Rehabilitation Psychologist Careers

What is Rehabilitation Psychology?

Rehabilitation psychology focuses on assisting individuals with cognitive issues, developmental disabilities, psychosocial problems, and other chronic physical and mental health conditions to cope with their disability in order to lead as normal a life as possible. Primary concern revolves around rehabilitation in the social, emotional, and health-related spheres. Maximizing clients’ welfare and level of independence are other primary areas of emphasis.

As in other realms of psychology, rehabilitation psychology is wide in scope, both in terms of the services provided and the clients who are served. Rehabilitation psychology includes clinical practice, consultation, policy creation, and advocacy, to name a few. Clients can run the gamut from individuals with AIDS or other life-threatening illnesses to those with spinal cord injuries to those addicted to drugs or alcohol.

What is the Nature of Work for a Rehabilitation Psychologist?

Rehabilitation psychologists are concerned with helping individuals with a chronic disease or disability cope with the mental and physical strain that their disabilities present. Rehabilitation psychologists may work with general populations, treating people with a wide variety of problems that relate to their overall physical or mental health. However, many rehabilitation psychologists also specialize in a particular field and only work with clients that fit certain criteria, such as victims of domestic violence or veterans of the armed services.

A primary duty of rehabilitation psychologists is to assess clients to determine the cause and nature of the difficulties they are facing and recommend avenues for promoting optimal functioning. Rehabilitation psychologists do this in a number of ways. They might observe clients as they carry out daily tasks, conduct interviews with the client and his or her friends and family, and administer examinations to test for disorders that impact their mental, emotional, cognitive, or social functioning.

Once a rehabilitation psychologist has assessed and diagnosed the client, they move on to designing a course of treatment. Treatment can be provided in several distinct ways:

  • Counseling – Individual or group therapy may be undertaken in order to help the client build social or emotional skills, facilitate personal growth, or address unresolved mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
  • Substance abuse treatment – Inpatient or outpatient services may be recommended in order to help a client overcome their addiction and begin to repair damaged relationships.
  • Coordination of services – Working with physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, vocational counselors, and other service providers, rehabilitation psychologists often help bring together the various services a client needs in order to make positive steps forward in their life.

The manner in which rehabilitation psychologists carry out these duties is impacted by their clientele and the environment in which they work. As mentioned above, some rehabilitation psychologists work in highly specialized fields, so a psychologist that works with veterans will have a much different method of care and interaction with their client than would a psychologist that works exclusively with developmentally disabled children.

What is the Employment Outlook for Rehabilitation Psychologist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of rehabilitation psychology is expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 10 percent between now and 2028. Jobs in the field are growing at such a rapid pace in large part to the aging population that requires an increased level of rehabilitative services in order to maintain a good quality of life. Other groups, such as veterans, people with physical disabilities, and the mentally ill, are also common consumers of rehabilitation psychology services, thus providing additional growth for jobs in this area.

The largest employer for rehabilitation psychologists is the vocational rehabilitation services industry. In fact, nearly 10 percent of all rehabilitation psychologists work in that specialized field. Residential facilities, such as those for individuals with intellectual or physical disabilities, are also primary employers of rehabilitation psychologists. Demand for rehabilitation psychologists in these industries is expected to remain fairly robust and represent the greatest opportunities for employment in this field.

How Much Does a Rehabilitation Psychologist Make?

Rehabilitation psychology is one of the lesser paying specializations in the field. According to the BLS, the average annual salary for rehabilitation counselors is $35,950. Workers in the bottom 10 percent of earners, such as those new to the field with little or no experience, make less than $23,820 per year. However, individuals with an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree or a doctorate, and workers with several years of experience in the field, can expect to make earnings in the top ten percent, which is just under $60,000 per year.

The industry in which one works heavily influences the salary as well. Rehabilitation psychologists that work for social services agencies earn on average just over $30,000 per year. This is somewhat reflective of the lack of funding for social service organizations. Conversely, state government agencies pay much better, averaging $63,790 in annual wages.

What Degree is Required for a Rehabilitation Psychologist?

As with most areas of psychology, the higher the education an individual has, the better off they are because more job opportunities are available for individuals as their level of education increases. In fact, some states require rehabilitation psychologists to have a doctorate, making it difficult for some master’s level workers to find employment.

Doctoral programs can be undertaken only after undergraduate and graduate studies have been completed. Bachelor’s degree programs in psychology or social work are highly recommended, as both focus on the foundational skills and knowledge that future psychologists will need to provide effective services to their clients. Upon completion of a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree program in psychology or counseling is suggested. These programs can take from three to five years to complete, depending on the number of credits required. There is often an internship component as well, which may require a student to complete upwards of 1,000 hours of supervised work.

Doctorate programs can last from five to seven years. A central focus of doctoral studies is on original research. Defense of a dissertation is required as well. On-the-job training in the form of internships and post-doctoral studies are additionally required before professional practice can be undertaken.

Certification as a rehabilitation psychologist is available through the American Board of Rehabilitation Psychology. Certification can be earned by having the proper educational requirements and passing a board exam. Maintenance of certification requires ongoing professional development. State-level oversight boards determine licensure requirements. Passage of a written exam is also required, and as with certification, continuing education credits are required to maintain licensure.

What are the Careers in Rehabilitation Psychology?

This branch of psychology allows for many career options. Rehabilitation psychologists often work in acute care hospitals, helping individuals with serious injuries and illnesses. Someone in this field at such a hospital would help a terminal cancer patient cope, be there for someone struggling with glaucoma causing them to go blind, or help their families cope along with them.

Other career options include working for drug rehabilitation centers or physical therapy offices. At drug rehab centers, a rehabilitation psychologist would help patients cope with withdrawal symptoms, the difficulty of overcoming addiction, and teach them how to live ‘normal’ lives again, without substances. At a physical therapy center, a rehabilitation psychologist might help counsel the all-star track athlete who broke his leg and cannot compete at the national championship.

A rehabilitation psychologist might help a paraplegic learn how to function in day-to-day life, while providing emotional support throughout the journey.

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