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7 Things to Expect From Rehabilitation Counselors and Programs

Tim Truzy is a rehabilitation counselor, educator, and former dispatcher from North Carolina.

Rehabilitation counselors can be found working in private practice or government agencies like the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Durham, NC.

Rehabilitation counselors can be found working in private practice or government agencies like the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Durham, NC.

Who Is the Rehabilitation Counselor?

The rehabilitation counselor assists individuals with disabilities in finding and maintaining employment. In addition, the mental health professional helps people with physical, psychological, emotional and other disabilities in achieving goals in life. Through a planned program of services, the rehabilitation counselor and his/her client work together to reduce or eliminate issues which could impact independent living or interfere with employment. The rehabilitation counselor works with a variety of other skilled professionals to accomplish a positive outcome. Once the planned program is finished, the rehabilitation counselor closes the case.

Furthermore, the rehabilitation counselor understands accommodations and modifications, as well as specialized technologies for people with disabilities. She/he uses the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) to perform the duties of his/her profession. These professionals can be found in federal, state, and local agencies. They also may work for insurance companies. The rehabilitation counselor holds a master degree in his/her field. I worked as a rehabilitation counselor for years, and the opportunity to help others is the most valuable feeling a human being could have. Below are seven things you can expect when you participate in a rehabilitation program and interact with a rehabilitation counselor:

Seven Things to Expect from the Rehabilitation Counselor and the Rehabilitation Program

  1. Initial Interview - After receiving a referral, the rehabilitation counselor schedules a meeting with the applicant. During this initial interview, the counselor discusses medical situation, educational background, work history, and other factors relevant to the applicants’ eligibility for rehabilitation services. The rehabilitation counselor discusses plans for any needed evaluations and seeks to gather any necessary documents to help him/her open a case for the applicant.
  2. Determination of Eligibility – When documents pertaining to the applicants’ current level of functioning are received, then the rehabilitation counselor makes a determination regarding eligibility for rehabilitation services. If the gathered data indicates the presence of a disability and other criteria are met, then a case is opened. The rehabilitation counselor will then move the case forward. The applicant is then known as a “client” or “consumer.” If the criteria for eligibility are not met, then the application is rejected.
  3. Development of a Rehabilitation Plan – The rehabilitation counselor next meets with the client when the case is opened and develops a planned program of rehabilitation services. This plan is written and the client receives a copy of the document. Basically, the plan spells out what the client will do and what the rehabilitation counselor will do to complete the process. Rehabilitation plans can extend for various amounts of time depending on the needs of the client and the eventual vocational goal.
  4. Service Delivery – Services on a rehabilitation plan can be vastly different because rehabilitation programs are individualized. Some people may require medical assistance. Others may simply require help finding work. Training at universities and/or specialized technology may be included in the plan. Throughout the rehabilitation program, every client receives intensive counseling and guidance, but services can vary widely.
  5. Possibility of Change – Clients are people, and sometimes circumstances change. For example, a client may have more medical needs than originally planned. More training for a particular type of job may be necessary. Any number of factors could cause a need to adjust the rehabilitation plan. A planned program of rehabilitation services is flexible for this reason. The rehabilitation counselor can meet with the client to address these changes and make “amendments.” This may not be needed for all clients, but it is something to be aware of during the rehabilitation process.
  6. Job Placement – Once a client has received services and met any number of specified goals on the rehabilitation plan, he/she is ready to find or maintain employment. The rehabilitation counselor and consumer will work to locate employment consistent with the vocational goal on the rehabilitation plan.
  7. Case Closure and Follow up – Once a client is successfully working, the rehabilitation counselor closes the case, meeting with the client to do so. Although the case is closed, the rehabilitation counselor will engage in “follow-up” services, making sure the client is still able to perform successfully in life and on the job.
Rehabilitation in America has a history related to war.

Rehabilitation in America has a history related to war.

Short History of Rehabilitation Counseling

The need for rehabilitation in the United States was apparent after the American Civil War which lasted from 1861 until 1865. Soldiers were returning home with injuries. Many of these warriors had the desire to work. But there was little work available for wounded warriors. This became clear again after other conflicts until the end of World War II in 1945. At the conclusion of the global conflict, veterans began to demand action from the federal government.

Wounded military veterans and other groups marched and protested across the country. They carried flags like the one in the photo. America’s former fighters asked: “Why aren’t we seen as valuable citizens? We fought the war for our country, and now we are forgotten.”

The Congress of the U.S. heard the cry of the veterans and other groups, passing legislation to aid them in finding employment and addressing discrimination. These laws include: The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Civil Rights legislation of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The rehabilitation counselor emerged as the expert in matching workers who have disabilities with appropriate jobs. The rehabilitation counselor has the powerful incentive to make sure these Americans are seen as valued by society. Ironically, out of one of the most brutal human endeavors, a humane profession was born.

Rehabilitation counselors work with various professionals in the medical field and law enforcement when necessary to assist their clients.

Rehabilitation counselors work with various professionals in the medical field and law enforcement when necessary to assist their clients.

Different Types of Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors approach clients (consumers) with a holistic perspective. This means all areas of life must be considered with regard to the person’s rehabilitation program. Those areas include, but are not limited to: economic situation, medical condition, as well as psychological adjustment to disability. The counselor also examines legal situations. Such things as stable domestic life and reliable transportation are also taken into consideration during the rehabilitation process. For this reason, doctors, occupational and/or physical therapists, and police officers along with other professionals may be active in the rehabilitation process. Below are the different types of rehabilitation counselors and what they usually do during a rehabilitation program and some final thoughts on rehabilitation:

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  • General Rehabilitation Counselor – This professional does all of the duties described above. All rehabilitation counselors carry caseloads. Some rehabilitation counselors may have the below specialty areas in helping clients.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor – This rehabilitation counselor specializes in working with people who have chemical dependency issues. These professionals understand the process of addiction. They are specialist in recognizing the dynamics of substance abuse, employment, and functioning successfully in society. They may work with law enforcement to assist the client as the rehabilitation program moves forward.
  • Vocational Evaluator – This rehabilitation counselor specializes in performing tests to determine what work a client may be able to do. They may conduct career assessments. These professionals think in original ways to accommodate the needs of the client in testing and finding employment.

Thinking about Rehabilitation

Most people may have heard of rehabilitation related to chemical dependency or even incarceration. These aspects of the field are important, but rehabilitation involves more than that. Rehabilitation means to attempt to make a person “whole” again after experiencing some substantial life altering experience. Rehabilitation counselors are there for individuals who are trying to find some sense of self-worth and understand that they are valued in the society. In fact, since rehabilitation counselors focus on helping people find employment, it tends to be an area which benefits society and eventually, pays for itself. Therefore, rehabilitation counselors contribute to positive societal goals.


Marini, I., Glover-Graf, N. M., & Millington, M. J. (2018). Psychosocial aspects of disability insider perspectives and counseling strategies. New York: Springer Pub.

Parker, R. M. (1987). Rehabilitation counseling: Basics & beyond. Austin: Pro-Ed.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on August 10, 2020:

The ADA turned 30 years old this year. People with disabilities have become more involved with society, applying adaptive technologies whenever possible. Likewise, people with disabilities have had the development of smartphone apps to help them with hearing aids, controlling various appliances, and as tools for living independently. We wish you a happy birthday ADA.

Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on July 26, 2018:

With the surge in the use of opioids to epidemic rates in the U.S., more than ever, the public needs to have more awareness of the rehabilitation counselor and his/her functions in society. Although some medical professionals may have some knowledge of substance abuse and how to treat it, the rehabilitation counselor understands the biochemical and psychological aspects of addiction and how to address these areas together in life. He/she also understand how addiction can impact work performance and motivation. These are some of the reasons which motivated me to write this article.



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