A Road Map to Becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors help individuals with disabilities live independent, productive lives. Their clients come with a variety of needs. Some have developmental delays or autism. Some have been injured or suffered debilitating sickness. Still others have mental illness. What clients have in common are obstacles: It can be harder to find suitable employment, and even take care of personal needs.

28% occupational growth in rehabilitation counseling between 2010 and 2020 is predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Not all rehabilitation counselors work directly with individuals. Some are advocates. Some coordinate transitional services for young people who are aging out of the school system. Some help employers or universities make reasonable accommodations and stay in compliance with regulations.

Most rehabilitation counselors take positions in vocational rehab, state government, family and individual services, or residential care facilities for individuals who are developmentally disabled, mentally ill, or have addictions. A variety of other settings are possible, though – it’s an expanding list.

It takes education as well as dedication to become a rehabilitation counselor, but the rewards can be substantial. The job outlook is good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted 28% occupational growth between 2010 and 2020.

Rehabilitation counselors earn a mean wage of $17.82 an hour or $37,070 a year. Work setting goes a long way toward determining salary. Those who work in nursing homes or other residential care facilities average just $30,930. Those who work for OES-designated state agencies average $47,240.

Becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor

In some places, a person can find a job in rehabilitation counseling with a bachelor's degree. However, rehabilitation counselors are generally required to have education at the master's level. It can be a plus to have an undergraduate degree in a social science field or helping profession, but it's not typically a requirement. Accreditation can be important. The program-level accrediting agency is the Commission on Rehabilitation Education (CORE). CORE-accredited programs include at least 600 hours of internship. Attending a CORE-accredited program can simplify the credentialing process down the road.

This is not the only option, however. Graduates of other counseling programs can be certified, but they will need to meet CRCC requirements with regard to internship and/ or work experience. Individuals with degrees in related fields can opt for a certificate instead of a second master’s.

Capella University offers an Online Master's in Addiction Studies as well as three online CACREP- accredited master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling as well as a Post-Bacc Certificate in Addictive Behavior, and a Bachelor's in Psychology. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.


Credentialing is not as universal for rehabilitation counselors as it is for mental health counselors, but it is usually a career asset. Policies vary from state to state. Work setting often determines whether licensing is necessary. Those who provide counseling services in exempt settings do not need licensure. Some jurisdictions require rehabilitation counselors to be credentialed in order to work in state programs, though.

Most states offer rehabilitation counselors the option of being licensed as professional counselors. Practitioners may be permitted to take a licensing examination that's geared specifically toward rehabilitation counseling or they may be required to take the National Counselor Examination, a more general counseling exam. Going through the state licensing process grants a rehabilitation counselor a new title and a new set of initials to use after her name. The title varies from state to state, but in most cases, it is Licensed Professional Counselor. Licensing allows a counselor to practice independently.

Rehabilitation counselors may pursue voluntary certification through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. Credentialing allows them to use the title Certified Rehabilitation Counselor or CRC. CRCC certification must be renewed every five years. State licensed rehabilitation counselors must also adhere to the requirements of their state.

There are many paths that a rehabilitation counselor can choose. Some ultimately become life care planners. Professionals who opt for self-employment or other careers that are off the beaten path often pursue additional voluntary certifications. These are third party validations of competency.

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