What is a Rehabilitation Therapist?

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  • Originally Written By: Erin Oxendine
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2019
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A rehabilitation therapist is a professional with training in both mental health and medicine whose main job is to assist patients who are in recovery. These people aren’t usually medical doctors, but they frequently work alongside them when it comes to caring for the whole person. Doctors often refer people to these sorts of therapists once basic care is finished. The therapist will usually continue meeting with the person on a regular basis until his or her problem is more or less resolved, or until he or she is more capable of self-care. There are many different venues in which a person with this sort of training could work. Some therapists focus on drug and alcohol abuse, while others work with people who have been involved in physical trauma, like accidents or major injuries; still more work with the mentally disabled and their families. Therapists might also work to rehabilitate people into the work world when they’ve been away for some time, often due to things like incarceration. People looking to start a career in this field often need a good deal of formal training as well as compassion for people who are suffering.


Breadth of the Job

The therapist’s primary goal is to help the individual function normally, though this often looks really different depending on the setting. They work in many places, including clinics, hospitals, and mental health facilities. Government and federal agencies may also have rehabilitation professionals on staff, and therapists might be asked to work with law firms and insurance adjusters, too. In some places, there are even animal rehabilitation therapists who work with domestic pets or livestock that have been injured or that have survived some sort of trauma.

Drug and Alcohol Work

One of the most well-known fields for this sort of professional is within the realm of drug and alcohol counseling. People in this role act as therapist and often mentor for individuals who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Therapists usually spend a lot of time talking with patients and working through both the physical aspects of the problem as well as the psychological and mental components. A lot depends on the patient, but most of the time therapy sessions happen at least once a week, usually for a period of months or years as needed.

Physical Therapy

Another common focus is physical therapy. This sort of therapist usually works with people who have been inured or who are suffering from some sort of physical limitation. Some problems, like muscle weakness after prolonged bed rest, are easier to treat than others. Things like limb loss or major trauma, as is common in car accident victims and military veterans, are some of the most challenging.

In all of these cases, the therapist’s main job is to help people regain movement and use of all affected body parts. If prosthetics are involved, the therapist will help the patient learn to use the new devices and will help integrate them into the patient’s lifestyle. Meetings often take place in established rehabilitation centers, though therapists often want to spend some time in discussion with patients in a private office setting, too.

An occupational specialist is usually also considered to be a rehabilitation therapist. This sort of job is similar to a physical therapist, but focuses mostly on daily activities such as brushing teeth or getting dressed. This professional may work with people who have suffered a brain injury or other trauma like a stroke. The goal here is to help the patient get back to his or her normal way of life, and often involves some work with family members and permanent caregivers, too.

Mental Health Counseling

A mental health-focused therapist is usually engaged primarily in helping patients with mental injuries or psychological illnesses. Sometimes the goal is to overcome the impairment, but more often it’s geared towards helping the patient live a full and functional life in spite of the disability. Behavioral management is usually included in the therapy. The therapist may also help with physical activities for patients, and frequently integrates the patient’s family to help come up with strategies and stress management plans. Many mental health facilities employ people with rehabilitation training, and it’s sometimes also possible to find professionals with this expertise working privately.

Job-Related Rehabilitation

Though most rehabilitation specialists work with the body or the mind-body connection, not all do. Many vocational counselors also have some rehabilitation training, particularly those who work primarily with individuals who were once in the workforce but left for a time due to some sort of problem or work-related issue.

Workers who were fired for things like substance abuse often have a hard time getting back into the job force once they’re out of rehab, for instance. The same is also true in many cases for people who have served time in prison. Getting back into a career after a setback like this often requires some degree of professional guidance. Therapists do things like help fill out job applications, provide interview coaching, and offer tips about interpersonal relationships.

Administrative Duties

In addition to providing various types of therapy, rehabilitation therapists often have other duties to perform. They frequently need to complete paperwork regarding the patient, including updating files and documenting advice and recommendations. Other medical providers might ask the therapist to participate in client management, and therapists frequently work as part of a team of care providers. Doctors, nurses, and family members may meet together with some regularity to discuss progress and possible ways forward.


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Discuss this Article

Post 4

Has anybody ever been to a vision rehabilitation therapist? I have been having a lot of problems with my eyes lately, and I am just not sure what to do.

I am a little hesitant to just go to an ophthalmologist, because they always tell me that they can't find anything wrong with my eyes, so I was wondering if a vision rehabilitation therapist might be able to help me.

Does anyone have any information about this for me?

Thank you.

Post 3

Did you know that they also have rehabilitation therapist jobs that involve animals rather than humans?

My cousin is a horse rehabilitation therapist, and she works with horses that have been injured or sick for long periods of time, or even abused.

Of course, a lot of the things that she does are not in the normal rehabilitation therapist job description, but she really loves it. As she says, it's like being a vet without all the blood.

So if you think you might be interested in becoming a rehabilitation therapist, but really like animals better than humans, then think about being an equine rehabilitation therapist (or any kind of animal rehabilitation specialist). It can be an extremely rewarding career.


Post 2

Rehabilitation therapist do such amazing work -- it's a job that most people don't really think about so much, but they can truly change your life.

A few years ago I was in a really bad car accident, so I was in and out of physical therapy clinics for months on end. All the amazing ways the rehabilitation therapist worked with my body aside; I think I would have truly fallen into despair if not for some of the therapists on staff at my clinic.

They don't baby you, that's for sure, but believe me, just having one person who doesn't wince at the sight of your injuries is so great when you've been badly hurt.

So if you ever do meet a rehabilitation therapist, be sure to thank them for what they do, because they really do save lives -- and sanity.

Post 1

Recreation therapy is perhaps the most important of all rehabilitation therapies. This teaches life long skills and vocations for optimal functioning.

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