Rehabilitation counselors are mainly involved in maximizing the employability and independence of people coping with vocational, social, and personal difficulties that emanate from accidents, diseases, illnesses, birth defects, and the stress of everyday life. A rehabilitation counselor is involved in coordinating activities for treatment facilities. They are required to assess the needs of clients and then design and implement rehabilitation programs that include vocational and personal job placement, training, and counseling.

If this sounds like a career you would like to pursue, perhaps you might be interested in knowing what requirements, including what education and certifications, you will need to practice as a rehabilitation counselor. That is exactly what this article covers. We will provide you with information on the career overview of rehabilitation counselors, the certification and educational requirements, and the career path and salary information.

Rehabilitation Counselor Career Overview

According to the US Census Bureau, there are about 49 million Americans living with some form of disability. Of the total disability cases, it is estimated that about 24 million people are severely disabled and approximately 34 million have a functional inadequacy.

Disabilities include mental, social, emotional, and physical conditions that can limit an individual’s senses, movement, or any major life activity. People who face these types of challenges will often rely on others for assistance and would benefit greatly from counseling and therapy, which can help improve their quality of life and increase their independence.

Professionals in the rehabilitation field typically work with persons with disabilities to help them develop skills, learn how to control their depression and anxiety, and learn how to reduce dependency for basic daily tasks. These problems can include transportation, mobility, chronic pain, unemployment, and basic care. The practice and goal of rehabilitation counseling are both similar to other professions including mental health, counseling, and psychology.

Rehabilitation counselors use tests along with other assessment tools to understand the problems their clients’ face, develop management plans according to the specific type of disability, and use therapy so they can improve their clients’ quality of life.  

Importance of Rehabilitation Counseling

As opposed to what some people might think, nearly every person can be a contributing and productive member of society, including those with disabilities. However, some people may need guidance, therapy, and counseling for them to become more independent. Rehabilitation counseling is vital as it helps people with disabilities forge a path to independence. It also reduces strain on the government and other resources.

Duties and Responsibilities

Rehabilitation counselors evaluate the interests, abilities, experiences, health, skills, and education of their clients, providing group and individual counseling to help them adjust. They also locate resources that can allow their clients to work and live more independently, such as teaching them how to use different computer programs or providing them with wheelchairs.

The counselors are also involved in helping persons with mental, emotional, developmental, and physical incapacities live without relying on others. They help them manage and effectively deal with psychological, social, and personal impacts of their incapacities so they can enjoy the freedom of not having to depend on others to do daily tasks. Rehabilitation counselors interview clients to determine what they can do and what their limitations are. They then implement an individual therapy and counseling plan that will help them become more independent.

The counselors usually come with individualized treatment and disability management plans for clients, typically by consulting medical professionals such as therapists and psychologists. They help employers comprehend the abilities and needs of disabled people and understand the legal implications and resources that may be required.

Additionally, these counselors make it possible for clients to obtain services, including career training and medical care. They also help their clients work through several types of problems that may be holding them back in life. In many instances, solving the right problem may be the avenue to solving other small issues. Rehabilitation counselors help solve problems during counseling sessions by setting goals.

Attaining set goals is a big part of rehabilitation counseling, but the main goal is for the clients to live independently. This is often achieved by setting and working towards several small goals. For example, rehabilitation counselors work with an individual with limited mobility so they can gain access to transportation. This small step is vital for them to run their errands without the need of someone else’s help, such as finding and keeping a job which makes them more independent.

On top of all that, counselors advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities so they can work and live in a community, they help clients in developing their strengths so they can positively adjust to their limitations, and they maintain client records and monitor the progress made by clients in adjusting to their treatment or wheelchair plan as necessary.

Vital Qualities

  • Communication skills
  • Patience
  • Listening skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Compassion

Work Environment

In 2016, as BLS reported, there were 119,300 jobs in the field. Top workplaces included community and vocational rehabilitation services, state government, nursing and residential care facilities, and self-employment.

Certification and Educational Requirements


Rehabilitation counselors need a master’s degree in the field of rehabilitation counseling. Through the master’s programs, students learn methods of evaluating clients’ needs, how to find jobs for those who have incapacities, and comprehend how disabilities affect the psychology of patients. Students are required to obtain hands-on experience, mainly via internships or by working under a licensed counselor.
Most employers prefer hiring candidates with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation programs. However, bachelor’s degree candidates need to further their education to the master’s level to amass more experience. Those who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree learn about people’s mental issues, disabilities, or injuries they experience and learn how to cope with them from a psychological point of view. They also learn about what medications can be of help. In some institutions, they have an option to combine the bachelor’s and master’s programs, which takes about 5 years.

Licenses and Certifications

Counselors need to have state licensure for them to practice in their respective states. Each state has different requirements that one should meet before earning licensure. So you will need to check with your state to know required for you to be licensed. Licensure of counselors typically requires a master’s degree and supervised clinical experience of 2,000 to 4,000 hours. Counselors must also pass a state-recognized examination. Additionally, they need to maintain their license by completing continuing education.

Counselors may also specialize in a niche, so we recommend that you engage the licensing board for more accurate information on specialization areas. Counselors must also obtain the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification, which is offered by the Commission of Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. Rehabilitation counselors are also required to meet work experience, advanced education, and supervision criteria and pass the necessary examinations. They must renew the license 5 years after completing continuing education and passing re-examination.

Job Outlook and Salary

Job Outlook

The number of jobs for rehabilitation counselors in 2016 was 119,300. According to the BLS, the job outlook for counselors is anticipated to grow by 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster compared to the average rate of all occupations. This translates to an additional 15,100 jobs within the same period.

Counselor demand is anticipated to increase since most people are growing old and need rehabilitation services. Also, those with disabilities and veterans who have been injured in war will need rehabilitation services. Those who are old are more likely to get injuries, and counselors are required to help them learn new strategies that can help them live independently.

Aside from working with those who have been injured during military service, counselors will be also needed to work with individuals with autism, those abusing drugs, and people with learning disabilities. Lastly, more jobs will be created owing to both job growth and counselor replacement.


According to the BLS, the median annual salary for rehabilitation counselors was estimated at $34,860 in May 2017, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $22,040 and with the highest 10 percent earning around $62,780.


Rehabilitation counselors usually work with people who have disabilities (including physical injuries) to build skills that promote independence and an ability to cope with anxiety and depression. They are involved in evaluating the interests, abilities, experiences, health, skills, and education of clients, providing group and individual counseling, developing treatment plans, making it possible for clients to obtain services. They help clients in developing their strengths and maintain client records to monitor their progress.

Counselors should be patient, compassionate, and have good communication, listening, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills. Counselors should get a license from a state licensing board after getting a master’s degree and gaining clinical experience (between 2,000 to 4,000 hours). Their salary is about $34,860, but it may rise or fall based on their experience, location, and the industry. We hope that this article has adequately addressed the career overview of rehabilitation counselors, the certification and educational requirements, and the career path and salary information.