What Does a Rehabilitation Counselor Do?

A rehabilitation counselor is a mental health and social work professional who works with disabled individuals. Their goal is to help the disabled to build skills geared toward daily living, employment, mobility, and many other concerns. They may also help disabled individuals cope with their disability, family and social functioning. It’s an important job. The National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP) identified 48.9 million people in the U.S. with a disability by using U.S. Census Data. Of this number, 24.1 million have a severe disability that limits their life activities. Rehabilitation counseling helps them improve their quality of life and ability to live independently.

Goals of Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors have a goal of teaching, showing or coaching people with physical or mental disabilities how to set goals and achieve them. The process begins with a thorough assessment of the disabled person’s abilities and skills. Then, the counselor works with the disabled person to set goals, and establish steps to be taken to achieve them. The goals can be in the areas of employment, education, daily living skills, social functioning, and emotional and physical well-being. As one example, a disabled person may want to work, and be able to do a certain job, but they may be unable to drive to work due to their disability. The counselor can help them to set a goal of learning how to use public transportation or take advantage of ride-sharing services.

Work Locations

Counselors for rehabilitation can work at hospitals, clinics, assisted living facilities, or similar facilities, and they can also work for government or private organizations serving the disabled. Some counselors work for social services agencies, or in school districts. Another specialized field of rehabilitation is the prison system. Each region also generally has a government-funded disability agency, which assigns counselors to individuals who are registered with the agency as having qualified disabilities.

Required Education and Qualifications

Depending on the level of work that you want to perform as a rehab counselor, you will need to obtain different levels of education and certification. You may be able to work as a community or center-based counselor with a bachelor’s degree and state certification as a counselor. Higher levels of responsibility will require a master’s degree and at the top level, you could be a rehabilitation psychologist, with a Ph.D. and additional education and training. The Commission on Rehabilitation Certification offers training, advocacy and certifications within the field, and general counseling certifications are also required, depending on your state and region.

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Specialized Needs

Some rehabilitation counselors focus on working with people with special needs, such as youth with autism or developmental delays. Others provide occupational counseling or rehabilitation services to people who are recovering from traumatic illnesses or injuries. A related field is veteran re-entry counseling for returning members of the armed services. Still others work with people in residential care facilities, or those with mental health challenges.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a faster-than-average growth rate of 9 percent for rehabilitation counselors between now and 2024. The median annual pay for the job was $34,670 per year in 2016, according to the BLS. A rehabilitation counselor helps others to overcome barriers to living healthier, happier, more fulfilling lives.