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The profession of rehabilitation counseling integrates working knowledge of all the AT professions combined. A rehabilitation counselor is a kind of generalist, like a general practitioner, who will work with a person, usually a disabled adult.
Rehabilitation counselors work with both the recently disabled, such as clients injured in an industrial accident, and clients with long-term or congenital disabilities. They work with a client to develop a plan to access whatever rehabilitation services are needed. The main goal is empowerment to maximize functioning, and return to work and/or greater independence.
Usually a rehabilitation counselor's objective is to help the client develop and carry out a vocational plan that results in satisfactory, long-term employment. Counselors also help people locate and overcome barriers to employment, such as inaccessible work sites, inflexible schedules, transportation, discrimination and similar issues.
An example of treatment can be occupational therapy to learn adaptive computer skills for a job, physical therapy, to learn the use of a wheelchair to move around more comfortably or speech pathology for better communication. The counselor makes recommendations for effective, professional intervention or evaluation, and seeks resources to obtain the needed solutions.
Sometimes the client may simply need psychotherapy or counseling to help come to terms with his/her disability. Often, additional training, job coaching or vocational evaluation and training are needed. Rehabilitation counselors consider every aspect of a person's life (physical, emotional, psychological, cognitive and vocational) while helping the client develop goals and obtain the resources necessary to achieve them.
Some referrals make use of various types of assistive technology (including high and low technologies and service animals). Some will not. In fact, utilizing the least technology is often preferable in order to make life as simple as possible.
A rehabilitation counselor must earn a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling and become certified by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). After earning a master's degree, a rehabilitation counselor earns a CRCC designation by completing 600 hours of supervised work and passing a written exam. Rehabilitation counselors work in hospitals, state agencies, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. There are approximately 80 colleges in the United States with a rehabilitation counseling program, including the University of Wisconsin, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Southern Illinois University and University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois.
Charles Merbitz, Ph.D., CRCC, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology), specializing in rehabilitation counseling and assistive technology. Dr. Merbitz contributed to this article.