History of the Field
Initially, rehabilitation professionals were recruited from a variety of human service disciplines, including public health nursing, social work, and school counseling. Although educational programs began to appear in the 1940s, it was not until the availability of federal funding for rehabilitation counseling programs in 1954 that the profession began to grow and establish its own identity. Historically, rehabilitation counselors primarily served working-age adults with disabilities. Today, the need for rehabilitation counseling services extends to persons of all age groups who have chronic illnesses or disabilities. Rehabilitation counselors also may provide general and specialized counseling to people with disabilities in public human service programs and private practice settings.
Working directly with an individual with a disability or chronic illness, the rehabilitation counselor determines and coordinates services to assist people with disabilities in moving from medical, psychological, educational, social and economic dependence to independence.
Rehabilitation counselors assist people with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities to become or remain self-sufficient, productive citizens. Disabilities may result from birth defects, illness and disease, work-related injuries, automobile accidents, the stresses of war, work, daily life, and the aging process. Rehabilitation counselors help individuals with disabilities deal with societal and personal problems, plan careers, and find and keep satisfying jobs. They also may work with individuals, professional organizations, and advocacy groups to address the environmental and social barriers that create obstacles for the people with disabilities. The rehabilitation counselor builds bridges between the often isolated world of people with disabilities and their families, communities, and work environments.
Other responsibilities for the rehabilitation counselor include:
- Evaluating an individual’s potential for independent living and employment and arranging for medical and psychological services and vocational assessment, training, and job placement
- Evaluating medical and psychological reports and conferring with physicians and psychologists about the types of home, school, or work activities individuals can perform; and
- Working with employers to identify and/or modify job responsibilities to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
The rehabilitation counselor draws on knowledge from several fields, including psychology, medicine, psychiatry, sociology, social work, education, and law. Their specialized knowledge of disabilities, chronic illness and environmental factors that interact with disabilities, as well as specific knowledge and skills, differentiate rehabilitation counselors from other types of counselors.
Many rehabilitation counselors work in state rehabilitation agencies or community rehabilitation programs. Because all state rehabilitation agencies follow the same general procedures, a rehabilitation counselor has geographical mobility and can find employment throughout the United States and its territories. Other potential employers include comprehensive hospitals, rehabilitation centers, universities and academic settings, insurance companies, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities, halfway houses, and independent living centers. Reflecting this wide range of job opportunities, rehabilitation counselors are often employed in positions with different job titles, such as counselor or therapist, placement specialist, substance abuse counselor, rehabilitation consultant, independent living specialist, or case manager.
Rehabilitation counselors serve a large portion of the US population. An estimated 54 million Americans have physical, mental, or psychological disabilities that restrict their living activities and prevent them from obtaining or maintaining jobs.
Consequently, the employment outlook for the profession is excellent. Based on national employment outlook studies and regional and state surveys, hundreds of rehabilitation counselor positions are expected to be available into the next century for qualified master’s level professionals. Recent studies show that rehabilitation counselor education programs are not graduating sufficient numbers of qualified students to meet current and anticipated marketplace needs.
Recently the roles and responsibilities of rehabilitation counselors have expanded, further increasing the attractiveness of a career in the profession. Rehabilitation counselors, for example, have begun to determine, coordinate, and arrange for rehabilitation and transition services for children within school systems. In addition, rehabilitation counselors are providing geriatric rehabilitation services to older persons with health problems, and workers injured on the job are increasingly receiving rehabilitation services through private rehabilitation counseling companies and employers’ disability management and employment assistance programs.
Many former teachers, attorneys, nurses, physical therapist, occupational therapists, clergy, and business people have found second careers as rehabilitation counselors.
Curriculum: Rehabilitation counselors are trained in counseling theory, skills, and techniques; individual, group, and environmental assessment; psychosocial and medical aspects of disability, including human growth and development; principles of psychiatric rehabilitation; case management and rehabilitation planning; issues and ethics in rehabilitation service delivery; technological adaptation; vocational evaluation and work adjustment; career counseling; and job development and placement. In addition, students often take required or elective courses in such areas as group counseling, marriage and family counseling, substance abuse rehabilitation, juvenile and adult offender rehabilitation, developmental disabilities, communication disorders, sign language, stress management, psychological testing, and rehabilitation administration.
Licensure, Certification, and Registration
Certification and licensure of rehabilitation counselors help protect the public and provide a means of identifying those individuals who possess the minimum training and meet supervised work experience standards established by professional groups and governmental agencies.
Certification: The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC), an independent credentialing body incorporated in 1974, certifies rehabilitation counselor throughout the United States and in several other countries who meet educational and work experience requirements, pass an examination, and maintain certification by completing 100 hours of acceptable continuing education credits every 5 years.
Licensure: A counseling license is a credential authorized by a state legislature that regulates the title and/or practice of professional counselors. Rehabilitation counselors are eligible for licensure as professional counselors in nearly all states that regulate counselors; licensure requirements include passing an examination, acquiring needed supervised counseling experience, and, in some states, completing specified coursework.
Registration: A number of state workers’ compensation laws or regulations specify education, training, and/or credentials requirements for people providing rehabilitation counseling services to workers with disabilities. In these states, rehabilitation counselors pay a fee and provide proof of education and/or certification to register with the state workers’ compensation agency. Most of these states also require the certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) credential, although the permitted scope of services may vary from one state to the next.
National Rehabilitation Counseling Association
8807 Sudley Rd., #102
Manassas, VA 22110-4719
American Rehabilitation Counseling Association
1835 Rohlwing Rd., Suite E,
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
National Association of Rehabilitation Professionals in the Private Sector
PO Box 697
Brookline, MA 02146
Rehabilitation Counseling Program
Rehabilitation Services and Disability Studies
263 Alden St.
Springfield, MA 01109-3787
413-748-3318 (phone) 413-748-3787 (fax)
Or, please feel free to contact the Rehabilitation and Disability Studies Department's Chair, Robert Hewes via e-mail.