Overview of NCTRC

Established in 1981, the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) is

a non-profit, international organization dedicated to professional excellence for the protection

of consumers through the certification of recreation therapists. Professional recognition is

granted by NCTRC to individuals who apply and meet established standards for certification,

including education, experience, and continuing professional development. The Certified

Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential is offered to qualified individuals based

on these stringent requirements.


NCTRC supports quality human service and health care standards and maintains recognition

by the Joint Commission and the Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). NCTRC provides credential verification services to employers and health care agencies. These services are strongly encouraged by NCTRC to monitor personnel adherence to the standards of the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist.

NCTRC's Board of Directors is elected by actively certified professionals. The Board is comprised of nine voting members and includes a consumer and an employer representative. Since the mission of the Council is to protect the consumer, it is critical that the consumer and employer have input into NCTRC's credentialing program.

NCTRC is a charter member organization of the Institute of Credentialing Excellence (ICE), formerly known as National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA). NCTRC is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

[Return to Top]

Vision of NCTRC

To be publically recognized as the largest international body of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists to provide recreation therapy services.

To have premier recognition status among consumers, employers, and regulators.

To use research and technology to enhance the certification exam program and the critical functions of the Council.

To establish a viable and effective organizational marketing program and promote the validity and value of the credential.

To enhance opportunities for research and serve as a repository of information pertaining to credentialing opportunities within therapeutic recreation.


To Achieve this Vision we…
  • Establish the Value and Worth of the CTRS Credential
  • Ensure Practice-based Certification Standards
  • Maintain an Effective and Technologically Advanced Exam Program
  • Promote Legal Recognition of the CTRS Credential
  • Increase the Number of New Applicants for NCTRC certification
  • Increase Recertification Retention
  • Ensure Fiscal Responsibility

[Return to Top]

Mission of NCTRC

To protect the consumer of therapeutic recreation services by promoting the provision of quality therapeutic recreation services by NCTRC certificants.

To Achieve this Mission we...

  • Develop standards for certification.
  • Establish standards of conduct and apply a disciplinary process.
  • Conduct entry, recertification, and reentry testing.
  • Maintain an up-to-date job analysis.
  • Liaison with professional organizations with regards to standards of practice.
  • Verify certification for employers.
  • Conduct research and development.
  • Provide recertification and reentry.
  • Liaison with educators to provide information and develop opportunities for student acquisition of education and experience necessary for certification.
  • Provide information to the public regarding standards, disciplinary processes, and certification.

[Return to Top]

Goals of NCTRC

Current Strategic Goals
  • Promote the Value of the Credential
  • Create Broad Based Partner Affiliations
  • Create Global market Certification
  • Lead in Consumer Protection
  • Create innovative Education/Training/Research Opportunities for Consumers, Practitioners and Policy Makers.

[Return to Top]

NCTRC Background, Industry Standards, and Benefits

Background and Organizational History

NCTRC is the nationally recognized credentialing organization for the profession of therapeutic recreation. NCTRC continues a long history of credentialing in the profession of therapeutic recreation. Credentialing of therapeutic recreation personnel began in 1956 with the establishment of the Commission for the Advancement of Hospital Recreation (CAHR). In 1967, with the formation of the National Therapeutic Recreation Society (NTRS), the NTRS Registration Board continued the voluntary registration program for therapeutic recreation personnel. NCTRC was founded in 1981 as an independent credentialing agency designed to meet national credentialing standards in the United States.

A volunteer leadership managed NCTRC in 1981. By 1985 three part-time staff were added to manage the growing certification program. In September 1986, the first full-time Executive Director was hired along with two full-time clerical personnel. By 1998, NCTRC staff had grown to 12 full-time and three part-time staff members.

The number of certified professionals served by NCTRC has also shown steady growth over the past 16 years. The first registration by CAHR in 1959 credentialed 68 hospital recreation personnel. During NTRS's management of the therapeutic recreation registration program the numbers grew from over 260 in 1967 to just over 3,000 in 1981. NCTRC currently has over 12,000 active certificants and receives approximately 1,200 new applications for certification each year.

Since NCTRC was founded to meet national standards for certifying agencies, the organization has followed the standards of the Institute of Credentialing Excellence (ICE) and its accreditation branch, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NCTRC has maintained its charter membership in ICE since 1987. In 1993, NCTRC's program was first accredited by NCCA and it was recently reaccredited through March 2013.

Industry Standards in Therapeutic Recreation

The field of therapeutic recreation has also shown tremendous growth and development over the past two decades. Today, the United States Department of Labor projects that there are over 27,000 recreational therapists in the United States. Over 12,000 of these professionals are professionally certified as CTRSs by NCTRC. The CTRS credential is the most professional advanced credential for the field of therapeutic recreation.

The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that therapeutic recreation will grow faster in those areas that address the health care concerns of older adults. And as the demand for the CTRS increases from acute care hospitals to outpatient facilities, day treatment settings and community living situations, the certification of increasing numbers of recreational therapists is expected to enhance the recognition of the important role the CTRS plays in today's health care and human services arena.

For decades, therapeutic recreation has been recognized as a valuable profession within health care and human services. The Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist has become the industry standard that exemplifies each professional's dedication to quality standards and excellence in practice.

Benefits to the Public, Profession, Practitioner, and Organization

Since NCTRC was founded to protect the consumer of therapeutic recreation services and the public at large, there are many benefits of the NCTRC program to the public, the profession, the individual practitioner, and the organization. The public is benefited by the consistent application of the standards and the promotion of qualified professionals in the field of therapeutic recreation. NCTRC's verification and disciplinary services ensure that employers and clients have access to information regarding the ability of the CTRS to provide quality therapeutic recreation services based on national standards with full respect to the health and safety of the consumer.

The profession has benefited significantly from the credentialing activities and research of NCTRC. The National Job Analysis provides the profession with the most accurate research on current minimum job skills and knowledge required for competent practice in the profession. NCTRC's position as a national leader in credentialing has brought the profession into the spotlight of related health and human service providers, funders, and advocacy groups. The individual CTRS practitioner has greater standing in the health care and human service arena due to the efforts of NCTRC and the quality of the therapeutic recreation professional credential.

NCTRC works in concert with state regulatory authorities with adherence to consistent, fair and objective standards and full due process in its certification program. NCTRC complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the implementation of the certification program. In the event a state or other regulatory agency presents NCTRC with data concerning violation of local, state or federal laws or an agency reports gross or repeated negligence in practice, NCTRC institutes a thorough disciplinary process.

Through the ongoing provision of extensive services in therapeutic recreation credentialing, NCTRC maintains extensive contact with the public, consumer, employer, profession, and practitioner of therapeutic recreation. The organization of NCTRC continues to advance and excel as it is structured to meet the highest quality standards for credentialing organizations in this country.

[Return to Top]

ICE/NCCA Accreditation

NCTRC is a charter member of the Institute of Credentialing Excellence (ICE). Since 1993, NCTRC's certification program has been accredited by ICE's National Commission for Certifying Agencies. NCTRC certification program parallels the standards followed in medicine by the American Board of Medical Specialties and by other related professions such as the National Board for the Certification of Occupational Therapy Board and the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

NCTRC Awarded Re-Accreditation from NCCA

The NCTRC Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Certification Program was awarded re-accreditation status by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) for a five-year period, expiring March 31, 2018. NCTRC, which was founded in 1981, received its fourth five-year continuation since its initial NCCA Accreditation in 1997. NCTRC serves as a professional certification organization acting in the public interest by establishing and enforcing education, examination, experience and ethics requirements for the therapeutic recreation profession. Currently, the CTRS designation is represented in all 50 states and throughout Canada and nine other countries.

NCTRC received renewal of NCCA accreditation for its CTRS Certification Program by submitting an application demonstrating the program's compliance with the NCCA's Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs. NCCA is the accrediting body of the Institute of Credentialing Excellence (ICE). Since 1987, the NCCA has been accrediting certifying programs based on the highest quality standards in professional certification to ensure that programs adhere to modern standards of practice in the certification industry. To view the NCCA standards visit ICE. NCCA accredited programs certify individuals in a wide range of professions and occupations including nurses, financial professionals, respiratory therapists, counselors, emergency technicians, crane operators and more. The NCCA Standards were created in 1977 and updated in 2003 to ensure certification programs adhere to modern standards of practice for the certification industry. NCTRC joins an elite group of more than 120 organizations representing over 270 programs that have received and maintained NCCA accreditation.

[Return to Top]

NCTRC Services

Professional Eligibility

This service includes the review and processing of new applicants for professional eligibility with NCTRC. NCTRC receives approximately 1,200 new applications for professional eligibility each year. About 95% of the new applications are received from graduates with an academic major or option in therapeutic recreation and within 12 months of the applicant's graduation.

CTRS Annual Maintenance

Each year of the five-year certification cycle, a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) must submit an annual maintenance application and fee. The annual maintenance application and fee are due by the certificant’s expiration date. (i.e., either June 30 or December 31).

CTRS Recertification

Each CTRS is required to recertify every five years. In order to recertify, the CTRS must chose one of two options from the NCTRC Recertification Components. Option 1: professional work experience in therapeutic recreation and continuing education credit that is related to the NCTRC Job Analysis.
Option 2: passing the national certification exam. The CTRS submits a recertification application to demonstrate completion of these continuing competence requirements along with the annual maintenance fee.

CTRS Specialty Certification

Individual CTRSs who have extensive experience and expertise in a given area of TR/RT practice are eligible to apply for NCTRC Specialty Certification. The attainment of advanced knowledge and skill is acquired via several methods including education programs, training focused upon specific skills or diagnostic populations, and the successful acquisition of expert skills that have been mastered over a substantial period of practice. The primary purpose of NCTRC specialty certification is to acknowledge the CTRS whose practice has reached an advanced professional level, and to provide formal recognition of competence beyond the CTRS credential. Applicants who have met the specific requirements may apply for specialty certification at any time during the certification cycle.

Certification Testing

NCTRC has offered a national standardized certification exam for therapeutic recreation since 1990. NCTRC Exam is based on NCTRC Job Analysis Study of the Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, that assures the test specifications and the exam are related to the practice of therapeutic recreation. Since 1990, NCTRC has tested over 20,000 professionals. About 1,200 candidates sit for the exam each year as either new applicants for CTRS certification or to complete CTRS recertification and reentry requirements.

Verification and Monitoring Services

NCTRC provides verification of CTRS credentials to employers and consumers on a continuous basis. In addition, NCTRC has an active program to monitor adherence to the certification standards and to take disciplinary action as required. Disciplinary and misrepresentation complaints are received through the employer verification system, by self-report of certified individuals, and by complaint from professionals or consumers related to therapeutic recreation practice.

[Return to Top]

Verification and the Value of Certification

Who is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist?

Recreational therapy is a recognized human service profession that utilizes recreation involvement as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery, and well-being. Recreational therapy has been a recognized form of health care and human service provision for over four decades. The Joint Commission defines a Recreational Therapist, Qualified in the Comprehensive Accreditation Manual for Hospitals (1995):

Recreational Therapist, qualified. An individual who, at a minimum, is a graduate of a baccalaureate degree program in recreational therapy accredited by a nationally recognized accreditation body; is currently a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC); meets any current legal requirement of licensure, registration, or certification; or has the documented equivalent in education, training and experience and is currently competent in the field.

In order to obtain CTRS certification, candidates must first meet minimum educational and experiential requirements and then pass a computer-based examination. The examination is administered by an independent, experienced, national testing service. CTRSs are also required to become recertified every five years. CTRSs become recertified by accumulating a combination of work experience, continuing education, and/or retesting. The NCTRC recertification program was established to ensure the continued and current competence of therapeutic recreation specialists.

Why Become Certified As A CTRS?

As a professional, a recreation therapist needs to demonstrate to the public (employers and consumers) that s/he has the knowledge, skill and ability to provide therapeutic recreation services. NCTRC was awarded federal trademark of the title "Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist" and the mark "CTRS" by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The ability to protect the consumer is strengthened with USPTO trademark registration. The trademark registration provides significant legal protection against unauthorized users of NCTRC's marks. Only those individuals who meet and maintain adherence to NCTRC certification program standards are allowed to use the title Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and the designation: "CTRS".

The CTRS Credential is Important in Healthcare Today.

The CTRS credential is viewed as a strong and viable credential in healthcare today. The CTRS credential has been developed and accredited by nationally accepted standards for certifying agencies. The following specific criteria have established the CTRS as an accepted and viable healthcare credential:

  1. NCTRC certification standards are based on the knowledge and skill necessary for competent practice in the delivery of recreational therapy services as verified by national research on the Job Analysis.
  2. Every CTRS has passed a national certification exam which has established norms for both validity and reliability.
  3. Every CTRS completes recertification designed to measure continued competence to hold the credential.
  4. Every CTRS complies with NCTRC disciplinary code to retain the credential. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification has been the main focal point for addressing the disciplinary codes for the profession of recreational therapy.

Significant strides have been made in refining the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential by adding standardized testing, standards for professional conduct and continued professional competence. There has also been an increased emphasis on education of the public regarding meaning and value of the credential for assuring minimum competence and quality in the delivery of therapeutic recreation services. Overall, the value of the CTRS credential has increased significantly during the past decade.

What is the Strength and Value of the CTRS Credential?

NCTRC fulfills its mission of protecting the consumer of therapeutic recreation services through three important functions. First, NCTRC standards are based on current knowledge and skills necessary for competent practice and continued competence in therapeutic recreation. Second, NCTRC evaluates individual qualifications for certification and recertification through a comprehensive system of review, verification, and standardized national testing to assure that each individual awarded the CTRS has in fact, met the qualifications to hold the credential. Third, NCTRC monitors adherence to standards to assure that cases involving potential harm to public health and safety are investigated fully and that appropriate sanctions of reprimand, suspension and/or revocation are instituted as needed. NCTRC standards include education, experience, continuing professional development, and adherence to principles of appropriate professional conduct. To assure that NCTRC meets its mission of protecting the consumer, each CTRS continues to maintain competence for recreational therapy practice. The CTRS credential is the designation used to inform the public and consumer of health care services of the existence of this competence in recreational therapy. In fact, it is the only national certification designed to protect the consumer of recreational therapy services.

How Can Employers Verify Certification At-A-Glance?

There are certain measures an employer can take to verify whether an
employee or candidate for employment is certified by NCTRC as a CTRS. Upon the award of certification and renewal of certification, each CTRS receives a certificate
and a card. Both of these official documents contain the certificant's name, certification level, certification expiration date and certification number. The certification number is a
five-digit ID number issued by NCTRC.

Why is the Disciplinary Code Important in Healthcare Today?

In the realm of professional conduct, the general public, as well as the consumers of recreational therapy services, assume professionals operate according to appropriate values and ethics. Competence, truthfulness, integrity, and professional appropriateness are expected of all who hold the CTRS credential. Certain types of conduct are not appropriate for health and human service professionals in our society. NCTRC insures that its certificants meet these societal expectations for health care professionals in recreational therapy.

NCTRC acts as the overseer in the interest of the public. Its standards and procedures relating to conduct in practice were developed for the protection of the consumer. NCTRC has the right to limit or revoke certification credentials when it finds that a certificant has not complied with required standards and may pose a threat to the health and safety of the public. These issues governing the CTRS' behavior are not unique to the field of recreational therapy but are in fact representative of conduct standards held by most legitimate health care professions and are as strong as state licensure conduct standards. The critical importance that ethics and conduct matters play in the delivery of competent, effective, and credible health care services to clients has become more and more evident over the past twenty years of technological advancement in the health care industry.

NCTRC's professional conduct standards, coupled with procedures for implementation, and the development of national peer review committees, keep the focus of credentialing in recreational therapy directly on the protection of the consumer of services.

Employers and healthcare agencies who hire the 12,000 NCTRC certificants can rely on the value of the CTRS. Employers can also be assured that the CTRS must adhere to standards of conduct and recertification requirements for continued professional competence.

The certification program of NCTRC is in harmony with these current concerns for quality healthcare in the United States. The emphasis has been, and will continue to be, the health and safety of the consumer. NCTRC certificants can take pride in their CTRS credential as an indicator of a health professional whose first priority is quality service and protection of the consumer.

Reporting a Disciplinary Issue to NCTRC

NCTRC considers alleged violations of the NCTRC Certification Standards a serious offense and encourages all responsible parties to contact NCTRC with any direct knowledge of CTRS professional misconduct. Alleged violations of the NCTRC Certification Standards must be submitted in writing to the NCTRC Executive Director and should identify the person(s) alleged to be involved and the facts concerning the alleged conduct in as much detail and specificity as possible. The allegations should identify by name, address and telephone number the person making the information known to NCTRC and others who may have knowledge of the facts and circumstances concerning the alleged conduct. Available documentation should also be provided to the Executive Director and the Executive Director may request additional information relating to the content or form of the allegations. Please review the NCTRC Certification Standards, Part IV: NCTRC Disciplinary Process for further information.

How Can Employers Use NCTRC Services For Verification Of Certification?

NCTRC can provide information on whether or not a specific individual is certified. NCTRC adheres to a strict procedure when requests for information are received in an effort to protect the confidentiality of certificant records.

Individuals can access the NCTRC Verification link by going to the NCTRC Home page and clicking on the “ONLINE VERIFICATION” button on the bottom of the page. A verification search can be conducted by listing the individuals name, certification ID number, or social security number. Certification verification may also be conducted via phone or mail. An individuals full name, certification number or social security number is needed to conduct the verification.

All requests about certification status are handled by NCTRC Credentialing Specialists, who are certified at the CTRS professional level and authorized to release the following information by telephone:

  • The certification level, if any, including CTRS status or professional eligibility.
  • Whether or not the certified individual is in good standing (i.e., not under disciplinary limitation),
  • The date certification or professional eligibility was granted.
  • The date certification or professional eligibility will expire.

NCTRC will not release information regarding expired or denied records.

If an employer inquires about the certification status of an individual against whom NCTRC has issued a final sanction that currently affects the individual's eligibility or certification status, NCTRC will disclose:

  • NCTRC rule(s) found to have been violated.
  • The date of the finding of the violation.
  • The sanction(s) applied against the individual

[Return to Top]

NCTRC Board of Directors


Executive Committee

Jennifer L. Hinton, LRT/CTRS (2013-2016) Chairperson

Eileen D. Andreassi, CTRS (2014-2017) Vice Chairperson

Wayne Pollock, CTRS (2015-2018) Treasurer

Donna Gregory, CTRS (2014-2017) Employer Representative, Secretary

Carla J. Carmichael, CTRS (2014-2017)

Duane "Red" Jensen, Consumer Representative (2015-2018)

Nancy M. McFarlane, CTRS (2013-2016)

Kelly J. Ramella, CTRS (2013-2016)

Diane P. Wagner-Heffner, CTRS (2015-2018)

[Return to Top]

  Home | About NCTRC | Recent News | Standards & Publications | New Application | CTRS Renewal | Exam | Employer Info | FAQs | Links | Contact

©2014 NCTRC. All rights reserved. NCTRC®, CTRS®, National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification®, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist®, and the NCTRC Logo are property of the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, Inc. Unauthorized copying, use or distribution, in any medium, of any NCTRC copyrighted material, trademark, certification mark, or logo is strictly prohibited.