Are Rehabilitation Counsellors the Occupational Therapist's Ugly Stepchild?

There has been a bit of an uproar in the Occupational Therapy community lately over this facebook post:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 12.33.35 pm
Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 12.33.35 pm

There were many people from a range of backgrounds who didn't agree with the idea that Occupational Therapists are the only registered professionals to work across physical disability and mental health. Many OTs themselves felt that this was inaccurate.

As a Rehabilitation Counsellor, my ego was pretty bruised. I've spent 5 years gaining 2 degrees and I know a heck of a lot about mental health, physical disability and how to help people function better across their work and home lives. It's my job.

But nobody knows!

In many ways, Rehabilitation Counselling is still an invisible profession.

Why is this?

Why is it that, in the field of vocational rehabilitation, Rehab Counsellors so often play second fiddle to Occupational Therapists?

I have an idea...

The Occupational Therapy community makes sure that people know about their skills, with a large professional network, strong online presence, and peak organisations that prioritise their professional development and grow community awareness about the profession.

The qualifications of an Occupational Therapist are nothing to balk at. I know and have worked with many OTs who are incredibly skilled at what they do, and their clients' lives are immeasurably better because of it.

But where does this leave Rehabilitation Counsellors, who often work alongside OTs in vocational rehab?

Basically, we get invited to the party pretty late (or not at all). Which is a shame, because we totally would have brought snacks.

Why is this?

I can answer this first-hand.

Nobody knows what we do.

And we are really bad at telling people what we have to offer. 

How often have you had this conversation?

"Hi, I'm a rehab counsellor"

"Oh cool, like drug and alcohol rehab?"

"Nope, I help people get back to work after injury, illness or disability!"

"Oh... so you work with Centrelink?"

"No... I work with other organisations too......."

Wash, rinse, repeat. What a wasted opportunity that was.

As Rehab Counsellors we so often forget to explain the fact that we do so much more than place people in jobs!!!

Here's just a snippet of what I've seen a Rehab Counsellor do:

  • Help people find value, meaning and purpose through work
  • Coach people on making career decisions after forced change
  • Take a whole of person approach to recovery: looking at work, family, values, interests, skills & environment (just for starters)
  • Map out the process with a person of how they can improve their function and get back to work when none of that seems possible
  • Work with people to set goals, make progress and help our clients achieve the important things they want from life
  • Act as a mediator between countless conflicting voices: insurers, clients, families, doctors, lawyers, employers
  • Advocate fiercely for their clients and their right to meaningful, rewarding work
  • Educate employers and the community about the supports available to them plus the support they can offer and why it matters
  • Guide clients on managing complex health conditions, at home and at work (Parksinsons, Anxiety, Depression, MS, Spinal Cord Injury and Brain Injury, just to name a few)
  • Practice interviews with clients, giving valuable feedback and practical information
  • Role play tough discussions that clients need to have with their employers and family
  • Give people the tools they need to get back in the community and live the life they want.

How un-boring is that? And how much broader is that than just job seeking? Rehab Counsellors are so needed, but nobody knows it.

So when are we going to start talking about it? Go on... I dare you to tweet this post.

Better yet - when someone asks what you can do as a Rehab Counsellor - and I mean what you can really do - I dare you to tell them.

Those are my thoughts - I'd love to hear yours. Let me know in the comments below what you think about the Facebook post above and what Rehab Counsellors can do step out of the shadows.


Image Credit: the feature image of this post by Mikael Tigerström is licensed under CC by 2.0.