Professional Fragmentation in Rehabilitation Counseling

By Irons, Thomas R. | The Journal of Rehabilitation, July-September 1989 | Go to article overview

Professional Fragmentation in Rehabilitation Counseling


Irons, Thomas R., The Journal of Rehabilitation


Professional Fragmentation in Rehabilitation Counseling

Numerous concerns have been voiced about rehabilitation counseling's status in the current literature. This article focuses on professional status, identifies four areas of professional fragmentation that impact our current standing, (title transition, professional preparation, credentialing, and professional associations) and suggests ways in which to enhance professional growth.

Since the 1940s, rehabilitation counseling has been evolving as a major, service-providing profession. Nadolsky (1985) noted, for example, that as the rehabilitation movement has continued to expand, rehabilitation personnel have become an integral part of modern society. Field and Emener (1982) commented that its growth and development over the last few decades has established rehabilitation counseling as a viable and credible program for providing services to persons with disabilities.

The distinction between rehabilitation and rehabilitation counseling should be established at the outset. Rehabilitation counseling refers to a specific group of professionals who provide services in rehabilitation and related programs. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, refers to the entire field, including public and private rehabilitation, and involving a multitude of related professionals including physiatrists, rehabilitation nurses, occupational and physical therapists, administrators, work evaluators, work adjustment trainers, and vocational experts as well as rehabilitation counselors.

Rehabilitation counseling has the uniqueness of being established by Congress. Nevertheless, it has experienced numerous problems, some of which have been generated by state and federal activities in rehabilitation. For example, although legislative and administrative actions have shaped the structure and status of rehabilitation counseling practice, they have also created havoc in areas of funding, litigation, target populations, and accountability. Many of these impact rehabilitation counseling's status and professional identity.

Numerous authors (Collins, 1980; McFarlane and Frost, 1981; Field and Emener, 1982; and Nadolsky, 1984) have speculated that in the 1980s there would be a number of critical issues confronting the profession, and during the past six years it has been evident that many problems have surfaced. These issues represent challenges that must be resolved, if the discipline is to continue positive professional growth.

This article examines how rehabilitation counseling has maintained and improved its professional status, identifies factors that have impeded its growth, and suggests how these problems might be resolved.

Perhaps the issue most threatening to the profession's continued growth is fragmentation in the areas of title transition, professional preparation, credentialing, and professional associations, which could prove harmful to the professional identity and the attainment of greater status for rehabilitation counseling as a profession.

This discussion will examine the following key questions:

(a) What is the status of rehabilitation counseling's professional identity?

(b) What are the criteria for attaining professional status?

(c) What is rehabilitation counseling's current status?

Professionalism in Rehabilitation Counseling

Professional Identity/Professional Status

Identity, among other things, is related to an individual's sense of membership in a professional group. Status is determined by established standards and represents an ultimate goal for a profession as a whole. Thus, a discipline could have professional identity but not a high degree of professional status. At the same time, attaining professional status may result in strengthened identity.

The attainment of professional status often represents identity (personal and group), prestige, power, authority, social status, work autonomy, authority, job security, and better income (Lynch and McSweeney, 1981).

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