How do I Become a Rehabilitation Therapist?

D. Jeffress

Rehabilitation therapists help people overcome physical injuries, mental illnesses, and addictions by providing individualized recovery programs. Physical therapists teach people how to regain strength after debilitating injuries or illnesses, and mental health therapists provide counseling and resources to individuals suffering from developmental disabilities or substance abuse problems. To become a rehabilitation therapist in either specialty, a person must generally obtain at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited university and pass certain local licensing requirements.

A physical rehabilitation therapist may help a patient recover basic skills after an injury or illness.
A physical rehabilitation therapist may help a patient recover basic skills after an injury or illness.

A high school or college student who wants to become a rehabilitation therapist can prepare for his or her eventual career by taking science, health, and psychology classes. Science and health courses provide a basic understanding of human anatomy and physiology, while psychology courses teach the fundamentals of the brain and behavior. In undergraduate courses, a prospective physical therapist usually attends classroom and laboratory courses to learn more about the body's chemistry and functions. A student who wants to become a rehabilitation therapist in a mental facility or treatment center might focus on psychology, counseling, and sociology courses to gain insight into addiction and therapy strategies.

Patients getting adjusted to a prosthetic limb may undergo treatment from a rehabilitation therapist.
Patients getting adjusted to a prosthetic limb may undergo treatment from a rehabilitation therapist.

Some people are able to find work as rehabilitation therapists or assistants after completing bachelor's programs, though most individuals choose to pursue advanced degrees. Master's and doctoral degree programs for physical rehabilitation therapists consist of intensive classroom, laboratory, and clinical training. A student learns about diagnosing problems, creating treatment plans, and carrying them out. Upper-level mental rehabilitation coursework consists of classroom instruction on different types of addiction and mental illness, as well as practical internships at hospitals, mental health facilities, or treatment centers. Students who obtain doctoral degrees are usually awarded the most job opportunities after graduation.

A rehabilitation therapist may choose to work with children.
A rehabilitation therapist may choose to work with children.

A graduate must usually pass a licensing exam which is usually given by his or her state or country to become a rehabilitation therapist and begin practicing independently. Licensing requirements vary between different locations, though most physical therapy exams are designed to test an individual's general knowledge of therapy techniques, ethics, and safety precautions. Mental health and substance abuse rehabilitation therapists are often required to take written and practical exams to become licensed counselors.

Rehabilitation therapists may work with wounded soldiers.
Rehabilitation therapists may work with wounded soldiers.

Once an individual meets all the the requirements to become a rehabilitation therapist, he or she can begin an important, rewarding career. Therapists give disabled persons the opportunity to regain independence, find work, and restore relationships with friends and family. There is generally a strong demand for skilled rehabilitation therapists in all settings to help others live more fulfilling lives.

A rehabilitation therapist must become licensed before practicing in a particular state.
A rehabilitation therapist must become licensed before practicing in a particular state.
A rehabilitation therapist may help individuals struggling with mental illnesses.
A rehabilitation therapist may help individuals struggling with mental illnesses.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@Sunshine31 - What a great story. I know that working as rehabilitation therapist may involve occupational therapy. My friend’s dad was in a rehab center because he was having knee replacement surgery and the occupational therapists would help my friend’s dad walk around and help him cook for himself.

They also helped patients practice dressing themselves through repetitive actions so that they developed the strength to do this on their own when they got home. Sometimes an occupational therapist will also help with other fine motor skills like writing.

My friend’s son was seeing an occupational therapist because his fine motor skills were weak. He could not write legibly because he had poor control of his hands. A lot of schools offer occupational therapy for students like this under their special education program.

My friend’s mother told me that the occupational therapist said that playing with modeling clay, exercises with threading a plastic needle along with applying a lot of pressure when coloring allows for the muscles in the hands to develop which would help the child devlop stronger find motor skills.

The therapist also suggested the use of smaller pencils. She said that the fat pencils do not allow the child the ability to control their fine motor movements.

This is a field that I would love to break into because I would really like to work with school children and help with with these skills.


@Cafe41 - I think that many of the best therapists have also had a similar issue in their life and offering therapy also keeps them on their toes and reminds them of how far they have come.

I think that fields relating to rehabilitation therapy are really rewarding. I know that when a patient makes significant progress they develop confidence that makes even more progress possible.

For example, becoming a physical therapist allows you to help people restore their mobility so that they could function as much as possible. Sometimes the road for a patient is really long and the physical therapist has to be like a coach and encourage the patient to continue.

I remember hearing a story about a marathon runner that was jogging and got hit by a truck. As a result he lost the bottom part of both of his legs. Although they told him that he would never walk again, he not only walked but he jogged in a 5k race a year later with the help of prosthetic legs.

He must have had a wonderful physical therapist that really helped him through this devastating ordeal. I think that this is why many want to become a physical therapist because you get to impact the lives of others in really amazing ways.


@BrickBack - I was watching a program the other day about people with food addictions that were in a rehab center, and although the group was made up of people from very different socioeconomic backgrounds it was amazing to see how similar their problems were.

For example, there was one lady that was an anorexic and bulimic for thirty years and her problem stemmed from the fact that she was rejected by her mother and she could never please her.

The therapist said that the eating disorder was like a way of punishing herself for not being good enough. It was really sad, but most of the people on the show had enormous amounts of pain and they were using food to cope.

There were people that were morbidly obese that ate to comfort themselves and not deal with painful emotions of their past. One lady was molested as a child and used food to try to avoid dealing with these feelings. The therapist herself had a huge battle with weight at one time, but she said that she was able to effectively lose weight only when she dealt with the reasons why she was overeating which were emotionally based reasons.

This is why I would like to enter this field and help others because I understand the battle which allows me to empathize more.


@Suntan12 - Wow, I didn’t know that they earned that much. I have to say that I would love to learn how to become a therapist. I am interested in treating people with addictive personalities.

I would love to treat people that have problems overeating. I like the idea of working with this population because I have had weight problems in the past that I have conquered and I know how good that feels, and I would want my clients to experience that as well.


I think that becoming a physical therapist is fantastic because not only is this career rewarding, but the opportunities for employment are really endless.

This field is in high demand and many of my friends that work as physical therapists are making an excellent salary. Some physical therapists work at several different locations on a part time basis and these physical therapists are usually contracted through a staffing agency.

The nice thing about working at several different locations is that you get to work with different people and you may decide that you like one location better, and decide that you want to work there full time.

Many of these physical therapists earn about $45 per hour or more in a contract setting. This is why many choose to work for several different organizations because there is a lot more flexiblity and money involved.

Post your comments
Forgot password?