Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Rehabilitation Counseling? My Story

The number one question that I, or anyone who is entering a new phase of education, am asked is about my program of study. And since many are unsure of the field, I thought I’d take some time to delve into the purpose, the motives, and the duties. Equally important is my choice to enter the field, and there is certainly a story there.

When most people hear the words “rehabilitation” and “counseling”, they automatically think about substance abuse and the like. While we will work with clients who have substance abuse difficulties, we will examine and mitigate the effects of the abuse that may be disabling. In addition, it is nearly impossible for a counselor to serve a client who is an active drug user because of his or her inability to be employed.  For example, a client with many years of substance abuse may have memory recall complications. In that instance, depending on the specific circumstance, the client may find that it affects him or her in the workplace or otherwise. A rehabilitation counselor would work to find strategies to help the client to achieve the maximum level of independence and self-sufficiency possible in every aspect of life. For an adult, it may be focused in the workplace, but for a college student, the efforts would be toward success and mitigation of the effects on academic success.

Most often, according to CORE (Council on Rehabilitation Education), an accreditation organization for graduate programs, “[r]ehabilitation [c]ounseling emphasizes empowerment of individuals with disabilities to maximize employability, attain economic self-sufficiency, independence, inclusion, and integration into American society. The philosophical foundation of rehabilitation counseling includes the belief in advocacy and the rights of people with disabilities.  Rehabilitation counseling emphasizes integration and inclusion, focusing on assets of people, and assisting in the pursuit of independence. By moving from a status of dependence to a status of independence, personal adjustment and/or the opportunity to succeed economically, via employment, can be achieved.”

Yet, you still have that question. Why? How?

You see, it started when I was 15 years old. I spent the summer volunteering nearly 50 hours per week at a children’s respite center for children who were determined to be medically fragile.  Ironically enough, most of them shared a diagnostic label with me. And as a just-turned 15 year old, that was hard to see.  I didn’t know, at the time, how to articulate exactly what I was feeling, but I know now that I was grappling with the fact that I honestly didn’t think it was fair that people with the same diagnostic label could perform and such a wide range of levels. Why were these children confined to a wheelchair, but I was the one able to walk? I’d worked brief stints in a self-contained classroom, but giving parents a break seemed like more tangible, meaningful work at that point in my life.

As life progressed and I started having to make decisions, pray over my calling, and devote my life to a purpose, I discovered rehabilitation counseling through a mentor during my junior year of high school. He was the director of disability services during my first three years of college, and he’d gotten his degree at the age of 40 while working full time and raising two children through the online degree program at the University of Kentucky. He does his work with such passion and purpose, and honestly, it was and is infectious.

The fact that my whole career will be spent advocating for and ensuring that people with disabilities are gainfully employed and have means of self-sufficiency just warms my heart. That’s the way it should be. I can’t imagine a place where just because someone looks differently or acts differently, it may affect their chances to enter the workforce. If I put my left leg into my pants first instead of my right, does it mean that I left my house without wearing pants? No. It just means that I did it a bit differently.

Next time you see someone out working in a public place who may accomplish the work task in a non-traditional way, stop and think. Now, you’re also aware of those of us who ensure that everyone is created equal within the workplace.

I ask you: Why NOT rehabilitation counseling?

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