Rehabilitation Counselors

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What Rehabilitation Counselors Do[About this section] [To Top]

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, and emotional disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.

Duties of Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors typically do the following:

  • Provide individual and group counseling to help clients adjust to their disability
  • Evaluate clients’ abilities, interests, experiences, skills, health, and education
  • Develop a treatment plan for clients in consultation with other professionals, such as doctors, therapists, and psychologists
  • Arrange for clients to obtain services, such as medical care or career training
  • Help employers understand the needs and abilities of people with disabilities, as well as laws and resources that affect people with disabilities
  • Help clients develop their strengths and adjust to their limitations
  • Locate resources, such as wheelchairs or computer programs, that help clients live and work more independently
  • Maintain client records and monitor clients’ progress, adjusting the rehabilitation or treatment plan as necessary
  • Advocate for the rights of people with disabilities to live in a community and work in the job of their choice

Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities at various stages in their lives. Some work with students to develop strategies to live with their disability and move from school to work. Others help veterans cope with the mental or physical effects of their military service. Still others help elderly people adapt to disabilities developed later in life from illness or injury. Some may provide expert testimony or assessments during personal injury or workers’ compensation cases.

Some rehabilitation counselors deal specifically with employment issues. These counselors, sometimes called vocational rehabilitation counselors, typically work with older students and adults.

Rehabilitation counselors who work in private practice must spend time marketing their practice to prospective clients and working with insurance companies and clients to get paid for their services.

Work Environment for Rehabilitation Counselors[About this section] [To Top]

Rehabilitation counselors hold about 120,100 jobs. The industries that employ the most rehabilitation counselors are as follows:

Vocational rehabilitation services 26%
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 20
Individual and family services 20
Nursing and residential care facilities 13

They work in a variety of settings, such as community rehabilitation centers, senior citizen centers, youth guidance organizations, and state and federal rehabilitation agencies. They also work in private practice and in state, private, and nonprofit rehabilitation agencies.

Rehabilitation Counselor Work Schedules

Most rehabilitation counselors work full time. Depending on where they work, they may work evenings or weekends.

How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Rehabilitation Counselors near you!

Rehabilitation counselors typically need a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. Some positions require certification or a license.

Rehabilitation Counselor Education

Most employers require a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter a master’s degree program. Master’s degree programs teach students the theories, skills, and techniques that will enable them to provide effective mental health counseling. These programs also train students in evaluating clients’ needs, formulating and implementing job placement strategies, and understanding the medical and psychological aspects of a disability. They typically require a period of supervised clinical experience, such as an internship.

Although some employers hire workers with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and disability studies, these workers typically cannot offer the full range of services that a rehabilitation counselor with a master’s degree can provide. Students in bachelor’s degree programs learn about issues that people with disabilities face and about the process of providing rehabilitation services. Some universities offer dual-degree programs in rehabilitation counseling, in which students can earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in 5 years.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensing requirements for rehabilitation counselors differ by state and by type of services provided. Those providing counseling services to clients and patients must attain a license through their state licensing board. Other services provided by rehabilitation counselors, however, may be exempt from state licensing requirements. For example, rehabilitation counselors who provide only vocational rehabilitation services or job placement assistance may not need a license.

Licensure typically requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam. To maintain their licensure, counselors must complete annual continuing education credits.

Applicants should contact their state licensing board for information on what services or counseling positions require licensure. Contact information for these state licensing boards can be found through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.

Some employers prefer or require rehabilitation counselors to be certified. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification offers the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification. Applicants must meet advanced education, work experience, and clinical supervision requirements and pass a test. Certification must be renewed every 5 years. Counselors must complete continuing education requirements or pass a reexamination to renew their certification.

Important Qualities for Rehabilitation Counselors

Communication skills. Rehabilitation counselors need to be able to effectively communicate with clients. They must express ideas and information in a way that is easy to understand.

Compassion. Counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations. They must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Critical-thinking skills. Counselors must be able to develop a treatment plan to help clients reach their goals by considering each client’s abilities and interests.

Interpersonal skills. Being able to work with different types of people is essential for rehabilitation counselors, who spend most of their time working directly with clients, families, employers, or other professionals. They must be able to develop and maintain good working relationships.

Listening skills. Good listening skills are essential for rehabilitation counselors. They need to give their full attention in sessions in order to understand clients’ problems, concerns, and values.

Patience. To help people learn new skills and strategies, rehabilitation counselors must have patience as clients struggle to learn about and address their disabilities.

Rehabilitation Counselor Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for rehabilitation counselors is $34,380. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,200, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,810.

The median annual wages for rehabilitation counselors in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

State and local government, excluding education and hospitals $44,180
Individual and family services 32,890
Vocational rehabilitation services 30,280
Nursing and residential care facilities 29,550

Most rehabilitation counselors work full time. Depending on where they work, they may work evenings or weekends.

Job Outlook for Rehabilitation Counselors[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of rehabilitation counselors is projected to grow 9 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow with the increase in the elderly population and with the continued rehabilitation needs of other groups, such as veterans and people with disabilities.

Older adults are more likely than other age groups to become disabled or injured. Rehabilitation counselors will be needed to help the elderly learn to adapt to any new limitations and learn strategies to live independently.

In addition, there will be a continued need for rehabilitation counselors to work with veterans who were disabled during their military service. They will also be needed to work with other groups, such as people who have learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, or substance abuse problems.

Employment projections data for Rehabilitation Counselors, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Rehabilitation counselors 120,100 130,900 9 10,800


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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