Vocational Counseling

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Vocational counseling assesses an individual’s intelligence, aptitude, interests, abilities and skill levels in order to create and follow a career path. Vocational therapists partner with businesses, government agencies, educational institutions and the employment industry to develop mutually beneficial opportunities for individuals with special needs. They also assist in assessing, training and developing individuals for positions and advancement. 

What is vocational counseling?

Vocation means different things to different people; sometimes, a vocation is the means to an end in obtaining employment that pays the bills, and to others, it’s a gateway to a rewarding career. Learning a vocation is often the best chance a person has in achieving economic security. Psychologically, the ability to productively contribute to society provides self-worth and purpose.

For people with Cerebral Palsy, achieving a vocation and securing employment can be a challenge, but not one that in many cases can’t be overcome. Today, people with disabilities have entered – and achieved success in – a wide array of employment sectors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.2 percent of those with disability are employed.

Vocational counseling, also known as vocational rehabilitation, is a program that prepares people with Cerebral Palsy and other physical and cognitive impairments for the workplace.

Though the primary goal of vocational counseling is to assist individuals in finding – and training for – a vocation, the long-term goal is to help achieve:

  • Independence
  • Economic self-sufficiency
  • Self-esteem through occupational practice

Additionally, vocational rehabilitation seeks to significantly reduce, or eliminate, the obstacles the disability may present by providing training and support for the individual’s education and employment aspirations.

Vocational counseling, or rehabilitation, is a set of services designed to develop the skills and ability to practice a vocation in a productive way. Those born with physical or cognitive impairments are taught how to perform in the workplace taking into consideration their abilities and challenges. Some individuals who have experienced recent changes in their ability to function at work (those recently injured or stricken by illness such as stroke) are taught how to resume employment.

The highly-structured and challenging processes involved in vocational rehabilitation are part of a multi-disciplinary approach to help identify and enter a vocational field that is both within the individual’s range of capabilities, and more importantly, within their area of interest. Some workplace environments only need physical enhancements or modified processes to allow an individual with impairment to succeed in a position.

Vocational counseling involves some physical training, but focuses on instruction regarding workplace performance, including:

  • Assessing employee interest and aptitude
  • Determining physical and cognitive abilities
  • Incorporating adaptive equipment to meet vocational goals
  • Accommodating or modifying office equipment or environments
  • Locating training programs
  • Assessing performance
  • Finding employment

Part of vocational counseling also focuses on workplace integration, specifically how a person with Cerebral Palsy will accomplish tasks given any obstacles their impairment may encounter. These services include:

  • Career counseling
  • Job skill development
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Making professional, evidence-based decisions
  • Working past roadblocks to complete tasks
  • Making environmental changes to optimize productivity

What are the benefits of vocational counseling?

To those touched by Cerebral Palsy, employment or vocation might initially seem like a remote possibility, but the good news is many achieve gainful employment and successful careers.

Individuals with Cerebral Palsy, depending on their abilities and severity of their condition, work in full- or part-time positions, attend specialized training, and also attend college.

Vocational counseling makes this possibility a reality by pinpointing capabilities, not limitations. Most want to work and achieve independence; vocational counseling provides a pathway to achieve and master a vocation that is appropriate for their skill level and provides a starting point for the individual to develop new skill sets.

For those with Cerebral Palsy, the benefits of vocational counseling are:

  • Access to job training programs
  • Opportunities to network
  • Access to a job coaches
  • Job placement assistance
  • Economic autonomy and independence
  • Self-esteem and self-worth
  • Social interaction
  • Professional coaching

When is vocational counseling advised?

Vocational counseling is often part of a special education initiative to transition the child into adulthood. Often vocational counseling is initiated within the school’s IEP program to assist the child to achieve optimal independence beyond secondary education. This typically occurs after a student has benefited by other therapies such as physical or occupational therapy designed to maximize their ability to function.

Because no two cases of Cerebral Palsy are the same, approaches to vocational counseling will vary significantly. Some individuals need only minimal assistance in terms of reaching their professional goals, but others will need a more intensive intervention.

A trained vocational specialist, in conjunction with school special education administrators, will determine the scope of therapy to help the child meet his or her future workforce development goals.

How is vocational counseling performed?

Vocational counseling begins after a vocational specialist has completed a thorough assessment of medical records, physical capabilities and cognitive abilities to determine what factors may affect the individual’s ability to maintain employment.

After an initial assessment, the vocational specialist must determine additional information, such as:

  • What work interests the individual
  • What physical conditions may limit performance
  • What professions or positions would be suitable
  • What opportunities are currently available
  • The requirements for certain types of work

When testing a person’s aptitude, a vocational specialist may implement standardized tests, which can then be compared to required skills and interest levels. Additionally, therapists may evaluate workflow processes to see if work can be performed safely – with or without modifications, adaptations and assistive technology.

If assistive technology, such as computers, voice recognition devices, or equipment with specialized handles is required to maximize performance potential, the therapist will coordinate the selection, customization and implementation of technologies.

Where is vocational counseling performed?

Vocational counseling is performed in several facilities, including:

  • Specialized government training facilities
  • Community centers
  • Public and private schools
  • Vocational training centers
  • Colleges

Vocational training can also take place at a job site with a “supportive work” program. Under this program, vocational center specialists or assistants accompany the prospective employee to a work site to offer supervision, environmental assessment, assistance, emotional support and coaching.

What happens during vocational counseling?

Vocational counseling or rehabilitation has a strong training component to properly prepare an individual to become a productive member of a workplace environment.

For some, vocational training will focus on skills that will make it possible for them to be successful during training pursuits at vocation schools, technical schools, community colleges, or universities depending on their career path. Called “transition” services – these programs are designed to prepare students for the end of school, and often take place in a secondary education or young adult settings.

Training involves learning how to work within their unique skill sets, navigate their environments, and how to operate with specialized adaptive equipment, such as:

  • Computers
  • Telephones and headsets
  • Tools specific to professions
  • Writing utensils
  • Handheld devices

Vocational training also provides an opportunity to master work at specialized work stations with assistive technologies. These workstations include:

  • Customized desks and chairs
  • Computer equipment
  • Assistive technologies like voice synthesizers and touch screens

Additionally, they participate in activities designed to enhance employment possibilities, including:

  • Learning how to use assistive technology
  • Mastering tasks required for work
  • Participating in workshops
  • Searching for open positions
  • Exploring labor market and wage information
  • Identifying additional training opportunities
  • Obtaining resources like adaptive equipment and clothing, if required
  • Taking part in job placement services
  • Monitoring performance

Who provides vocational counseling?

According to the Educational Portal, vocational rehabilitation specialists typically practice with either a master’s or bachelor’s degree in vocational rehabilitation; the masters-level vocational specialists are typically employed in supervisory positions. Vocational specialists are often assisted by vocational rehabilitation technicians.

Vocational rehabilitation specialists

The vocational specialist’s job is to:

  • Manage the patient's treatment plan
  • Recognize and assess physical and mental issues
  • Communicate with patients
  • Educate and work with caregivers and parents

Coursework for vocational specialists include, but is not limited to:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Human development
  • Case management
  • Clinical practice and observation

Vocational specialists do not have to seek certification, but voluntary certification is seen favorably. Certification can be obtained through the non-profit Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. CRCC Certification requirements include:

  • Completion of a master’s degree at an approved university degree program
  • Successful completion of an internship
  • Passing score on the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination
  • Renewal every five years requiring re-testing or continued education courses

The master’s degree can be in a degree program other than vocational counseling. Often, individuals with physical or occupational therapy degrees will enter the vocational counseling field, as do other professionals with degrees in other therapeutic-based sectors.

Vocational technicians

Vocational technicians typically obtain a two-year associate degree. Their role in the therapy process is to assist the vocational specialist in helping patients learn the necessary skills to secure employment and practice a vocation. They teach physical skills and also inter-personal skills. They also participate in diagnostic testing and ongoing assessments.

State licensure requirements for vocational technicians vary; parents and caregivers should contact the licensing body in their state for more information.

Are employers incentivized to hire workers with disabilities?

Therapists often work with employers to create workforce environments conducive to employing those with impairment. They also collaborate with professionals within the employment sector to develop opportunities for employment of those with impairment. At times this may include modifying work environments and workflows as well as educating employers on the benefits, ease and opportunities which exist when employing those with special needs.

Thankfully, attitudes among those in government and the workplace have changed in regards to hiring workers with special needs. This was bolstered in part due to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with special needs.

The U.S. government provides several incentives to public and private employers to hire those with disability. The goal is to provide equal employment opportunities for those with special needs, in part by addressing obstacles towards employment and employability.

Another goal of the program is to help remove harmful stereotypes held in regards to employing, managing, or working alongside those with special needs. Education and constructive perspectives are shared.

Some programs include:

  • The Federal Work Opportunity Credit – Available to public and private employers, this program makes a 40% tax credit on the first $6,000 paid to a newly-hired employee with disability.
  • U.S. Department of Labor grants – Grants are available to help individuals with disability start their own businesses and are available to companies who would like to hire disabled individuals to be independent contractors.
  • Job Accommodation Network – Backed by the U.S. Department of Labor, this network provides consultation services to help businesses develop and make available technologies to assist disabled individuals.

job applicant filling out application


The ability of a person to obtain – and maintain – meaningful and productive employment is dependent in many ways on the quality of his or her access to higher education, vocational programs or skill development. Employment assistance offered by the government, non-profit agencies, or educational institutions can fill the training and employment gap that prevents people are willing and eager to work from earning a sustainable paycheck. Employment Assistance

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