Rebuilding Lives: The Work of Clinical Rehabilitation Counselors

Clinical Rehabilitation Counselors at work.

It’s no surprise that people who are driven by a desire to help others often find themselves working in the health professions. While doctors follow their calling by working to help the sick and injured, counselors help people navigate the obstacles of the inner life. With mental health conditions on the rise in America, qualified counselors are in high demand. What is often misunderstood is that clinical rehabilitation counselors are equipped to work with this population, as well as others. 

“I think we’re a pretty great-kept secret,” states Dr. Rebecca Sametz, director of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling. The program is offered through TTUHSC’s School of Health Professions. 

Sametz knew when she started college that she wanted to help heal the injured, but she didn’t discover the field of clinical rehabilitation counseling until two years into her studies. She began school pursuing a materials engineering degree, which she planned to use to develop a synthetic skin replacement for injured veterans, particularly those who had lost limbs. But when she realized that a player on the youth soccer team she coached was struggling with a learning disability, she shifted her focus. “I just didn’t know what I could do to make things easier for that person. So I ended up doing research to find out where I could get that knowledge and I stumbled on the field of clinical rehabilitation counseling.” Within this field, she could help people of all ages and personal backgrounds adjust to various disabilities they faced. “I think it’s a missed opportunity for a lot of students who are interested in working with people with disabilities.” 

What Makes Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling Unique? 

“This is a valid question because I think a lot of the counseling professions tend to overlap with one another. It’s a little confusing both for potential students and for clients who are searching for services,” says Sametz. The differentiating factor for clinical rehabilitation counseling is that its client base focuses on people with disabilities. The range of disabilities addressed in clinical rehabilitation counseling includes chronic health conditions, injuries, acquired physical disabilities such as vision loss or an illness, social disabilities, mental health issues, substance abuse, or managing grief and trauma. 

Sametz says one of the most rewarding and important roles of a clinical rehabilitation counselor is allowing people with disabilities to find their niche in life, both personally and professionally.  “We work with clients who are trying to regain or maintain their sense of independence and worth within the community. And that’s very broad,” she explains. “It could be career-related, it could be independent-living related where we might be helping them with mobility and transportation, and it may be providing adaptive equipment that allows people to continue working in jobs where they’re doing the things they enjoy.”  

Clinical rehabilitation counseling also helps people returning from military service reintegrate into civilian life. In these cases, services are usually administered through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs or other state workforce agencies. Clinical rehabilitation counseling can play a vital role in helping veterans manage physical injuries or the psychological repercussions of their service, and in finding ways to translate the skills they acquired while serving. “We can help veterans who have returned from service to look for a job that’s equivalent to the job they did when they were in the service, and we help them reestablish that sense of worth within their community,” Sametz says. 

A clinical rehabilitation counselor’s caseload may also include people who are returning to the community after incarceration. Because the events that lead to incarceration are sometimes related to issues such as learning disabilities, and because disabilities may be acquired during incarceration, clinical rehabilitation counselors can help these clients rebuild meaningful lives as productive members of their communities. 

Helping children with disabilities is also a big part of a clinical rehabilitation counselor’s world. “We are equipped to work with everyone across the lifespan. Clinical rehabilitation counselors often are working with individuals in the middle school and high school age groups because they’re preparing for that transition from school to adult life or postsecondary education,” says Sametz. 

How and Where People Find Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling 

Clients needing clinical rehabilitation counseling often learn about the field and get connected to their counselors through state and federal agencies. Workforce agencies employ clinical rehabilitation counselors to help job seekers with disabilities identify career paths and find meaningful work. 

Clinical rehabilitation counselors also work in hospitals, helping people reintegrate into their lives after injury or illness. They are also commonly employed in schools, where they play a vital role in helping students with disabilities prepare for their transitions out of school, whether it be into work life or into postsecondary education. Additionally, colleges and universities employ clinical rehabilitation counselors within their disability centers to aid students with disabilities achieve their educational goals and transition to professional careers. 

Although part of clinical rehabilitation counseling is managing the emotional barriers related to disabilities, in some cases a client might benefit from a combination of mental health counseling and clinical rehabilitation counseling, especially when it comes to integrating into the world of work. “We are there when someone is ready to transition back into the community,” says Sametz. “Psychotherapists could refer clients to us when clients are ready for that transition back to work or ready for that transition to living more independently within the community.” 

What Qualifications Are Needed to Work in Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling? 

Qualified clinical rehabilitation counselors should possess a certified rehabilitation counselor credential, and many may possess a state license to provide services. While each state has its own specific licensing requirements, passing the certified rehabilitation counseling or national counseling exam, in addition to completing a master’s degree from an institution accredited by the Council for Accreditation in Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) is needed. The study toward a master’s in clinical rehabilitation counseling culminates with an internship in a clinical setting.  

After earning a license and certification, clinical rehabilitation counselors need to periodically take continuing education courses to maintain it. 

What Characteristics Make a Good Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor? 

In her experience as the director of TTUHSC’s Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling program, Sametz has observed some key personal characteristics that make a clinical rehabilitation counselor successful:

  • Communication skills. Clinical rehabilitation counselors must be able to convey information to clients of various backgrounds in a way they can understand and implement.
  • Interpersonal skills. Because they interact regularly not only with clients, but also with client families, employers or potential employers, agency staff, and professionals, clinical rehabilitation counselors need to be able to build productive working relationships.
  • Empathy. In order to truly help people, counselors need to put themselves in their clients’ shoes and to treat them compassionately.
  • Listening skills. Counselors need to understand what their clients tell them, even when clients experience difficulty expressing themselves.
  • Patience. As their clients confront the many challenges posed by their disabilities, counselors need to provide consistent support, regardless of setbacks along the way. 

The Flexibility of the Online Degree 

TTUHSC’s master’s in clinical rehabilitation counseling is a fully distance-based program, with all of its coursework, except the required practicum and internship, conducted through web conferencing tools. The practicum and internship are completed onsite at approved institutions where students reside. “We have a clinical coordinator in our department who helps students identify appropriate places to complete their practicum and internship, and these places must meet our accreditation standards,” says Sametz. “I have a student who recently graduated who was in Hawaii and was able to do the clinical work there at a Veteran’s Affairs agency where she was currently employed.” 

TTUHSC’s master’s in clinical rehabilitation counseling program contracts with institutions across the country and each student is assigned a supervisor at that institution. The onsite supervisor collaborates with TTUHSC clinical rehabilitation counseling faculty to evaluate the student. 

TTUHSC’s Commitment to Rural Communities 

Counseling professions are at the forefront of the booming trend toward telehealth practice within the health professions. TTUHSC’s master’s in clinical rehabilitation counseling program strongly emphasizes telehealth both as a component of the future of health care generally and as a way of directly implementing TTUHSC’s commitment to serving the rural communities of Texas. 

“For us, telehealth is huge,” Sametz emphasizes. “Someone could have a counseling session, that typically lasts around 50 minutes, but it could take somebody four hours to get here. That individual could have five children, no spouse, and would need to get childcare in addition to the transportation here and then turn around and leave again. In that case, are we really providing the best quality service that we can?” 

The implausibility of traveling long distances to appointments is compounded when a client is already dealing with disabilities that can make traveling especially difficult. A robust telehealth program, which includes strict protocols for client privacy, removes the distance barrier for residents of even the state’s most remote regions. 

Students pursuing TTUHSC’s Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation are eligible to earn a certificate in telehealth, ensuring they are on health care’s cutting edge as they embark on their careers. 

TTUHSC’s Commitment to Veterans

TTUHSC’s students working toward degrees in the health professions can also earn a Graduate Certificate in Veteran’s Services. This one-of-a-kind program was spearheaded by Sametz who recognized that too often, military personnel returning from service receive health care and counseling from practitioners who don’t fully relate to or have an understanding of the experiences and realities associated with military service. 

“The certificate program’s design is based on the fact that there are not enough healthcare professions that are equipped to work with military professionals returning to civilian life,” Sametz explains. “Our goal is not necessarily to simulate an environment, but it does provide health care professionals more knowledge and understanding of the psychosocial, social, vocational, and health needs of veterans, and the impact of those needs upon the veteran and their families.” 

The courses help students enter their chosen health professions with a much more solid grounding in how military service impacts not only service members, but their spouses and children. Students also gain an understanding of various motivations people have for choosing service. The program also highlights differences in veterans’ perspectives based on when and where they have served.  As Sametz puts it, “Services are person-centered and individualistic; meaning that someone who served in World War II will have a different outlook than someone who has served recently.”. 

Earning the certificate gives TTUHSC graduates an opportunity to give back to enlisted personnel by offering them a better quality of care and the recognition they deserve, and it also provides a specialization that distinguishes them within their professional fields. 

The Growing Need for Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling

This work of rebuilding lives is a hot field within the health professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with clinical rehabilitation counseling jobs expected to increase by 10% between 2018 and 2028. This may be, in part, because disabilities today are more readily recognized and more fully understood than before. Sametz cites autism as an example of a condition with a rapidly growing knowledge base and improving treatments accessible through clinical rehabilitation counseling.

While job security and high compensation are good reasons to enter a field, Sametz maintains that job satisfaction is the primary motivator for those interested in a clinical rehabilitation counseling career. “This career is for someone wanting a job with some kind of giveback. You want that human connection and you get a warm feeling when you see your clients achieve things you’re setting them up to do.”

Visit the TTUHSC School of Health Professions Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling program to learn more about the online degree and explore how to find your place in a profession that rebuilds lives. You can also email us at or phone 806-743-3220 to get more information.

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