Interview with Dr. Dimity Peter, Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts – Boston

About Dr. Peter: Dr. Dimity Peter is a faculty member of the University of Massachusetts – Boston (UMass Boston). Previously, she was employed as a rehabilitation counselor in Australia for 10 years. After moving to the United States of America, Dr. Peter pursued graduate and doctorate education in rehabilitation from Syracuse University. She has also worked as a professor at Flinders University in Australia and Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. In her free time, Dr. Peter enjoys cycling and reading science fiction in the summer.

At UMass Boston, Dr. Peter teaches counseling skills, cultural diversity in counseling, and vocational rehabilitation with occasional appearances in practicum and internship courses. At conferences, Dr. Peter provides peer-reviewed journal articles and assists students to do the same. Her research spans from inclusion, advocacy, and disability throughout Australia and the United States. In the past four years, Dr. Peter and her colleagues have collaborated on development a curriculum that is cutting edge, incorporating psychiatric rehabilitation. UMass Boston’s rehabilitation counseling program and Dr. Peter train counselors to work with individuals who have disabilities from an evidence based approach to support their independent living.

About Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Massachusetts – Boston (UMass Boston): UMass Boston offers two tracks, a clinical track and a vocational track. Students can pursue the program online or face to face or a combination of both. There is a high demand for rehabilitation counselors locally and nationally and we have grant money from the federal government to provide scholarships to students.

[] Your career as a rehabilitation counselor began in Australia. Can you tell us more about the universality of rehabilitation counseling and how it pertains to the counselor education program at University of Massachusetts – Boston, with regards to the preparation of future rehabilitation counselors?

[Dr. Dimity Peter] Yes, there are rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation counseling degrees in available in Australia. People with disabilities all over the world seek a meaningful life, where they are fully included, can participate in the workforce and make a contribution to their communities. They are wanting to make their own choices and rather than looking for sympathy and charity, they want to have the same opportunities as others and be afforded dignity and respect. These themes are universal.

[] In what ways do you believe that the online rehabilitation counseling program at UMass Boston falls under the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development rather than the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)?

[Dr. Peter] The program fits in both schools and in fact our students share some classes with counseling students in the CEHD. However, the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development has a large emphasis on inclusion and social participation of marginalized groups – this is a great fit for our program.

[] What type of coursework in the online rehabilitation counseling program at UMass Boston best prepares students to assess individual needs and circumstances of each of their clients?

[Dr. Peter] Our program is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), so much of our curriculum is set by the standards for accreditation. There are a number of themes that are embedded in all the courses: ethical conduct, respect for the individual and his/her choices, community inclusion and participation and looking at the person’s strengths. In the context of assessment, these are critical issues.

[] Earning a master’s degree in counseling has evolved towards online learning. What do you think are some best attributes for online counseling students to have in order to succeed in the rehabilitation counseling program at UMass Boston?

[Dr. Peter] Yes, earning a degree online requires a set of skills. Our program does require a one week residential program (students can commute if they wish) at the Dartmouth campus of the University of Massachusetts. We are particularly interested in students who are working in the field, and already have a strong commitment to working with people with disabilities. Being interested and passionate about your work and seeing the relevance of your studies makes it easy for students to be successful. Student success is the same for online as face to face students. Online classes are more convenient for students who are working. Our online classes “meet” once a week, in the evening and students have the opportunity to interact with the professor and other students from their computer. This structure helps students as they can clarify ideas, ask questions and stay on track.

[] Are you currently involved in any rehabilitation counseling research projects?

[Dr. Peter] Yes, I am involved in a number of research papers. I have just submitted a theoretical paper about stigma and disability. I also finished another paper I have written with some students about employment, education and women with disabilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, I submitted a paper with a colleague about international education, inclusion and the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. I am currently working on some data with a student, looking at racial/ethnic differences in rehabilitation outcomes for people with disabilities. This summer, I have a paper that will be published about race/ethnicity and disability and labor market outcomes.

[] In what ways would you recommend students in online counseling programs to speak out for their current and future clients?

[Dr. Peter] In our program, we teach our students, or future counselors, to empower people with disabilities – empower them to set their own goals, make their own decisions and to advocate for themselves. Sometimes people with disabilities might need additional support for advocacy – in which case we think about working in collaboration with the person with a disability to achieve their goals rather than speaking for them, which would be the least preferred option, but sometimes necessary.

[] How does the online rehabilitation counseling program at UMass Boston prepare students to work with a wide range of populations, specifically with children and adolescents as compared to adults or elder clients?

[Dr. Peter] Our students are prepared to work with people who have a range of disabilities, cultures, socio-economic background, sexual preferences and gender statuses. We do not focus on any particular age groups, we look at development across the lifespan, although in reality most students work with adults 16-65. Students in the vocational track can choose to take electives related to children, adolescents or the elderly, but this is not in the core program.

[] Can you explain more about the field of rehabilitation counseling and it’s relation and difference from the mental health counseling degree that UMass Boston also offers?

[Dr. Peter] Rehabilitation counselors work with people with disabilities to enable them to achieve their goals. Their role is not a therapist, but someone who can support a person with a disability to be a fully included member of society – counseling is an important part of this. A rehabilitation counselor helps identify a person’s strengths, clarify his/her goals and obtain the resources to achieve these goals. Many people with disabilities want to further their education and skills to obtain work, some clients need support in obtaining work, other clients have other goals, such as to live more independently, participate in voluntary work or to find some other meaningful activity. This is the work of a rehabilitation counselor. An important client group in rehabilitation counseling is older adolescents who are making the transition from school to education, employment or some other meaningful activity.

Rehabilitation counselors share many of the same counseling classes as mental health counselors and school counselors at UMass Boston. Rehabilitation counselors can work with people with all different types of disabilities. The primary difference is in the philosophy of the programs – we focus on the principles of recovery and psychiatric rehabilitation. Our counselors are very goal oriented in their approach and we focus on an individual’s strengths and accommodate his/her disability. Our students are eligible to become Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRC) and are eligible for licensing in many states including Massachusetts.

Last updated: April 2020