A comparison of recreational therapy and child life practice: Similarities, differences, and opportunities


  • Victoria L. Cooper, MSRT, CTRS, CCLS
  • Heather R. Porter, PhD, CTRS




recreational therapy, child life, scope of practice, comparison


Transdisciplinary care and collaboration among team members is necessary and essential to maximize patient outcomes. Collaboration is the most effective when professionals understand the unique role of each discipline. This is potentially more difficult when disciplines overlap in some services provided, or when an individual on the team is dually certified. In pediatric care settings, this is often the case for recreational therapy (RT) and child life (CL). The purpose of this study is to highlight the benefits of transdisciplinary care, as well as summarize similarities and differences between the two fields based on profession-based documents. Findings indicate 28 unique areas of RT practice, 18 grey areas (items found in both RT and CL profession-based documents with shades of differences), eight items found in one profession that are highly likely to occur in both professions, and 31 areas of similarity. Items of similarity do not raise concern, as the items appear to be common among many healthcare professions, such as developing a therapeutic relationship and conducting an assessment. Differences stem from underlying principles of each profession. RT is primarily a treatment/therapy-based profession (eg, functional skill development), whereas the foundation of CL is a helping-based profession (eg, coping within the hospitalized environment). RT must effectively deliver a message of its unique contribution to the healthcare landscape with special emphasis on functional skills development, client and family education and counseling, and community integration and transition training related to maximizing healthy engagement in play, leisure, recreation, and community activities post hospitalization for continued recovery, development, and prevention. Methods of disseminating findings and strengthening RT evidence-based research in pediatric acute care are provided, along with suggested opportunities for collaborative research.

Author Biographies

Victoria L. Cooper, MSRT, CTRS, CCLS

Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Heather R. Porter, PhD, CTRS

Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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How to Cite

Cooper, MSRT, CTRS, CCLS, V. L., & Porter, PhD, CTRS, H. R. (2016). A comparison of recreational therapy and child life practice: Similarities, differences, and opportunities. American Journal of Recreation Therapy, 15(2), 13–28. https://doi.org/10.5055/ajrt.2016.0102