Besides being one of the 50 highest paying master’s degrees, a graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling prepares you for a fulfilling career helping others. Assisting people who have some sort of disability, chronic illness or injury or another type of medical condition that interferes with their life is an important job. However, you need more than a graduate degree and thousands of hours of clinical experience to work in this role. The best rehabilitation counselors are patient and compassionate communicators who listen to their clients and think critically about ways to solve the problems brought about by health complications, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Patience and Compassion
Much of your success as a rehabilitation counselor depends on your temperament and personality and the soft skills you cultivate. Although you can certainly put in the effort to enhance your ability to empathize with others and feel comfortable with slow progress, it helps to be a naturally patient, compassionate person.
The individuals who have medical conditions that affect their lives – and their families – often have strong emotions around those conditions and any circumstances that caused them. A child with a lifelong disability may feel sad that they don’t get to do the things other children their age do and isolated from other children as a result. An adult who has been stricken with a serious illness or catastrophically injured in an accident may feel distraught at their sudden loss of independence.
As a rehabilitation counselor, it’s important to be sensitive to your clients’ feelings and their pain. Even if certain situations may call for a “tough love” approach to helping clients, your role is to motivate clients and help them reach their potential, never to discourage them from doing the best they can do.
Patience is particularly important for rehabilitation counselors because improvement in these situations can take a long time and a lot of baby steps. It can take a while to develop a plan that fits the individual’s needs, strengths, resources, and support system. Implementing and fine-tuning that plan can take even longer. Sometimes you need to recognize the small improvements and successes – and even be the one to point those successes out to your clients as encouragement.
Rehabilitation is a journey, not a destination. When your clients are too frustrated or discouraged to feel patient with themselves, your patience, compassion and belief in them are what can make the difference between your clients giving up or pushing through.
Listening and Communication Skills
One of the most important ways rehabilitation counselors demonstrate their patience and compassion is through their communication. Communication skills are vital in rehabilitation counseling. These skills are what help you understand the needs of the client and their family or support system, collaborate with the individual’s care team on a treatment plan and identify opportunities, strategies and resources that can help.
The way you talk to clients and their families matters, but so does the way you listen to them. Good rehabilitation counselors need strong skills in active listening, according to O*NET. This means not only allowing the person space to talk but also giving their words and non-verbal cues your complete attention. Active listening encompasses making the speaker feel heard by not interrupting, asking relevant and insightful questions that show that you understand what the speaker is saying and being able to reiterate their message and ask for clarification when needed.
Being able to listen to clients or their families without judgment is a crucial counselor skill. A positive outlook can help patients make strides toward greater independence and quality of life, but judging a client for feeling discouraged, burnt out, sad or angry isn’t helpful.
It takes a surprising amount of creativity to be a good rehabilitation counselor. You don’t have to be an artist or a wordsmith, but you do need to be able to think critically and resourcefully to identify problems and potential solutions.
Rehabilitation counseling emphasizes finding and creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities and chronic medical conditions. That may include, for example, coming up with job roles and work arrangements that a disabled person could succeed in, understanding realistic pros and cons related to these options and taking steps to make those plans a reality.
Some potential job duties of rehabilitation counselors include finding programs and resources for their clients and working with employers to educate them on compliance with disability laws and what accommodations employees may need in the workforce.