Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently.
What they do
Rehabilitation counselors work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.
They 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 transition 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 work in a variety of settings, such as community rehabilitation centers, senior citizen centers, and youth guidance organizations. Depending on where they work, some rehabilitation counselors may work evenings or weekends.
How to become a Rehabilitation Counselor
Rehabilitation counselors typically need a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. Some positions require certification or a license.
Most employers require a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. Master’s degree programs teach students to evaluate clients’ needs, formulate and implement job placement strategies, and understand the medical and psychological aspects of disabilities. These programs typically include 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 faced by people with disabilities 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.
Licensing requirements for rehabilitation counselors differ by state and by type of services provided. Rehabilitation counselors who provide counseling services to clients and patients must attain a counselor license through their state licensing board. Rehabilitation counselors who provide other services, 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 license, counselors must complete annual continuing education credits.
Applicants should contact their state licensing board for information on which 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.
The median annual wage for rehabilitation counselors was $35,950 in May 2019. 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 $23,820, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,790.
Employment of rehabilitation counselors is projected to grow 10 percent from 2019 to 2029, much 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.
Similar Job Titles
Employment Advisor, Employment Services Case Manager, Employment Specialist, Human Services Care Specialist, Job Coach, Rehabilitation Counselor, Rehabilitation Specialist, Vocational Case Manager, Vocational Placement Specialist, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC)
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor, Child/Family/School Social Worker, Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist, Recreational Therapist, Recreation Worker
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Correctional Association
- American Occupational Therapy Association
- American Rehabilitation Counseling Association
- Association of People Supporting Employment First
- Commission on Rehabilitative Counseling Certification
- International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals
- National Association of Social Workers
- National Council on Rehabilitation Education
- National Rehabilitation Association
Magazines and Publications
Getting a job and living independently are vital goals for many people who have disabilities. Rehabilitation counselors help individuals who have physical, mental, or emotional disabilities to overcome barriers to employment or independent living. After developing a treatment plan for a client, they arrange for services such as medical care or career training, and find resources like wheelchairs or assistive technology. Rehab counselors may work with students to develop strategies to complete their education and transition to work. Some help veterans cope with the physical or mental effects of their military service. Others help elderly clients reconnect with activities and a lifestyle they enjoyed before an illness. Vocational rehabilitation counselors specialize in helping working-age clients deal with employment issues. Rehabilitation counselors are advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, and often work with employers to understand the abilities of their clients, as well as explaining laws related to hiring and accommodating disability in the workplace. Rehab counselors also provide consultation for legal issues around the impact of injuries on work activities. Typical work settings include community rehabilitation centers, nursing homes or senior centers, and youth guidance organizations. Some positions require evening or weekend hours. Rehabilitation counselors generally need a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. Some positions require certification or a license.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org