How do I Become a Rehabilitation Specialist?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2019
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A rehabilitation specialist is a person who helps patients recover and adapt after injury, illness, or a traumatic incident. There are many varieties of rehabilitation specialist, each requiring special training in a particular area of focus. The path to this job depends on the interests, experience, and educational pursuits of the applicant, as well as the current needs of the rehabilitation field.

There are three main types of rehabilitation specialist: physical, psychological, and vocational. These groups, however, are quite broad, and each contains a multitude of specialized professions. For instance, some physical rehab specialists can work with patients who have lost a limb to injury or developed a disabling musculoskeletal disorder, while others help those with language or speech problems due to medical conditions. A vocational therapist may be involved with helping patients with mental illnesses find jobs, or may prefer to work with recovering drug addicts or alcoholics trying to re-enter the work field.


Although these are only a few of the many possible professions available, working to become a rehabilitation specialist almost always starts with a college education. Vocational rehab workers tend to have at least a two year degree in behavioral learning, as well as experience with job placement and employment agencies. Rehabilitation specialists who focus on helping those with mental or psychological problems will typically need an advanced degree in psychology, psychiatry, or behavioral science. Many jobs also require medical training to some degree, although the amount needed can vary greatly from position to position.

Even animal lovers may be able to find satisfying employment by choosing to become an animal rehabilitation specialist. Some veterinarians do not have the time or capability to help animal patients recover from illness or injury, and just as with humans, animals may need careful physical therapy and even behavioral training to adapt to a permanent injury. An animal rehabilitation specialist will typically have some veterinary training, and may need boarding space to provide intensive care to some patients.

Taking related jobs during university may help a person seeking to become a rehabilitation specialist land a position in his or her desired field quickly. Volunteering at medical or rehab clinics, working in job placement agencies, or even taking a secretarial position at a doctor's office can all be helpful in the long run. By showing an ongoing dedication to a particular field, a person can show his sincere interest to potential employers. Choosing even temporary jobs wisely can go a long way to showing both capability and passion for a future permanent job.


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Post 3

@MrsPramm - I actually think that patience and kindness are probably more important than real understanding of psychology.

Most people involved in this aren't going to be helping stroke victims. They'll be assisting athletes with torn ligaments and housewives with bad backs.

Of course, it depends on what kind of rehabilitation specialist you want to be. I think you have to tailor your studies for your vocation.

Post 2

@browncoat - I agree. In some ways a rehabilitation specialist becomes like a nurse or counselor, since they are the person who sticks with the patient all through their recovery. And physical therapy can often bring up deep seated emotions. I think that the emotional component is just as important as the physical component.

My father told me that when his father had a stroke, everyone expected him to be bed bound for the rest of his life, but my father (who had a degree in physiology) refused to accept it.

He made himself into my grandfather's constant companion and sat with him through all kinds of outbursts, constantly encouraging him to move his limbs and his mind until my grandfather recovered to a much greater extent than anyone expected.

I don't think the exercises alone would have done it.

Post 1

I think the psychology aspect is quite important if you want to make a real career out of this. A lot of people who have experienced a severe injury are going to be hurting emotionally as well. Some of them might resent the rehabilitation, and some of them might be trying too hard to get back to where they were before. Knowing a little bit about how to handle all of that is important if you're going to be the one sitting through it all.

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