August 27, 2009

Rehabilitation counselor training program lauded

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Citing its high-quality instruction, excellent faculty-student rapport and strong public support, the Council on Rehabilitation Education Inc. has reaccredited Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s rehabilitation counselor education program for eight years.

“This is a testament both to the excellence and diligence of our excellent faculty and to the support we have received from the University and the college,” said John J. Benshoff, director of the College of Education and Human Services Rehabilitation Institute, which houses the program.

“It also confirms to our students and the public that we are offering a first-rate educational opportunity, grounded in standards of excellence. “

More than 20 percent of Americans now have some form of disability, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published this spring. CDC researcher Chad Helmick has predicted “dramatic increases” in these numbers over the next 20 years as Baby Boomers continue to age.

"The program is sought by many students from Illinois and around the world,” said Thomas Upton, who heads it.

“Within the Rehabilitation Institute at SIUC we have a strong tradition of excellent preparation that translates into our students gaining the specialized rehabilitation skills that positively impactthe lives of persons with varying disabilities.”

Offering master’s level training since 1955, SIUC’s program -- the country’s oldest -- receives consistently high marks in U.S. News & World Report rankings, most recently placing No. 6 nationally.

In her letter notifying SIUC officials of the program’s reaccreditation, Council President Linda R. Shaw underscored that fact. She also noted that faculty members have extensive teaching and practical experience, have published widely, serve on editorial boards, hold national offices and obtain grants. Praising them as accessible, flexible, responsive and supportive, she pointed to the effect these faculty members have on their students.

“Students voiced support and appreciation for coursework, work with faculty through graduate assistantships, scholarships, faculty contributions to the field and the research work of the faculty,” Shaw wrote.

SIUC’s rehabilitation counselor education program teaches students how to help those with physical, mental or emotional disabilities become the best they can be in all areas of their lives. Courses, which cover such topics as the medical, psychological and social aspects of disability, interpersonal communication, assessment procedures, and job placement, blend with hands-on experience to create professionals with a unique understanding of what it means to have a disability overall and how best to tailor treatment to each individual client.

“One of the things I think is very neat is that about 25 percent of our students have disabilities,” Upton said. “It adds a lot of richness.”

Students come from a wide variety of undergraduate majors.

“We don’t rule anyone out (in the admissions process), and we take into account applied experience,” Upton said.

Between 15 and 20 students enter the program each semester -- “If we had the faculty, we’d admit more!” Upton said with a laugh -- and because of funding from federal training grants, a number of them receive stipends that pay for tuition and fees, with a little left over for living expenses.

Designed so that a full-time student can finish in two years, the program consists of 48 credit hours of traditional coursework, a 128-hour practicum and a 640-hour internship.

“The internship gives them a chance to apply all of what they know, and many times, it turns into their first job,” Upton said.

Graduates find jobs in such settings as hospitals, mental health centers, substance abuse treatment programs, facilities serving older adults and prisons as well as in public and private programs dealing with rehabilitation.

While a rising number of persons needing services make rehabilitation counseling a growing field, Upton said that, at the end of the day, the work is more than just a job.

“We can really make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “That’s kind of exciting.”

To learn more about rehabilitation counselor training at SIUC, visit the Rehabilitation Institute online at