Dr. Irmo Marini, a professor at the University of Texas Pan-American and an accomplished author, has received the 2013 NCRE Rehabilitation Educator of the Year Award due to his significant contributions to the preparation of rehabilitation counseling professionals. We recently spoke with him to learn more about his experience as an educator and his work in the field of rehabilitation education.
SpringBoard: As an educator, what key message(s) would you want students of rehabilitation counseling to take away?
Marini: There are two main messages for rehabilitation counseling students in learning to work with persons with disabilities. The first is that out of other counseling disciplines, rehabilitation counseling pairs students with the most disenfranchised of Americans. Persons with disabilities are often unemployed, viewed as helpless, and statistically live in poverty with poorer health care. So this puts students in touch with individuals with the greatest needs. Second, the profession is one of the most rewarding of the counseling disciplines, because you are working with not only the most stereotyped and sometimes discriminated against population, but also in many cases, a very resilient client base who have overcome adversity and are looking for a place in society.
SpringBoard: What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching students in this field?
Marini: One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching students is that many of them are motivated and inspired to learn, and they are like sponges hoping to get the most out of their educational experience. And they really do want to help in this profession, more so than just make a living, so having the privilege to work with individuals who want to be the best they can be at helping others is intrinsically satisfying all on its own.
SpringBoard: Where do you see the field of rehabilitation education going?
Marini: Rehabilitation education has only been around for about 60 years so it’s only a newcomer to the field of counseling compared to counseling and social work, but it becomes more well known each year. Career research studies have shown that jobs in vocational rehabilitation counseling will remain unfilled into the far future just with the public sector rehabilitation program itself, so with aging baby boomers who have disabilities, veterans returning from the wars, and medical advances allowing persons with severe disabilities to live longer, the field will only continue to expand.
SpringBoard: How can quality education help shape and impact future practitioners? Why is it important?
Marini: Quality education at the postsecondary level must extend beyond the classroom. I'm honored with the Rehabilitation Educator of the Year Award, and a big part of what sets me apart from other educators is the research and publication I engage in myself. We as educators have to go beyond citing other experts' work, and we must also contribute by conducting our own empirical research and publishing the results. My students are always much more attentive when I'm explaining the nuances of my research and study results. Practitioners, especially in today's cost-effective environment, have to rely more on evidence-based practice counseling strategies, and that only can come from evidence-based empirical research. We can no longer just say we think something works anecdotally and hope insurance pays for it. It has to be empirically supported. So quality education at quality programs typically has a very active faculty conducting and publishing their own research. It should be much more than just being a teacher at the University level.
SpringBoard: What are a few hot topics in the field?
Marini: Some hot topics in the field right now are positive psychology and wellness, social justice issues, working with Iraqi and Afghan veterans who are returning with a multitude of physical and psychological impairments, and the psychosocial issues for persons with disabilities living in an able-bodied world.
SpringBoard: What does the most current research on psychological and sociological issues relating to individual disabilities suggest?
Marini: Well, since I've researched and published on the most current psychological and social issues related to people with disabilities, the latest research is moving into the area of positive psychology, resilience, quality of life, and social well-being. The field is also looking closely at how best to work with returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan both psychologically and socially since this population of veterans statistically are returning with the highest rates of PTSD, suicide, and other mental health problems than those returning veterans from any other war. The third leg of the most prevalent topics today is social justice and oppression of persons with disabilities. Rehabilitation counselors and educators have not addressed this topic much at all, but it remains the elephant in the room as far as needing to acknowledge that, despite all the protective legislation, discrimination occurs, physical barriers still exist, negative attitude still exist, and many Americans and most politicians still remain ambivalent in their attitudes toward persons with disabilities.
SpringBoard: What are some of the challenges of enabling persons with disabilities, and improving quality of life for this population?
Marini: Some of the challenges for rehab counselors in enabling or empowering persons with disabilities are that we have not fully recognized or acknowledged the fact that social injustice and oppression in society is still very prevalent despite civil rights legislation. As such, my research as well as others has shown that many people with disabilities are not necessarily depressed or helpless, but rather experience daily frustrations dealing with agencies, businesses, negative attitudes, etc. that handicaps them even further as they realize they are not playing on the level playing field. And statistically, when you have an individual with a disability who happens to be a female and a person a minority, these individuals tend to be those who are living in poverty under dismal living conditions. So it's difficult to observe someone living under those circumstances, as I do in my private life care planning practice, and conclude they have a good quality of life. How we can improve their quality of life other than the counseling that we do, is to advocate for and with them in breaking down physical and societal barriers, showing them how to file complaints and advocate for themselves in unjust circumstances.
Dr. Irmo Marini, PhD, is currently a Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation at the University of Texas-Pan American. He earned his master’s in clinical psychology from Lakehead University in Canada, and his Ph.D. in Rehabilitation from Auburn University in Alabama. Over his 20 year academic career, Dr. Marini earned two outstanding faculty research awards at Arkansas State, three more faculty research awards at Pan-American, two outstanding teaching awards at Pan-American, and one service award. On a national level, Dr. Marini was the recipient of the 2009 distinguished career in rehabilitation education award by the National Council on Rehabilitation Education, and a year later received the 2010 James F. Garrett distinguished career award in rehabilitation research by the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association. He was also recently the National Council on Rehabilitation Education’s 2013 recipient of the rehabilitation educator of the year award. In 2012, Dr. Marini received an honorary doctorate in science from his alma mater Lakehead University. To date, he has published over 75 peer-reviewed journal publications, 25 book chapters, and co-authored and co-edited 3 books on counseling and rehabilitation counseling psychology related topics. Dr. Marini also began a forensic rehabilitation life care planning and vocational damages consulting practice in 1994 and is also a vocational expert witness with the Social Security Administration in Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio. He has testified in over 4,500 SSA cases as well as litigated personal injury cases. Dr. Marini is former president of the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association and former Chair of the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.