Dr. Rodney Maiden closes every term of the Graduate Rehabilitation Counseling degree classes at Troy University with a quote from the American poet Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s a quote that reminds his students that their investment in learning how to become a rehabilitation counselor will have a long-lasting legacy.
Dr. Maiden didn’t always plan to work in the field of vocational rehabilitation counseling services. As an undergraduate, he studied business with the aim of “making a lot of money,” but a childhood experience in a very different field kept pulling him back toward a career in the service of others.
“My grandfather, a former sharecropper, was a farmer,” says Dr. Maiden. “After school, during the summers, and holidays, I would help him harvest the crops. He had corn, soybeans, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, purple hull peas, butter beans, everything. He also had pigs and chickens and things like that. After working, I don’t know how many hours in the fields, we’d come home, and he’d ask me to take some of the produce down to one of the elderly ladies in the community.”
At the time, Dr. Maiden resented being asked to do all these chores, especially when he saw his friends playing outside and enjoying themselves.
“Of course, I didn’t say anything to my grandfather,” says Dr. Maiden. “I obliged and completed the task. Eventually, it became something that I think laid the foundation for what became a heart of service.”
Dr. Maiden has no regrets about turning his back on the world of business.
“You cannot put a monetary value on what I have gained by working with persons with a disability in the field of vocational rehabilitation counseling when compared to a business career,” says Dr. Maiden.
What Is Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling?
Dr. Maiden highlights the difference between vocational rehabilitation counseling services and other types of rehabilitation services.
“When we talk about vocational rehabilitation, we are not talking about counseling professions like substance abuse counselors who offer drug rehabilitation or alcohol rehabilitation,” explains Dr. Maiden. “Vocational rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social and psychological effects of disability on employment or independent living. Without the service of these counselors, many people who are quite capable of living on their own would instead be forced to live in some type of care facility.”
Dr. Maiden explains how the benefits of helping people live more independent lives go well beyond the impact on the individual client’s life.
“By advocating for the disabled, we are changing the narrative,” says Dr. Maiden. “Research has shown that when people are supported to live independently, they are far healthier, are less reliant on family caregivers, and are more productive members of society as a whole. ”
What Is the Goal of Rehabilitation Counseling?
According to Dr. Maiden, the first step toward independent living for many clients often starts with finding employment.
“I like to place people in careers because people tend to stay in careers versus just finding a job,” says Dr. Maiden.
The process starts with the rehabilitation counselor assessing their client’s needs.
“The assessment is based upon medical information, whether that’s from a physician about a physical disability or a qualified mental health professional for a mental, developmental, or emotional disability,” says Dr. Maiden. “We also perform a vocational assessment to see what type of employment this person would be able to work in. This assessment is based upon their academic level of achievement or IQ, and the limitations they have associated with their disability or medical condition.”
This information is then used to create a holistic plan of counseling services to encompass many different aspects of the client’s life.
“We look at things in their environment such as family support, how they are able to ambulate, and their mobility in the community among other things,” says Dr. Maiden. “Are they able to use public transportation if they don’t have transportation of their own? Are they able to follow directions?”
Creating Pathways to Employment
According to Dr. Maiden, creating accessible pathways to employment can be a long-term project.
“If a client is coming out of high school and they want to be a nurse, and their assessment suggests that they have the aptitude to be successful in this role, we’ll then ask, ‘What does this person need to actually become a nurse?’” says Dr. Maiden. “They’ll need to have an undergraduate degree in nursing. How can we assist them with that?”
Dr. Maiden believes that many employers are discovering the benefits of helping disabled people access employment opportunities. It wasn’t always this way.
“Many employers were afraid,” says Dr. Maiden, “They were thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is going to be something that’s going to cost more than I can afford.’ In reality, many of the accommodations they need to make don’t require a huge investment. There may also be specific tax incentives available for companies eager to create opportunities for our clients.”
Dr. Maiden believes any investment in employing disabled people is often paid back many times over in terms of loyalty and productivity.
“When it comes to hiring people with disabilities, the only caveat is sometimes they work too hard,” says Dr. Maiden. “They are just so happy to have a job and be working. They take real pride in what they are doing and appreciate the accommodations employers have made for them. So much so, you often have to remind them that they have to take their lunch breaks and their vacation time.”
Dr. Maiden cites several organizations that have worked hard to develop opportunities for people with disabilities.
“Major private employers like Sears, JCPenney, and Walgreens have been phenomenal,” says Dr. Maiden. “They’ve all benefited by employing persons with a disability and creating more accessible workplaces.”
What Does it Take to Become a Counselor?
Dr. Maiden believes that vocational rehabilitation counselors will need to pull on many different attributes to be successful.
“Having an unconditional positive regard is one of the tenets we look for,” says Dr. Maiden. “Counselors need that altruistic spirit and accept people for where they are, knowing that they are worthy of receiving assistance. They also need to be creative, flexible and patient because when you are working with clients, things are systematically unsystematic.”
It’s also important to develop a strong sense of self-care.
“Self-care is paramount,” says Dr. Maiden. “You have to take care of yourself because if you don’t, you cannot take care of anyone else.”
Setting boundaries is critical for a healthy relationship between the counselor and their clients.
“You might be working on some cases for five to six years,” says Dr. Maiden. “It’s natural as humans that you build those strong bonds and healthy relationships. These cases can be challenging to close at times. Ten years after no longer working as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, I still think about some of my clients from time to time and wonder how their employment is going. Sometimes there’s joy; other times, it can be more challenging managing clients. Throughout the program, we teach our students about creating those healthy boundaries and understanding what they mean.”
In the program, students also gain familiarity with the laws and regulations that govern the disability field.
“They have to be familiar with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehab Act,” says Dr. Maiden. “This is especially relevant when we are requesting and advocating for accommodations in school, work, or in the environment. They are also equipped to understand the causes and treatments of disability as well as various counseling theories and techniques that you can use when you are working with persons with disabilities. Also, we stress the importance of remaining competent.”
A master’s degree is necessary to become a vocational rehabilitation counselor. To assist students with the financial obligations, Troy offers scholarships toward tuition assistance and possibly other needs. Troy’s unique Rehabilitation Counseling program gives the student the option to select one of five concentration areas — Clinical Rehabilitation, Public and Community Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation and Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Counseling Military Populations, and Addictions Counseling.
What Is Counseling? One Graduate’s Experience
As a soon-to-be graduate of TROY’s graduate rehabilitation counseling degree program, Morgan Posey is completing her internship as an Individual Placement and Support (IPS) – Supported Employment Coordinator at Central Alabama Wellness, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving communities of Chilton and Shelby Counties.
“A typical day on the job is pretty chaotic — even on the days that you don’t have meetings — because you end up with at least one emergency that takes up most of your time,” says Posey. “It’s great though because it isn’t your typical office job. You never have the same day twice.”
Posey describes the process of documenting every interaction she has with her clients as one of the most challenging aspects of the job.
“I have learned how to build a therapeutic alliance with consumers, structuring interviews to gather pertinent information, knowing when it is appropriate to ask the hard questions, and communicating with everyone involved about the consumers’ treatment plan,” says Posey.
She draws daily on the skills she developed at TROY.
“Having a master’s degree is important for this job because to grow in this field, you must have guidance and an in-depth knowledge of people, disabilities, accommodations, and resources,” says Posey. “This degree teaches you how to advocate for your clients, how to teach self-advocacy to your clients, and how to teach individuals in your community to be advocates for your clients and others in the community.”
Learning how to work with different people in a diverse community was a particular highlight of the program for Posey.
“One of the most helpful courses in this program is Cultural Diversity,” says Posey. “This class gives students the tools to work with clients who differ from them in gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and religion.”
According to Posey, it’s the people you work with that make a career in vocational rehabilitation counseling services so enjoyable.
“The best part of my job is being out in the community,” says Posey. “I love meeting with my clients and networking with employers. It’s amazing when you find a job match where employees and employers are supportive of your client and invite them into the job happily.”
Jobs in Rehabilitation Counseling
While Posey is completing her internship with a nonprofit organization, Dr. Maiden says vocational rehabilitation counselors are employed in a variety of settings.
“They can work in nursing homes, traditional hospitals, physical therapy clinics, and assisted living clinics,” says Dr. Maiden. “They also work anywhere with state vocational rehabilitation programs, Veterans Affairs (federal) offices; places like schools, detention centers, disability centers, unemployment offices. There’s a myriad of places that they can work.”
Dr. Maiden highlights several organizations local to the Troy Campus that provide jobs for rehabilitation counselors.
“Employers in our area include organizations like Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Independent Living Services, Easterseals, Wounded Warrior, and Veteran’s Affairs,” says Dr. Maiden. “They can also work for private organizations like Workers Compensation.”
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), vocational rehabilitation counselors in the State of Alabama can expect to earn a median wage of $46,320 per year compared to a national average of $35,950; however, career opportunities are spread throughout the United States.
A Counseling Program That Exceeds Expectations
Posey describes her overall experience in rehabilitation counseling at TROY as “amazing.” She has nothing but praise to offer about the program and about the kinds of rehabilitation professionals it educates. “TROY promotes greatness and produces amazing counselors,” she says. “I have been surrounded by remarkable peers and was able to watch each of them grow into helpers that I would love to work with and would feel comfortable sending clients to. TROY has high expectations for its students and helps students reach and exceed these expectations.”
Even when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her education, Posey quickly adapted to the “new normal” with the support of TROY’s dedicated faculty and staff.
“My advisor, professors, and program coordinator were all extremely supportive and easy to get in touch with,” says Posey. “During the pandemic, I felt like TROY’s staff cared about the students. While we were not able to meet one-on-one with each other, we were able to interact via Zoom and online discussion boards to ensure that we stayed on track for our degrees. Any time I had a question or concern, I felt comfortable contacting TROY’s staff. I have recommended this program to all my friends or co-workers who have expressed interest in pursuing a master’s degree in the counseling field.”
To learn more about how a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from TROY can help you launch a successful and fulfilling career in the service of others, visit the counseling programs page on our website.