In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rehabilitation

  • Introduction
  • History
  • Demographics
  • Introductory Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Handbooks and Guides
  • Professional Organizations
  • Government Organizations/Funding Sources
  • Research and Information Centers
  • Levels and Settings of Rehab Care
  • Social Work’s Role in Rehabilitation
  • Assistive Technologies

Social Work Rehabilitation
Elaine N. Eisenbaum, David W. Springer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0236


The rehabilitation field is often considered to have begun after World War I, with the rapid expansion of policies and programs aimed to rehabilitate war veterans. Although originally intended to restore functioning for persons with acquired injuries, the rehabilitation field has expanded to include services for people with acquired as well as congenital disabilities. Individuals use rehabilitation programs across the life span, from the very young through participation in early intervention programs to older adults at the end stages of life. The great diversity of rehabilitation users necessitates an equally diverse array of levels and settings of care, ranging from inpatient acute care to occasional services in home and community-based settings. Multidisciplinary teams that include physicians, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, recreational therapists, and social workers provide rehabilitation services. Social workers play an important role on these interdisciplinary teams and are involved in a variety of activities, including assessments, counseling, education, resource provision, and discharge planning.


Although rehabilitation efforts in the United States began prior to the 20th century, the rehabilitation field is often considered to have begun with the rapid expansion of policies and programs aimed to rehabilitate war veterans following World War I. Gritzer and Arluke 1989 and Linker 2011 provide comprehensive overviews of this history, describing the development of rehabilitation practices, policies, and related disciplines. Other authors detail the history of specific disciplines within rehabilitation as well as specific populations. Patterson, et al. 2012 provides a concise overview of legislative efforts that established the field of vocational rehabilitation, while Folz, et al. 1997 explains the establishment of the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and physical medicine education programs. Boake and Diller 2005 provides a history of traumatic brain injury rehabilitation, while Lawrie 2015 relates the experiences of African American World War I veterans.

  • Boake, Corwin, and Leonard Diller. 2005. History of rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury. In Rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury. Edited by Walter M. High, Angelle M. Sander, Margaret A. Struchen, and Karen A. Hart, 3–13. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This chapter provides an overview of the development of traumatic brain injury rehabilitation programs and research efforts in the United States and abroad, from World War I through the 1970s. The authors also provide a section on current trends in brain injury rehabilitation.

  • Folz, Thomas J., Joachim L. Opitz, D. Jesse Peters, and Russell Gelfman. 1997. The history of physical medicine and rehabilitation as recorded in the diary of Dr. Frank Krusen: Part 2. Forging ahead (1943–1947). Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 78.4: 446–450.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0003-9993(97)90241-0

    Using the diary of Dr. Frank Krusen, a pioneer in the rehabilitation field, this article details the founding of the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation as well as the establishment of funding to universities to support new rehabilitation and physical medicine programs. Part two of a four-part series.

  • Gritzer, Glenn, and Arnold Arluke. 1989. The making of rehabilitation: A political economy of medical specialization, 1890–1980. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    This book gives an overview of the history of medical rehabilitation in the United States from the early 19th century through the early 1980s. The authors detail the development of distinct medical specializations related to rehabilitation and analyze the causal influences behind this division of labor.

  • Lawrie, Paul. 2015. “Salvaging the Negro”: Race, rehabilitation, and the body politic in World War I America, 1917–1924. In Disability histories. Edited by Susan Burch and Michael Rembis, 321–344. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

    This chapter details the experiences of African American World War I veterans and their experiences of rehabilitation, particularly vocational rehabilitation, during the early 20th century. The author examines how constructions of race and disability informed early rehabilitation policies and practices.

  • Linker, Beth. 2011. War’s waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226482552.001.0001

    The author details the rise and expansion of rehabilitation policies, practices, and disciplines, beginning with the transition from the Civil War era pension system to the rehabilitation system established for World War I veterans. Throughout, the author examines how stigma associated with disability shaped rehabilitation practices, industry, and ideology.

  • Patterson, Jeanne Boland, Susanne M. Bruyere, Edna Mora Syzmanski, and William Jenkins. 2012. Philosophical, historical, and legislative aspects of the rehabilitation counseling profession. In Rehabilitation counseling: Basics and beyond. 5th ed. Edited by Randall M. Parker and Jeanne Boland Patterson, 27–54. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

    This chapter provides an overview of the historical and current legislative efforts that have shaped the rehabilitation services available to individuals with disabilities as well as the vocational rehabilitation field.

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