Rehabilitation Counselor Career Profile
counselors are professionals who help people affected by emotional and physical
disabilities live independently. Rehabilitation counseling, however, is
anything but simple. Counselors offer services to people for a number of
reasons, from traumatic injuries to diabetes to mental illness. They also
provide and coordinate services, such as talk therapy, individual evaluations
and treatment plans. These professionals arrange for patients to receive
equipment, such as wheelchairs and assistive technology, and facilitate career
training. Rehabilitation counselors might also serve as advocates for the needs
of people with disabilities inside and outside of the workplace.
“Most of us stumble into the profession,” says David Staten, who’s the co-owner of a private practice in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and an associate professor of rehabilitation counseling at South Carolina State University. As an undergraduate, Staten planned to become a lawyer. But after he finished college and had yet to prepare for law school, one of his undergraduate mentors encouraged him to look into rehabilitation counseling – a career that Staten realized tapped into his compassion for people. Now, he uses his interpersonal communication skills to empower people with diabetes and disabilities to lead independent lives.
Some of these professionals might work as vocational rehabilitation counselors, specifically addressing a patient’s career needs. “The goal of vocational rehabilitation is to provide services to allow people with disabilities to maintain work,” says Tarea Stout, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and president of the National Rehabilitation Association. Stout, who has worked in the field for 25 years, says each client comes in with a different range of medical and psychological needs. Stout’s original inspiration was her father’s friend, Herbert Morgan, who became paraplegic after suffering injuries from World War II. According to Stout, Morgan used technological assistance to herd cows on a farm and “did not let the limits this world set on him stop him.”
Stout was also inspired to become a rehabilitation counselor because she says she knew she had an interest in serving people and helping them improve their lives. When clients first come in, she says they often focus on the limitations of their disabilities. However, Stout says, “We see all the many things that a person can do.” She says vocational rehabilitation counselors work to match clients’ strengths to the local labor market. “That is where the joy comes in the job,” she adds. Stout says a key part of her role is building relationships with the employers her clients eventually work with.
Stout has seen her job as even more important since 2001, when she was diagnosed with a rare immune deficiency disease called hypogammaglobulinemia. Part of her disability is “facing the reality of how I do what I’ve been doing and doing it differently,” she says. However, “you don’t have to have a disability to work in this field,” Stout says. “You have to have a heart and a compassion for people. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 12.7 percent employment growth for rehabilitation counselors between 2016 and 2026. In that period, an estimated 15,100 jobs should open up.
What Type of Education Do Rehabilitation Counselors Need?
While Stout and Staten earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and criminal justice, respectively, aspiring rehabilitation counselors can pursue undergraduate degrees in social work, human services or an entirely different subject area. What Stout says she looked for in rehabilitation counselor candidates in her previous role as an administrator is a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. She is also a licensed professional counselor.
A license is mandatory to work, but first, counselors must have a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field, gain 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, pass a state-recognized exam and earn annual continuing education credits. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification provides information about state licensure and certified rehabilitation counselor requirements for particular employers, positions and services.