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What is a Rehabilitation Counselor?

Rehabilitation counseling is a specialty that may include both mental and physical rehabilitation. A rehabilitation counselor typically works with people who have physical, mental, social or emotional disabilities that impair their ability to be independent. The US Census Bureau estimates that close to 20 percent of the US population – just under 49 million people – have disabilities. Most of these people would benefit from the services of a rehabilitation counselor.

What Do Rehabilitation Counselors Do?

Rehabilitation counselors are primarily mental health professionals. They work with disabled individuals, helping them build skills and manage feelings such as anxiety and depression. In addition, the counselor may assist people with problems related to employment, mobility, transportation or basic care. Some of what a rehabilitation counselor does is similar to the practice of social work, in that the counselor helps people find necessary resources to maintain or achieve a higher level of independence.

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The Rehabilitation Process

Most people, no matter how severe their disability, can achieve a certain level of independence and contribute to society in some way. The first step in the rehabilitation process is an assessment of the individual’s knowledge, skills and limitations. The assessment includes an interview with the rehabilitation counselor as well as physical and psychological testing. Together the counselor and client set goals, then map out a plan to achieve those goals. This might include gaining access to transportation, obtaining adaptive tools for physical, sight or hearing impairments, or actual counseling for emotional difficulties.

Where Do Rehabilitation Counselors Work?

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Work settings vary and may include hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and independent living facilities. Rehabilitation counselors are also found in social and human services organizations, schools, detention centers and prisons. Some work in unemployment offices, while others are consultants for insurance companies or state disability offices. Rehabilitation counselors may also go into private practice.

What Education is Necessary?

Some employers will hire a rehabilitation counselor with a bachelor’s degree, but in most cases a master’s degree is required. The bachelor’s degree can be in almost any field, but the master’s degree must be in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. The educational process typically takes six to eight years, although there are some dual-degree programs that last five years. These are very intensive programs but offer both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.

Licensure and Certification

Depending on the state, a license and/or certification may be required to became a rehabilitation counselor. Supervised clinical practice of 2,000 to 4,000 hours is required for licensure. The applicant must also pass a state-specific examination. Certification is not licensure, which is why both may be required in some states; in others certification is accepted in lieu of licensure. Certification is available from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. In addition to passing an examination, the applicant must meet advanced education, clinical supervision and work experience requirements.

The profession of rehabilitation counselor offers an opportunity to provide an important service to those who are disabled. An average annual salary of $38,470 and potential job growth of nine to 12 percent provide good opportunities, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who practice this profession can help others and make a difference.

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