How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

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Updated September 29, 2023 · 4 Min Read

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Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities reach educational, professional, and life goals. Learn how to become a rehabilitation counselor.

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Rehabilitation counselors play a vital role in helping people with disabilities live with as much independence as possible. They offer counseling to help their clients overcome obstacles to meet personal, career, or academic goals. Learn more about rehabilitation counselors, what they do, and how to become one. Explore the opportunities that this career offers today.

What Is a Rehabilitation Counselor?

Rehabilitation counselors provide counseling to clients and act as their advocates, helping both the client's school or employer create an environment where people with different abilities can succeed.

In general, rehabilitation counselors have a master's degree, but each state has its own regulations and requirements. In some states, a license may not be required for rehabilitation counselors who provide only vocational rehabilitation services or job placement assistance.

Rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of settings. They may work in community settings, government agencies, nursing and residential care settings, or in hospitals and healthcare systems. As a rehabilitation counselor, you may specialize in a particular type of client or age group, such as children, teens, or veterans.

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How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

While requirements vary by state and by responsibility level, most rehabilitation counselors have a master's degree and earn their license through a combination of education, experience, and passing a national examination.

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Rehabilitation and Disability Studies or a Related Field

    You can earn a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation and disability studies, or in a related field, such as psychology or other social science fields.
  2. 2

    Earn an Accredited Graduate Degree in Counseling or a Related Field

    Most graduate degrees in rehabilitation counseling require approximately 60 hours and take two years to complete. They include fieldwork, during which you will observe and later work with licensed rehabilitation counselors. Most states require that a rehabilitation counselor graduate from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
  3. 3

    Complete Post-Graduate Supervised Experience

    Depending on your state, you may need to complete supervised experience, typically 2,000-4,000 hours (approximately one to two years) to earn a rehabilitation counselor license. In most states, your supervisor must be a licensed rehabilitation counselor or other licensed counselor.
  4. 4

    Pass the National Counseling Examination

    After you earn experience, you may wish to take the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) national examination and become a certified rehabilitation counselor. Employers may prefer or require this certification, even if your state does not require it for licensing.

Rehabilitation Counselor Licensure

Each state has different regulations for rehabilitation counselors. In some states, vocational counseling or job placement counseling do not require a license. Be sure to check your local state or the state where you want to practice for details and the scope of practice.

The requirements to maintain your rehabilitation counselor license also vary by state. In general, you must complete continuing education and apply to renew your license every two or three years. While rehabilitation counselor licenses do not transfer across states, you may be eligible for licensure by endorsement if you move. This means you need to demonstrate that you meet the new state's requirements, rather than applying from the beginning.

Rehabilitation Counselor Outlook and Salaries

Because the education and licensing requirements for rehabilitation counselors vary significantly across states, your earning potential as a rehabilitation counselor may differ.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median rehabilitation counselor salary in the U.S. is $39,990, which is below the $46,310 median salary for all occupations. Nationally, 80% of rehabilitation counselors earn between $29,120 and $71,270. The BLS projects that rehabilitation counselor jobs will grow approximately 2% between 2022 and 2032, about the average rate across all jobs.

Salaries for rehabilitation counselors are highest in Maine, where the average annual salary is $68,090, Alaska ($64,790), Rhode Island ($59,120), the District of Columbia ($55,890), and North Dakota ($55,460).

You can expect to increase your salary with experience. Payscale reports that rehabilitation counselors with 20 or more years of experience earn an average $67,000, compared to $42,000 for entry-level staff.

Rehabilitation Counselor Salary Breakdown
Annual Salary Percentile Annual Salary
10% $29,120
25% $33,790
Median (50%) $39,990
75% $53,470
90% $71,270
Source: BLS, 2022

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

What are the pros and cons of becoming a rehabilitation counselor?

While the salary may be a disadvantage to becoming a rehabilitation counselor, many professionals report high personal fulfillment. Rehabilitation counselor salaries are lower than the median U.S. salary, with a median reported salary of $39,990. However, if you enjoy helping differently abled people live independent lives and fulfill their goals, you may find this to be a rewarding career.

What type of questions are on the CRC exam?

The Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) exam has two kinds of questions: questions about counseling and questions about abilities and rehabilitation. There are 175 multiple-choice questions.

What are the goals of rehabilitation counseling?

The goals of rehabilitation counseling are to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities by increasing their independence and helping them achieve education, career and life goals. Each client has their own personal goals.

Are rehabilitation counselors in demand?

Rehabilitation counselors are in some demand. This profession is expected to grow about as fast as average, at 2% annually between 2022 and 2032, according to the BLS.

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