from the NCTRC office and submit it with appropriate fees.

What are the current NCTRC standards?

There have been numerous revisions in the certification standards since their inception in 1956. These standards, along with other professional activities, have helped the field make tremendous advances in the current era of accountability. These changes have reflected a growing maturity and professionalization within the therapeutic recreation profession.

The NCTRC requires a two-year notification period before any revision increasing qualifications (i.e., more stringent standards) can be implemented. Any change which would decrease qualifications (i.e., less stringent standards) could become effective immediately.

The NCTRC's last revision of standards became effective on January 1, 1986, after a two-year notification period. They are outlined in the accompanying box in abbreviated form. Individuals should refer to the current, official application form for any changes in standards.

What's in the near future?

The National Council has many operations and projects ongoing at this time. Three that may be of interest are the creation of a full-time position for the administrative officer, the revision of the paraprofessional standards and the upcoming national certification examinations.


The NCTRC certifies
therapeutic recreation
personnel nationwide who
voluntarily submit their
credentials for review.


In April, 1986, it was decided that the office duties (e.g., responding to certificants, preparing applicant files, corresponding with professional groups, etc.) required a full-time person. (Up to that point the position had been half-time, shared with NTRS.) The position was announced to all certified members and interviews occurred during August. The new administrative officer is Peg Connolly, formerly from Champaign.

A major revision of paraprofessional standards will be undertaken this fall. The committee in charge of these revisions will conduct a national survey of paraprofessionals and two-year colleges to determine what changes are necessary. The committee brought this information before the Council in October for standards revision.

Also, the Council has a Test Development and Research Committee. It is charged with the responsibility for gathering information concerning the feasibility and requirements for the development and implementation of national certification examinations. This group has been assembled since October, 1985, and is working closely with other recreation groups and professional testing agencies. No target date for the examinations has been determined, though professional testing agencies require one to two years for test development.

Need more information?

Applications and additional information may be obtained by writing to the NCTRC Administrative Officer, P.O. Box 16126, Alexandria, VA 22032.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Norma J. Stumbo, Ph.D., has served on the board of directors of the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) since its inception in 1981. She has served as Test Development Liaison since 1982 and became chair of the Test Development and Research Committee in October, 1985.

Dr. Stumbo is in her third year at Illinois State University.

Illinois Parks and Recreation 22 November/December 1986


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