Rehabilitation Counselor: Education and Career Facts

Rehabilitation counselors help disabled or injured individuals handle vocational and personal issues. Get information on graduate degree options for prospective rehabilitation counselors, and find out what course topics you'd study. Learn about online degree options in this field. Review the licensure and certification requirements, salary potential and detailed job duties for rehabilitation counselors. Schools offering Rehabilitation Sciences degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

As a rehabilitation counselor, you would consult with a client to identify the issues he or she needs help with. You might need to contact physicians, psychiatrists or family members to obtain more information about the issues. Subsequently, you would design a plan for handling each problem, including visiting with an occupational or physical therapist, medical professional or other individual that can offer additional treatment. You could need to offer assistance to help your client reenter the workforce, relearn how to perform basic daily tasks, become financially independent or overcome an emotional issue.

Degrees Master's degree related to counseling or rehabilitation counseling; limited opportunities with bachelor's degree.
Online Online programs are typically available at the graduate level and may include certain prerequisites as well as an on-site practicum or internship.
Licensure While licensure requirements vary by state and employers, you may earn a Certified Rehabilitation credential from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.
Median Salary (2017)* $34,860
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)* 13% (faster than average)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Will I Need?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most employers prefer to hire counselors who have master's degrees. Some employers will hire rehabilitation counselors who only have a bachelor's degree, but these counselors are not able to provide all the services that those with master's degrees can. Some degree options you could consider include a Master of Arts, Master of Science or Master of Education in a field related to counseling or rehabilitation counseling. Many schools also offer doctoral programs in rehabilitation counseling. To prepare for graduate school, you could major in a related subject, such as psychology, counseling or human services, though this is not always required.

Graduate programs include advanced coursework in counseling techniques and rehabilitation services. Counseling topics might cover group counseling methods, human development and clinical mental health counseling. Rehabilitation topics could include job development and placement methods, medical issues and psychopathology. Many programs allow you to concentrate your studies in such areas as drug and alcohol counseling, vocational rehabilitation or mental health disability rehabilitation. You will usually need to complete a supervised counseling internship in your chosen specialization, create individual rehabilitation plans and present cases.

Can I Earn a Degree Online?

Master's degree programs in counseling are the most common types of programs available online. Admission requirements for an online program are similar to campus-based programs. You might need counseling experience, current CPR certification or a clean bill of health to enroll or participate in any clinical practicums. You can usually complete internship or practicum requirements at a clinic or health care setting in your area. Coursework and lectures can be delivered in a variety of formats, including:

  • Online reading materials
  • Pre-recorded lecture series
  • Web-based lecture series
  • Real-time classroom sessions

What Certification or Licensing Is Required?

Rehabilitation counselors typically need a license in the state in which they intend to practice, the BLS reports. To obtain a state license, you will need to meet all of the education and experience requirements set by your state's licensing board as well as any additional requirements, such as certification or a background check. You could need to maintain your license with professional development courses. Some states regulate counseling professions differently and you might need to obtain more than one type of license or endorsement to counsel certain types of people, such as children, or work in a particular setting, such as a school.

In addition to licensure, some states or employers might also require that you earn professional certification. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) issues the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor credential. To become certified, you must pass an exam, have a master's or doctoral degree from an accredited program and have completed a 600-hour internship. Those who do not meet those requirements may be able to substitute supervised work experience or other requirements specified by the CRCC. To renew your certification every five years, you can either complete continuing education credits or retake the certification exam (

What Are My Career Options?

As a licensed and certified rehabilitation counselor, you could find employment in hospitals, private clinics or with government agencies. The largest employers of rehabilitation counselors in 2016 were community and vocational rehabilitation services, followed by individual and family services. Other rehabilitation counselors work within government organizations, nursing and residential care facilities. There's also a population of rehabilitation counselors that are self-employed.

What Is the Outlook for This Career?

In 2017, the BLS reported that California and Pennsylvania had the highest numbers of rehabilitation counselors among the 50 states, with 13,710 and 8,020 counselors, respectively. Nationally, rehabilitation counselors made a median salary of $34,860. The highest-paying states included Alaska, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Job growth for the timeframe of 2016-2026 is expected to be 13%, which is faster than average. This growth rate is a result of an increase in the elderly population and individuals with continuous rehabilitation needs.

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