Rehabilitation counseling addresses such issues like disabilities, injuries, aging, and other physical problems. Most state licensing boards require rehabilitation counselors to have a master's degree. In this guide, you can learn more about how to become a rehabilitation counselor.
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Why Get a Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling?
A master's in rehabilitation counseling comes with many benefits. Most importantly, most states require a master's degree from an accredited program to become a licensed counselor, so you cannot be a rehabilitation counselor without one. However, there are many other benefits.
It Prepares You For a Rewarding Career Helping Others
A master's degree teaches counselors how to help people cope with physical disabilities or injuries, helping them lead normal lives. These counselors assist people with disabilities, military veterans dealing with PTSD, and those recovering from major injuries or accidents.
It Qualifies You to Become a Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor
While a few states allow bachelor's degree holders with additional education and experience to become licensed rehabilitation counselors, most require a master's degree in counseling or a related field.
The Field's Job Outlook is Brighter Than Average
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 10% growth for rehabilitation counseling positions between 2018-2028 — faster rate than the average for all occupations. This means that graduates should see additional job opportunities.
Example Courses in a Rehabilitation Counseling Master's Degree Program
Rehabilitation counseling degree programs teach students the job skills they need to effectively assist and advise clients, including individual and group counseling methods and different types of therapy, such as animal-assisted therapy, art therapy, and exercise therapy. Through a combination of classroom and field experiences, students study how disability and trauma affect people and learn how to assess clients and help them meet their recovery goals.
While curriculum focus varies by program, the courses listed below are common core requirements in a typical master's in rehabilitation counseling degree program.
Foundation of Counseling Theories
Students compare and contrast the application, effectiveness, goals, and future development of different counseling theories and philosophies. The course also outlines the history and trends of counseling techniques. Through class lectures, discussions, readings, and experiential learning, students develop their own theoretical approaches to use in their future careers.
This class focuses on group theory, research, and experience using a variety of techniques. Students learn to work with all age groups, using communication skills to keep conversations healthy and productive. Instruction delivery includes lectures, discussions, video recordings, readings, and group projects.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Students identify existing and potential psychological disorders and substance abuse. Topics include assessment strategies, effects of medications, the etiology of addiction, and intervention approaches. Students gain knowledge and skills to help people with mental health and substance abuse issues or those living in environments where they might develop.
Counseling Diverse Populations
Students explore behavior patterns and value systems impacted by age, developmental stage, ethnicity, gender, geographic origin, language, lifestyle, race, religion, sexual orientation, and social class. Rehabilitation counselors work with diverse populations, and graduates need diverse skills to be able to serve all populations well.
Students gain foundational knowledge about the theory, practice, and ethics involved in vocational counseling, including helping people with developmental or physical disabilities find employment or assisting those suffering from injury with a variety of workplace issues.
Rehabilitation counseling students gain critical practice skills through practicums, internships, and clinical hours. A practicum generally consists of 100 hours of supervised on-site field experience, spread over 2-3 days a week, in which students observe and assist licensed rehabilitation counselors, though they may also provide supervised counseling services.
The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) requires students to complete 600 supervised internship hours. Interns usually work full time and learn job skills by participating in the workplace's daily activities, including counseling individuals and groups more independently than they would in a practicum.
Many state licensure boards also require 2-3 years of postgraduate clinical counseling experience.
Accreditation means that an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has evaluated a school or program and determined that it meets set standards. Nationally accredited schools usually include for-profit institutions, while regionally accredited schools encompass nonprofit or state-owned colleges and universities.
Most states and CRCC only license counselors with degrees from programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Thus, students should ensure that their chosen programs carry CACREP approval.
What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling?
A master's degree in rehabilitation counseling allows graduates to become licensed counselors. According to the BLS, 30% of rehabilitation counselors work in community and vocational services, followed by individual and family service at 18% and government agencies at 13%. Others find employment at nursing and residential care facilities (12%) or are self-employed (8%).
Common Work Environments
- Nursing and senior homes
- Residential care facilities
- Community and vocational rehabilitation services
- Individual and family services
- Private practice
Career Advancement in Rehabilitation Counseling
Get Your State Counseling License
Virtually all states require rehabilitation counselors to obtain licenses. Requirements vary from state to state; students can find information about licensing in particular states on CRCC's website.
Typical requirements include:
- A master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field with rehabilitation counseling coursework from an accredited program
- Internship, practicum, or clinical experience related to client counseling
- 2,000-4,000 hours of postgraduate supervised clinical experience
- Passage of a state exam, such as the CRCC exam
- Continuing education credits specified by state
With a state license, rehabilitation counselors can work independently and provide direct services to clients.
Earn Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRC Certification)
Earning a certification from CRCC indicates that a candidate meets stringent standards set for rehabilitation counselors. Employers tend to prefer hiring CRCC-certified counselors.
The most direct path to certification consists of a master's degree from an accredited program in rehabilitation counseling or clinical rehabilitation counseling, specific coursework required by CRCC, 600 hours of supervised counseling internship experience, and a passing score on the CRCC exam.
The CRCC website lists other ways to become CRCC-certified, along with details of requisite coursework and work experience. Certification costs $410. Renewal takes place every five years and requires continuing education courses or retaking the CRCC exam.
Pursue a Doctorate Program in Rehabilitation Counseling
Students with master's degrees may wish to obtain a rehabilitation counseling doctorate, which leads to higher salaries and more career options. A Ph.D. in rehabilitation counseling prepares graduates for leadership positions or careers mentoring and teaching future rehabilitation counselors. Potential positions include counseling program directors, counselor supervisors and educators, and university faculty and researchers.
Join A Professional Organization
The following links to professional organizations and resources will help graduates of rehabilitation counseling master's programs find professional development courses, job listings, networking opportunities, and information about recent research.
- American Counseling Association ACA supports counselors through advocacy and professional development activities, including an annual conference, free online continuing education classes, and a job center.
- American Mental Health Counselors Association An online community of mental health counselors, AMHCA offers discounted continuing education opportunities, insurance, publications, a career center, advocacy initiatives, and a discussion forum.
- Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research The Center on KTDRR is a clearinghouse for evidence-based research related to helping people with disabilities. It also offers training and technical assistance. Resources include an online library, policy portal, and strategy database.
- Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification CRCC provides certification in rehabilitation counseling and offers online continuing education courses, a career center, research studies, and advocacy in three areas: advancing the profession, state licensure, and workplace recognition.
- National Council on Rehabilitation Education NCRE advocates for professional standards in the rehabilitation field through education and research. NCRE hosts two conferences a year and posts a newsletter and journal articles on its website. The website also features a worldwide job board.