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The Real Poop

Rehab. Who knew a word could have so many meanings? Of course, the booze-related song by the late Amy Winehouse comes to mind first. However, there are several other kinds of rehab that don't involve staying off the sauce. You can rehab a house, vehicle, or boat. You can rehab your wardrobe, which is almost as much fun as buying it in the first place. You can also rehab your image, which you might want to do if you posted something inappropriate on Facebook...that your boss happened to see. Bad move.

However, we're talking careers here, not social network snafus. Specifically, we're talking Rehabilitation Counselor careers. Think of these professionals as the choreographers of the helping professions. A rehab counselor often serves as the initial, and ongoing, point of contact for a client who needs support services. The rehab counselor coordinates the efforts of psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, among others.

Specifically, rehabilitation counselors work with client groups such as the elderly and people with physical and emotional disabilities. Rehab counselors may also work with injured veterans or disabled students ready to transition to the work world. A rehabilitation counselor must possess the professional expertise, compassion, and relationship skills to work effectively with all of these clients. She must also maintain a "big picture" focus on each client's treatment plan, maintaining contact with the other professionals providing specific services to that client.

Let's look at two specific ways in which a rehabilitation counselor can assist her clients. Perhaps an elderly client has suffered a stroke, and now has impaired speech and a weakness on her left side. Her physician may recommend speech therapy, along with a physical therapy program that will hopefully help the woman regain some of her abilities. The rehab counselor meets with the woman, reviews her doctor's recommendations, and designs a treatment plan that will be supported by other professionals. The counselor also provides compassion and emotional support for the woman through the entire process.

Next, let's look at the other end of the spectrum. Our rehabilitation counselor also assists a 20-year-old disabled woman who has completed an online associate's degree in computer programming. She has an excellent command of two popular programming languages, and therefore should be employable with a local software firm. Her counselor will need to speak to her potential employer and assist with the interview and hiring process. In addition, the young woman has been living in a group home since she was 10. She will require occupational therapy and counseling to enable her to live on her own.

How do rehabilitation counselors get their clients? Are the counselors free-floating in space, waiting for a client to drift by so they can reach out and reel them in? Perhaps that occurs in some alternate universe; however, in this one, the counselors work in many easily recognizable settings. You might find them in hospitals, schools, and non-profit agencies. Rehabilitation counselors are also based in senior living facilities and state agencies. In fact, you'll probably find rehab counselors in prisons throughout the country. After all, someone's got to prepare the prisoners for a productive life outside of the slammer, right?

Finally, rehabilitation counselors sometimes go into practice for themselves. Although being your own boss might sound infinitely preferable to punching someone else's time clock, consider that, as a business owner, you're responsible for all your own operating expenses. That includes rent, utilities, office supplies, and (most importantly) coffee and toilet paper. Also, don't forget you can't serve clients unless you get them in the door. Therefore, you've got to develop a marketing plan. Sound like too much work? Good thing you don't need to make that decision today.

Okay, you've got a nutshell picture of a rehabilitation counselor career. Remember each career comes with its pros and cons, and this one is no different. On the plus side, you get the satisfaction of helping people with serious life challenges move forward in their lives. Perhaps you're fortunate enough to share in a client's life-changing event, such as a college graduation or a joyous marriage. Perhaps a client's achievement is less visible but just as important; such as achieving use of an atrophied arm after extensive physical therapy.

Now for the downsides. You might encounter clients who seem to be making remarkable physical or emotional progress. Perhaps a former athlete, now recovering from a cancer-related amputation, has injured himself after pushing too hard with his physical therapy regimen. Maybe your first-ever internship program, which would provide you with two on-the-ball students and open your agency's doors to more clients, has been scrapped due to budget cuts.

You're speechless and devastated. How could this happen after all your hard work? Is there some grandly engineered scheme to knock you down, to grind your morale into the gutter? Probably not, although it sure feels like it right now. Can you allow yourself to wallow in this misery for more than a few minutes? No. You have clients who depend on you for professional help and personal guidance. You have to provide the best service possible, regardless of your own disappointments and setbacks.

Finally, you might be excited at the prospect of helping people with their life challenges, but you aren't sure a rehabilitation counselor career is right for you. Take a look at a few other careers that use a similar combination of professional skills and client empathy: social worker, physical or occupational therapist, or manager of a human services agency. Also consider a career as a psychologist, if you can handle the additional years of college and clinical preparation. Regardless of your final career choice, if helping others gives you the warm fuzzies inside, you're definitely on the right track.