What is a Rehabilitation Psychologist?

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The rehabilitation psychologist is a vital part of ongoing care for many individuals. While the concept of rehabilitation is often misconstrued to relate only to those with substance abuse issues, it’s actually a common facet of health care for individuals who suffer from a physical or mental disability, those recovering from prolonged, acute illness or serious injuries, and people with chronic illness. In every instance in which rehabilitation is prescribed, patients experience a variety of psychological challenges. Psychologists assist and support patients throughout their healing process, helping them to maintain a healthy outlook and resist the malaise or depression that can often accompany their rehabilitation.

How They Help

As practitioners of psychology in a special context, rehabilitation psychologists engage patients as individuals, because every path is different, according to the American Psychological Association. They assess their patients and diagnose their particular challenges, designing an appropriate treatment plan. This plan generally involves a form of therapy that will be beneficial to the patient, but it also includes the development of a support network. They will assist their patients in reaching out to family, friends, and coworkers who will help motivate and support them during their healing process.

But these specially trained psychologists also monitor the relationships their patients have with other member of their treatment team, whether they are engaged in a rigorous schedule of physical therapy or are under the care of one or more medical doctors. The duration of their relationship with each patient is largely determined by the factors at play in the individual treatment plan and the reason for rehabilitation. Individuals with chronic physical disabilities may form a long-term relationship with a single psychologist while those recovering from injury or acute illness only require support during and immediately after the rehabilitation process.

Where They Work

In large part, where they work is determined by the individual psychologist. Many of these professionals choose to specialize their practice to assist individuals with a particular challenge, such as specific mental or physical disabilities, geriatric patients, veterans of the armed services, or even individuals who suffer severe, but isolated injury. They can elect to work in special, acute care hospitals, assisted living facilities, with firms that provide either in-patient or out-patient physical rehabilitation services, Veterans Administration hospitals or dedicated facilities, in conjunction with a particular patient group or a private practice. They also work in sports medicine facilities.

As well as actively practicing their profession, these psychologists have other avenues of rewarding employment. They may return to the academic setting as professors, assisting a new generation of psychologists to attain their degrees. Research is another field of inquiry to which these professionals are vital, whether they engage in the creation and testing of new theories within their specialty or embark on a journey of practice-based testing of techniques and psychological understandings related to their profession. They may also elect to work as consultants and expert witnesses in legal cases or as experts who conduct insurance assessments in the course of injury, illness or the diagnosis of a disability.

Related Resource: 49 Most Affordable Small Colleges for a Master’s Degree in Psychology 2016

Whatever the path chosen, these professionals provide valuable support and aid in the rehabilitation journey for many individuals. Because rehabilitation psychologists are required to attain a PhD in psychology and complete pre- and postdoctoral work in active healthcare settings, they are specially equipped to assess, to teach, and to act as patient support during the rehabilitation process.