Rehabilitation Counselors Overview

A strong desire to help others and the ability to inspire trust, respect and confidence are important traits of rehabilitation counselors. A masters degree is usually required for licensure, but education and training requirements vary by state. As the number of job openings exceeds the number of qualified graduates, job prospects are expected to be favorable.

Nature of the Work for Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors provide many counseling, rehabilitation and support services in a variety of settings. Despite the work environment, these counselors may work face children, adults, adolescents and families with a multitude of issues including mental health disorders, addiction, disabilities and trauma. They must recognize all of these issues in order to create an appropriate plan for counseling and support.

Rehabilitation counselors assist individuals with disabilities as the affect their personal, social and work lives. Their work covers individuals with both emotional and physical disabilities that arise due to illness, accidents, disease, birth defects or other causes. After evaluating the strengths and limitations of a client, rehabilitation counselors provide personal and vocation counseling, vocational training, job placement, case management support and medical care arrangements. To get a full picture, rehabilitation counselors often interview clients as well as their families. They also need to evaluate medical and school reports and consults with a variety of other individuals including employers, physicians, psychologists and speech, occupational and physical therapists. Conferring with the client, rehabilitation counselors develop individualized rehabilitation programs, which usually include training to help them find employment and integrate with the community. These workers are trained to recognize and help reduce barriers both environmental and attitudinal in scope including providing advocacy and education to community members, employers and families. With this collaboration of service providers, rehabilitation counselors hope to increase their clients’ ability to live independently.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Rehabilitation Counselors

Education and training for rehabilitation counselors vary from state to state. That said, usually a masters degree is required for licensure. Those considering a counseling career should determine requirements needed by state and local government, national voluntary certification organizations and prospective employers.

Education, psychology and human services departments offer counseling programs at colleges and universities. Fields of study include gerontological counseling, rehabilitation counseling, agency or community counseling and career counseling. Core course areas include relationships, group work, counseling techniques, assessement, professional ethics and identity, research and program evaluation, social and cultural diversity, career development and human growth and development. Accredited masters degree programs consist of 48 to 60 semester hours of graduate study including a supervised clinical internship. Entry level rehabilitation counselors sometimes receive training on the job. Others are offered tuition assistance or time off for graduate study from their employer. To maintain licenses and certifications, most rehabilitation counselors need to complete personal studies, workshops or graduate students.

Licensing programs vary from state to state, though almost all counselors working outside of schools need to have some form of license.

Those interested in rehabilitation counselors careers should have a strong desire to help others and exude confidence, trustworthiness and respect. They will need to work both independently and on a team. As stated by their certification or license rehabilitation counselors need to follow a code of ethics. Both physical and emotional energy are needed to deal with a long list of problems from clients and the related stress of the job.

Some rehabilitation counselors choose to become a National Certified Counselor through the National Board for Certified Counselors. This certification is different from state licenses, but some states allow counselors holding the certification to skip the state exam. Specialty certifications are also offered.

Rehabilitation counselors can also seek a voluntary Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. Many local and state governments and specific employers require this certification for rehabilitation counselors. To qualify, workers must graduate from an accredited program, complete an internship and pass the written exam. An applicant’s educational history can affect the specific requirements though. Those with a counseling degree in a specialty other than rehabilitation for example must also have work. Every 5 years rehabilitation counselors must retake the certification exam or complete 100 hours of acceptable continuing education. Other counseling organizations offer certifications as well. While not always required, certifications can improve one’s job prospects.

Advancement opportunities vary, but some may become administrators or supervisors within their agencies. Other rehabilitation counselors may find work in consulting, private or group practice, college teaching or research. And some in the field go back to school for a doctoral degree to improve advancement opportunities.

Top 10 Most Popular Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling/Counselor Schools

1. University of Wisconsin, Stout (Menomonie, Wisconsin)
2. East Carolina University (Greenville, North Carolina)
3. University of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, Wisconsin)
4. University of Kentucky, Lexington (Lexington, Kentucky)
5. San Diego State University (San Diego, California)
6. University of Arkansas at Little Rock (Little Rock, Arkansas)
7. Winston-Salem State University (Winston Salem, North Carolina)
8. Southern University and A & M College (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
9. California State University, Fresno (Fresno, California)
10. CUNY Hunter College (New York, New York)

See All Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling/Counselor Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Rehabilitation Counselors

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow faster than average (increase 14 - 19%).

Rehabilitation counselors held about 112,690 jobs. More and more rehabilitation counselors are self-employed working in either private or group practices as more insurance agencies cover counseling services and society accepts the training and professionalism of workers in the field.

Opportunities for rehabilitation counselors are projected to grow faster than average at a rate of about 19 percent. More people will need rehabilitation counseling in the future as the elderly population increases in size. Elderly people typically become disabled or injured more frequently than other age groups. Plus, the treatment of mental health related disabilities is now more common.

Earnings and Salary for Rehabilitation Counselors

The median annual wages of rehabilitation counselors are $31,210. The highest 10 percent earn above $55,580, the lowest 10 percent earn under $20,440 and the middle 50 percent earn between $24,410 and $41,420. Broken down by the industries employing the largest number of rehabilitation counselors, median annual salaries are as follows:

Residential mental retardation, mental health and substance facilities: $29,220
Individual and family services: $31,490
Vocational rehabilitation services: $31,820
Local government: $39,590
State government: $44,190

Annual Salary for Rehabilitation Counselors

On average, Rehabilitation Counselors earn $31,210 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $20,440/yr $24,410/yr $41,420/yr $55,580/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook