When the University of South Florida (USF) began offering courses in rehabilitation counseling in 1972, just 10 students filled the seats. Today – fifty years later – the number of students in what is now known as Clinical Rehabilitation & Mental Health Counseling (CRMHC) has grown to nearly 150, supported by a dozen faculty members. The breadth of instruction has also expanded, with additional focus in the areas of mental health, behavioral health, addictions and substance abuse counseling; marriage and family therapy; and disability sciences. The program within the Department of Child & Family Studies (CFS) trains a workforce that meets a growing need nationwide.
“Students who graduate from our program gain a skillset that allows them to go on to fill a variety of roles in both vocational rehabilitation and mental health fields,” says Chih-Chin Chou, PhD, CRC, RMHC program director and associate professor in CFS. “We are proud that nearly 100 percent of our students find jobs upon graduation and that many of them go on to provide increased access to care in our communities.”
The program prepares students to become Certified Rehabilitation Counselors and Licensed Mental Health Counselors and offers opportunities for specialization, including certificates in addictions and substance abuse and marriage and family therapy. Graduates often go on to work with people with disabilities, including those of a physical, mental, emotional, or chemical nature. Many choose positions at state, community-based, or not-for-profit rehabilitation programs, or within federal agencies such as the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Others find roles within for-profit and non-profit mental health or substance abuse counseling centers, rehabilitation centers, in private-practice counseling, and more.
But it isn't the job security, the ability to earn professional licenses, exceptional field placement opportunities, or the graduate program’s No. 27 ranking by U.S. News & World Report that draw students in. Above all, many students say the innate feeling of wanting to help people and a passion for making a difference is what inspires to pursue the program.
CRMHC Alum ('93)
Raquel Pancho, a 1993 graduate, is now the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator for the City of Tampa. In her role, she ensures that the city is compliant with the ADA and that community members with and without disabilities have equitable access to public programs and services. She has also used her degree in previous positions in job coaching, counseling, case management, disability services, educational programs, and therapy. She credits the vibrant student community at USF and deep personal and professional relationships she built during her graduate studies for the increase in confidence that she needed to succeed.
“I had some wonderful opportunities to learn under fabulous professors, and it was a tremendous growth opportunity for me as an individual,” says Pancho. “The counseling skills I learned, I use now in my day-to-day interactions with community members, colleagues, and in group settings to analyze what’s happening and see how I can offer support.”
Pancho, who is of Filipino descent, says that generous scholarships and the guidance of Tennyson Wright, PhD, CRC, professor emeritus and the program’s first Black faculty member, greatly impacted her decision to apply for the program. In a USF oral history, Wright discussed how a grant from the U.S. Department of Education helped promote diversity in the program by recruiting and training minorities to enter the profession.
“I assumed responsibility for recruiting students and developing them, along with the other faculty members, and graduating and placing those students. I felt that I was very successful. In fact, I believe the program was very successful,” said Wright. “We were able to recruit a lot of individuals locally as well as from around the Southeast.”
Even in its fifth decade, the CRMHC continues to grow and evolve. Just this year, the program launched its newest degree: an online Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling & Disability Sciences, which emphasizes psychological, social, medical, and vocational aspects of disability and prepares graduates for careers as rehabilitation counselors and professional disability specialists. The online aspect makes the program accessible to students who may be working full-time or reside outside of the Tampa Bay area. With its talented faculty and staff leading the charge through innovative instruction and impactful research, there is no doubt that CRMHC will continue to be a leader in creating a more inclusive and diverse field, with hope for a world with more acceptance of our neighbors with differences.
“It is wonderful to think about how our faculty has had an impact on so many students over the past five decades, and in-turn, those students have gone on to have tremendous impact on the world,” says Chou. “It is my hope that we continue to see this program grow and continue to empower students to become leader in this important profession.”