Rehabilitation Psychologists: What are they and how to become one

Rehabilitation psychologists assist individuals who have disabilities and chronic illnesses; the disability may be congenital or acquired — for example, an accident or stroke.

Psychologists provide psychotherapy and administer assessments. Assessments may be neurological (testing memory and other cognitive functions) or psychological (assessing emotional handling of disability-related issues). Rehabilitation psychology duties may overlap with those of health psychologists. Rehabilitation psychologists sometimes work alongside neuropsychological specialists. They often collaborate with other health and medical professionals, for example, physical therapists.

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The specialty developed as a result of the need to reintegrate veterans, but today’s rehabilitation psychologists more often work with the civilian disabled population, including the elderly. Some rehabilitation psychologists specialize in working with children. At Rusk’s Pediatric Outpatient Psychology Service, for example, psychologists treat children with conditions ranging from spina bifida to traumatic brain injury. They provide comprehensive evaluations, conduct individual and family therapy, write educational prescriptions, and carry out neuro-rehabilitative interventions as needed (

Rehabilitation psychologists also work at the societal level to make the lives of the disabled better. They carry out research and may be involved in program development and administration. Those in vocational rehabilitation improve lives for individuals with psychiatric illnesses as well as physical ones.

The Division of Rehabilitation Psychology (Division 22 of the American Psychological Association) would like to see psychologists at the forefront: developing new service delivery models. Division 22 also strives to see more psychologists employed as directors in programs like sub-acute traumatic brain injury and work restoration (

Rehabilitation psychology is part of an occupational group that has been projected by the BLS to see 22% growth in the 2010 to 2020 decade.

Education and Training

Clinical rehabilitation psychology is a doctoral level profession. Doctoral programs typically expect students to have some psychology coursework at the undergraduate level, but license-qualifying coursework and training experiences take place later.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

It is possible to enroll in a rehabilitation psychology program at the master’s level. A master’s degree will not make a person eligible for licensure as a psychologist, but may make them eligible for licensure as a rehabilitation counselor, following a period of supervised work experience. It is important to consider state-level requirement as well as program accreditation.

Clinical rehabilitation psychologists are generally required to do a year of formal internship in a healthcare setting and another year of supervised professional practice after degree conferral. Internships and fellowships are competitive. Division 22 lists predoctoral internships and postdoctoral residencies (

All states require psychologists who work directly with individuals who have functional impairments to hold licensing. The process includes examination as well as formal education and training.

Board Certification

Rehabilitation psychologists have the additional option of pursuing national board certification through the American Board of Rehabilitation Psychology, a member board of the American Board of Professional Psychology. The ABRP notes that healthcare centers are, to an increasing degree, coming to expect it. Ohio State University Medical Center is a case in point. The institution boasts having five of the state’s seven board certified rehabilitation psychologists on staff.

The ARBP also notes other values of board certification, including recognition by the National Register of Health Service Providers and salary bonuses through agencies such as Veterans Affairs (

A rehabilitation psychologist who seeks board certification must first have credentials reviewed for eligibility. Later the professional will submit practice samples and supplemental materials (up to 50 pages total) and go through an oral examination process. Senior psychologists (those who have been licensed as psychologists for at least 15 years) are expected to have qualifications at the same level, but will have somewhat more leeway in how they demonstrate them.