All You Need To Know About Rehabilitation Counseling

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster
Updated November 13, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Physical And Mental Health Often Go Together

While most people associate the term "rehabilitation" with recovering from substance use disorder, the definition of rehabilitation is generally "to be restored to one's former capacity." While this can refer to sobriety, it can also refer to good health status after someone has been in a car accident, for example. In this case, rehabilitation can be necessary to help the person's muscles return to their formerly functional capacity or as close to that capacity as possible. Rehabilitation psychology often falls under the umbrella of rehabilitation counseling as well. If you’re looking for rehabilitation counseling in the form of mental health help, an online therapy platform can be an excellent place to begin.

What Does A Rehabilitation Counselor Do?

A rehabilitation counselor, or rehabilitation specialist, usually helps someone who has experienced a disabling accident, whether it's a car accident or an accident incurred at the workplace. They may also work with people experiencing conditions that impact their daily lives, such as those with muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, or who incurred injuries resulting from being at war.

A rehabilitation counselor may not only work with a person's physical disabilities. They can also help a client cope with emotional challenges, such as trauma or other mental conditions that can have a negative effect on a person's everyday activities. For this reason, a rehabilitation counselor may also be known as a "rehabilitation psychologist."

The rehabilitation counselor's job is normally to figure out what the client needs and determine the best ways to help that client. The counselor may set goals for the client and then work with the client to help them meet those goals or come as close to meeting them as possible.

Can Anyone Be A Rehabilitation Counselor?

Being a rehabilitation counselor normally entails having a particular set of skills, in addition to the education and certifications that are often required. For one thing, you usually must be emotionally stable to ensure that you wake up every day ready, willing, and able to take on your cases. This job generally involves working with frustrated people, so you may need to be mentally strong to encourage them to keep trying.

It is often best to be an excellent communicator, which can mean both talking and listening. You normally will hear what your clients are saying, understand their needs, and communicate back to them a treatment plan that is easy to comprehend. Being a great communicator can also be helpful for all the human connections you may need to make in a given case, from families and counselors to the client's doctors and employer.

Perhaps most importantly, you must generally be a patient person to be a rehabilitation counselor. You will likely spend many hours working one-on-one with your clients, and that may mean long hours spent teaching your clients the necessary coping skills to effectively overcome their disabilities and get the most they possibly can out of life.

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Work Environments

What each rehabilitation counselor does on an average day can vary widely, depending on the place in which they work. For example, a rehabilitation counselor who works for a nonprofit agency will likely spend their day helping those with disabilities find a job, housing, and help with mental health services or educational opportunities.

As one might expect, a rehabilitation counselor who works in a school setting works mainly with children. Those who work in nursing homes usually help the elderly cope with the chronic pain and disabilities present in their later years.

Rehabilitation counselors who work in practice may be tasked with taking on more responsibilities than those who work in other types of work environments. These counselors are usually responsible for advertising their services and filing their claims with insurance companies. They are not usually employed by an agency that could otherwise take these things for them.

Rehabilitation Psychology

Rehabilitation psychologists normally help those living with substance use disorder and those who are coping with cognitive, emotional, or developmental issues. Essentially, a rehabilitation psychologist can help someone who is otherwise finding it difficult to lead a normal life, with conditions ranging from learning disabilities and chronic pain to depression and anxiety, to name a few.

Rehabilitation psychologists can help clients feel more in control of their lives and give them tools to help them cope with and, when possible, overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. Rehabilitation psychologists can help people get their lives back on track and achieve their goals.

Many rehabilitation psychologists specialize in a particular focus area and may only work with clients with that condition. For instance, some psychologists may only work with clients who are experiencing substance use disorder, while others may only work with those who are coping with learning disabilities.

The field of rehabilitation psychology can be a broad one that often consists of a variety of psychological issues. For this reason, one rehabilitation psychologist may have an entirely different specialization and qualifications than another rehabilitation psychologist. What they all tend to have in common, though, is the goal to help their clients overcome or cope with their issues so they can regain control of their lives.

Physical And Mental Health Often Go Together

Types Of Rehabilitation Counseling

There can be several areas in which a rehabilitation counselor may specialize. Three areas primarily sum up most of what rehabilitation counselors do: state programs, social service programs, and college counselors.

Vocational Programs

The area in which many rehabilitation counselors are needed is usually in federally or state-funded occupational programs. Rehabilitation counselors in this area normally help people get the accommodation they need to go back to work, whether that's modified duty or updated equipment, such as a more ergonomic desk or keyboard, for example.

Every state can be different, but most counselors who work in this field have a master's degree and are certified to perform the work. If they don't have these qualifications before getting the job, they usually must agree to do so by a certain date to keep their jobs.

Social Service Programs

At this level, rehabilitation counselors normally work for nonprofit organizations in a more administrative role rather than a hands-on one. Here, counselors may supervise staff who work with those with disabilities or may direct programs for those living with disabilities. These counselors may actively engage in advocacy and community services. They can also serve as liaisons at the corporate level between companies and charitable organizations.

College Counselors

If you've ever filled out a college application and seen the section that talks about the organization's commitment to those with disabilities being reasonably accommodated, this is generally where a college disability counselor would come in. Those who work in this sector often fight for students to have such accommodations as computer equipment, like assisted listening devices and large-print software, and even note-takers to help them with whatever they may need to achieve their college goals.

Of course, each student's needs tend to be unique, and so these counselors are often trained to understand exactly what the student needs and how those needs can be met. These counselors may not just help students with physical disabilities, but may also help those with learning and psychological disabilities.


One of the most important jobs a rehabilitation psychologist can do may be to advocate on behalf of their clients to raise awareness of the condition they live with. For instance, suppose a veteran is having difficulty finding a place to live because of their condition. The rehabilitation counselor may be tasked with educating the community about the person's condition and why they should not be denied the same right as everyone else to have a place to call home. Essentially, to be a rehabilitation counselor is often to conduct community service.

While a rehabilitation counselor is not generally expected to file a lawsuit on behalf of a client treated unfairly, they often advocate for their clients by educating people on the best methods of accommodating the client's needs. For instance, if a client is unable to drive, the rehabilitation counselor can explain the situation to those who will be driving the client around, such as a bus or cab driver, so that these individuals can see to it that the client gets where they need to go with all of the necessary accommodations.

Another area where rehabilitation counselors can help is with coordinating schooling and employment for the client. For instance, the rehabilitation counselor can help a teacher or employer understand the client's condition and their accommodations to carry out their job duties or schooling. Someone with a head injury, for example, may experience behavioral issues that are beyond their control. Making others aware of these potential challenges in advance can prevent the person from being fired or thrown out of school due to a lack of education and communication on the subject.

Finding A Rehabilitation Counselor

Although many types of rehabilitation counseling must happen in person, it can be possible to rehabilitate from certain mental health conditions through online therapy. Online therapy can make it convenient and accessible to get professional help from home at a time that fits your schedule. It can also make it easy to switch therapists until you find one that you feel you can form a strong therapeutic alliance with.

As a study explains, online therapy is normally just as effective as traditional in-office therapy. It can be an excellent alternative to face-to-face therapy for many people. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and get the help you deserve if you believe you’d benefit from working with a professional to improve your mental health.


Rehabilitation counseling generally involves helping those with various disabilities to successfully live independently and achieve their goals. This type of counseling can help those who have sustained serious injuries, those who live with developmental disabilities, those with mental health disorders, and more. If you’re in search of rehabilitation counseling focused primarily on improving your mental health, you may find a suitable licensed therapist online.

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