Rehabilitation counseling may be one of the 50 highest paying master’s degrees, but how does this service career path fare under the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic? During this difficult time, rehabilitation counseling is just as important – and perhaps, even more important – than it was before the global pandemic struck. Although rehabilitation counseling looks a lot different now than it did in the days before COVID-19, rehabilitation counselors are a resourceful bunch of professionals who excel at critical thinking and problem-solving. They are using unconventional methods to ensure that this important work still gets done in a safe way.
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Understanding the Role of a Rehabilitation Counselor
To grasp how rehabilitation counseling can still be accomplished safely during the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to really understand what a rehabilitation counselor does. A rehabilitation counselor doesn’t provide physical rehabilitation services like a physical or occupational therapist does, although they may collaborate with these healthcare professionals on developing and implementing a treatment plan, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rehabilitation counselors don’t perform physical medical interventions. As a result, it’s a lot easier for rehabilitation counseling work to continue even when close-contact in-person encounters aren’t safe due to the risk of spreading an infectious disease.
Rehabilitation counselors take a holistic approach to helping individuals with any sort of disability or chronic medical condition improve their lives. While a physical therapist may be focused purely on regaining strength, function and range of motion in the patient’s muscles and limbs, a rehabilitation counselor will look more broadly at what services, resources and changes could help that individual live independently (or more independently than they currently do). They may perform a vocational assessment of the individual’s strengths, limitations and abilities and identify job training that would be suitable for that individual.
Of course, as the name of this profession suggests, rehabilitation counselors can also provide intervention with counseling techniques and therapies in individual and group sessions.
Virtual Rehabilitation Counseling
One of the ways rehabilitation counselors are continuing their work under the constraints posed by the COVID-19 virus is through virtual appointments. Individuals who have certain disabilities and chronic medical conditions may be more at risk of a serious illness or complication caused by the novel coronavirus than the average population, which makes remote counseling technology even more important. Telehealth visits with a rehabilitation counselor may feel somewhat different than traditional in-person visits, but they can be just as effective. Talk therapy, vocational assessments and an exploration of challenges to address and possible resources and solutions can all take place by phone or video chat just as they can in person.
If telehealth rehabilitation counseling isn’t advisable for a specific patient, counseling can still be safely performed with social distancing measures, such as the counselor and the client wearing facemasks when possible and maintaining physical distance.
The Need for Rehabilitation Counseling During a Pandemic
One thing that is certain is that people with a disability or a chronic medical condition need the services of skilled rehabilitation counselors more than ever during the days of COVID-19. Many programs and services are closed or running at limited capacity, which means individuals who have disabilities may not be receiving the services they usually would. For example, a child who has a developmental or learning disability may not be receiving the same services they need while physical schools are closed.
The stress, isolation and other changes that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic may contribute to emotional and mental health conditions in individuals with disabilities as well as increased burnout among their caretakers. Given the economic downturn that resulted from COVID-19, career training and job placement assistance have become even more important in helping the disabled find employment.
The pandemic is also directly affecting the field of rehabilitation counseling due to the number of COVID-19 patients who require rehabilitation as they recover from a serious infection. Patients who are hospitalized for weeks, or even months, often leave the hospital physically weakened by their long bout with the virus and the loss of muscle tone that can accompany being bedridden. Some COVID-19 patients have also suffered cognitive impairments because of the virus, Michigan Health Lab reported.
For students of rehabilitation counseling, the pandemic has impacted both coursework – whether completed through remote instruction or socially-distanced in-person instruction – and fieldwork requirements like practicum and internship experiences.