Rehabilitation counseling is a recognized specialization in the counseling profession. It is an area of practice that focuses on delivering counseling services to people with cognitive, emotional, developmental, and physical disabilities. Counseling individuals with disabilities and working with their families presents unique challenges. It requires specific knowledge of different types of disabilities and their psychosocial and physical effects. It also requires targeted training in the counseling techniques that are most effective for people who have disabilities. Master’s programs in rehabilitation counseling are the primary way of learning the skills associated with this area of counseling. Like substance abuse counselors and marriage and family therapists – two other common counseling specializations – rehabilitation counselors are trained in general theories and methods of clinical counseling. What sets rehabilitation counselors apart is the additional instruction they receive in the application of these theories and methods to those suffering from disabilities.
People with disabilities represent a population that has traditionally required specialized assistance with vocational training, community integration, and the development of skills to live independently. Rehabilitation counseling is one of the several health and human services sector professions that address this need. Rehabilitation counseling is a process that encompasses the psychological assessment and psychotherapeutic treatment of individuals with a range of physical and mental handicaps and disabilities. Rehabilitation counselors are trained to provide individual and group therapy. They work with children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly, and offer counseling services to families as well. The goal of rehabilitation counseling is to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities by assessing their needs, and providing clinical counseling treatment that addresses emotional, behavioral, and social adjustment problems.
A master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling is the most widely recognized and accepted method for acquiring the skills and training necessary to become a licensed professional in the field, or a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC). Online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs offer this training through online coursework and on-site supervised internships that help prepare students for state licensure as a CRC. These programs may or may not be accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), which is voluntary. However, most programs adhere to the curricular standards set by CORE, which include at least 700 hours of supervised clinical experience in rehabilitation counseling in the form of a practicum and internships. This clinical experience must be completed on site at a facility approved by the program.
Many online master’s in rehabilitation programs offer all of their classroom instruction online. However, some programs may require students to attend a limited number of instructional campus visits, also known as immersions or intensives. OnlineEducation.com classifies any program that requires more than two campus visits per year as a hybrid program and not an online program. At this time, only online programs (i.e. those that require two or fewer campus visits per year) are included on the site.
Just as rehabilitation counseling is a widely accepted clinical specialization that is both related to and separate from general mental health counseling, master’s programs in rehabilitation counseling occupy a unique and recognizable niche in counselor education. These program typically offer coursework that is in keeping with the curricular standards set by CORE and by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the organization that offers accreditation to clinical and mental health counseling programs. This includes training in several general areas: theories of counseling and mental health assessment; psychotherapy and its applications; and professional counseling ethics and practices. Additionally, online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs provide targeted training in areas that are specific to evaluating and assisting disabled persons in various facets of their lives, including work, family, and community integration.
While online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs are generally named accordingly, there is some variation in what these programs are called. The following are some typical names for these programs:
OnlineEducation.com conducts independent research of regionally accredited, non-profit schools offering online master’s programs in counseling, and classifies these programs based on their curricula. Online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs must offer coursework and internship/practicum experience that meets the general standards set by CORE and CACREP. This includes instruction in core counseling theories and principles, as well as specialized training in counseling those with disabilities. The coursework in these programs must be offered online, with no more than two campus visits required per year.
The curricular criteria OnlineEducation.com uses to classify programs as online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs include the following:
There are two main areas of study that comprise a master’s degree curriculum in rehabilitation counseling. The first covers general training in theories and practices of counseling, including individual, group, and family counseling processes, developmental psychology, and legal and ethical issues in counseling. In addition, many rehabilitation counseling programs include at least one general course that addresses issues of cultural diversity as they relate to the counseling profession, and may include additional coursework in areas like behavioral research methods, addiction treatment, and crisis counseling.
The second major area of instruction and training in an online master’s in rehabilitation counseling program encompasses coursework and supervised clinical training in counseling individuals with disabilities. This includes instruction in theories that are specific to rehabilitation counseling, and in the principles of the rehabilitation process. Students in these programs study the biological and psychological aspects of various disabilities, and how this can impact the counseling process. The practical application of this knowledge is then explored in clinical settings through practicums and internships at approved rehabilitation counseling sites.
The following chart includes example courses drawn from actual online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs:
|Course Title||Course Description|
|Principles of Rehabilitation Counseling||An overview of the history, theories, and methods used in the field of rehabilitation counseling.|
|Human Growth, Disability, & Development Across the Lifespan||An examination of accepted theories of human development across the lifespan, and how they relate to persons with disabilities.|
|Rehabilitation Counseling Theories and Techniques||An introduction to the specific techniques used to provide counseling to individuals and groups in rehabilitation counseling.|
|Case Management in Rehabilitation Counseling||An overview of the how goal development, planning, and the delivery of rehabilitation services are coordinated with community resources in the rehabilitation process.|
|Crisis, Disaster, and Trauma Response to Persons With Disabilities||An introduction to the ways in which crisis intervention and trauma counseling services are delivered to persons with various types of disabilities.|
|Vocational Evaluation and Career Planning in Rehabilitation||A look at the role vocational training and job planning plays in rehabilitation counseling.|
|Cultural Competencies in Rehabilitation Counseling||An overview of cultural and social diversity issues that are relevant to rehabilitation counseling.|
Admissions requirements for an online master’s in rehabilitation counseling differ by program. Most programs provide a clear list of their admissions policies on their websites. The primary prerequisite is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college or university. Programs may also require the submission of standardized test scores (usually the GRE) and have a minimum undergraduate GPA requirement. In some cases, prior coursework in psychology, counseling, or a related field may be required or preferred.
Online counseling programs are designed to offer flexibility to students who may have significant family or work obligations outside of school. Online instruction is typically more accommodating to these students than traditional campus-based instruction as there is no need to commute to campus for lectures. However, there are at least three major structural differences in online programs that can be important in weighing the benefits of one program over another: synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction; part-time vs. full-time enrollment; and the number of required campus visits.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Online lectures can either be presented live in real-time, or they can be posted for on-demand access. This defines the essential difference between the two primary modes of online instruction: synchronous and asynchronous.
Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: Some online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs offer more or less flexibility when it comes to how many classes students are required to take each semester or term. There are full-time programs, which may require students to follow a set sequence of courses; there are part-time programs, which allow a certain amount of leeway in terms of how many courses students take per semester; and there are programs that offer both options. For students who have significant work and/or family commitments outside of school, part-time programs offer a degree of scheduling flexibility from term to term. However, taking fewer credits per term does extend the time to completion for the program. Full-time enrollment involves managing more classes each term, but students in these programs are more likely to graduate in a set period of time. The typical time completion for an online master’s in rehabilitation counseling is 18 to 24 months for full-time students (which can include year-round instruction), and three or more years for part-time students.
Practicums, Internships, and Campus Visits: Online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs have internship and practicum requirements that must be completed on-site at an approved counseling facility. In most cases, students can complete these experiential learning requirements at an approved site in their local area. In cases where a nearby site cannot be found, students may have to travel 1-2 hours to find an approved facility. Some programs match students to approved sites, while others require students to find their own placements.
Some online programs require students to make a limited number of campus visits as part of the instructional coursework, while others do not. These campus-based sessions, also called immersions or intensives, give students the opportunity to meet with instructors and classmates, and may foster a greater sense of connectivity among students. They often include in-person lectures, demonstrations, workshops, and networking events. They may also include orientations and testing. Students should note that these campus visits require additional travel expenses, which are typically not included in tuition costs and fees, and they may not be convenient for all online students. OnlineEducation.com does not currently include programs that require more than two campus visits per year in our database of online master’s in counseling programs.