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How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor | A Career Path

Rehabilitation counselor holds the hands of a patient.

Do you want to make a difference in the lives of others? Are you looking for a career that is both challenging and rewarding? If so, then you may want to consider becoming a rehabilitation counselor.

This article will outline the five steps you need to become a rehabilitation counselor. We will also discuss the education and training requirements for this profession.

What is a Rehabilitation Counselor?

As mental health specialists, rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities function as independently as possible. They teach their clients skills for independent living and work.

Rehabilitation counselors also help their clients find additional resources that can further assist them in the areas they need the most. The goal is always independence for the client. Therefore, they are an essential part of the team that helps those living with disabilities to find hope and a better quality of life.

In addition to working with individuals, rehabilitation counselors also work with families and caregivers. They may provide training on the best care for someone recovering from an injury or illness.

Areas of specialization include:

  • Physical disabilities
  • Mental health disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Workplace rehabilitation

Each area requires specialized training. This is a growing field because of the increasing number of people living with disabilities due to disease, injury, or aging.

What Do Rehabilitation Counselors Do?

As explained earlier, rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities live as independently as possible.

They work with injured or ill individuals, helping them regain the skills they need to resume their lives. Here are the essential duties of rehabilitation counselors:

Help Their Clients Deal with Emotional and Mental Effects of an Injury or Illness

Rehabilitation counselors often work with clients struggling to cope with their new situation. They may need to help these clients work through their feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness. Counselors also help their clients set goals for the future and develop a treatment plan that will meet their needs.

Develop a Treatment Plan for Each Client, Based on Their Individual Needs

Rehabilitation counselors work with clients to develop individualized treatment plans. These plans include a variety of therapies and interventions, such as counseling, medication management, and physical therapy.

Rehab counselors need to be flexible and adaptable in their approach, as each client’s needs will vary. To create an effective treatment plan, these counselors must first assess their clients’ strengths and weaknesses. They then need to develop a treatment strategy to address each client’s specific needs.

Conduct Research to Identify Resources that May Help Clients Develop Skills they Need to Participate in Society

Rehab counselors help clients with disabilities participate in society by developing skills and resources. They may work with agencies that provide services or collaborate with other professionals to create treatment plans.

Resources can vary depending on the client’s needs and situation. However, some common resources that rehabilitation counselors may use include:

  • Community agencies or programs that offer support services
  • Job training or placement programs
  • Therapy or counseling services
  • Mobility aids or equipment
  • Assistive technology devices
  • Housing options that accommodate special needs

It is essential to be aware of any funding limitations that impact the client’s treatment plan.

Assist Clients with Finding Work and Housing, and with Enrolling in Educational Programs

Rehabilitation counselors also help clients find new work, housing, and educational opportunities. This may include working with employers to identify open positions or assisting clients in searching for apartments.

Furthermore, counselors assist clients in enrolling in school programs that can lead to employment in their field of choice.

Monitor the Progress of Clients and Provide Support as Needed

Monitoring a client’s progress involves tracking the client’s physical, emotional, and social well-being and adjusting treatment plans as necessary. They must also provide support to their clients to help them overcome any obstacles they may face. This can be anything from encouraging clients to deal with difficult emotions to learning how to walk with crutches.

Lastly, these counselors may specialize in working with a particular type of client, such as veterans or people who have suffered a brain injury. They may also specialize in working with one specific age group, such as adolescents or seniors.

How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor in 5 Steps

Many people find being a rehabilitation counselor an essential and fulfilling job. It can be extremely challenging, but it’s also gratifying. If this career path speaks to you, here are the five steps you need to take to become a rehabilitation counselor:

1. Complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Science or a Related Field

The first step to becoming a rehabilitation counselor is to complete your bachelor’s degree in behavioral science or a related field. This will equip you with the necessary knowledge and skills for this career path. Such skills include therapeutic techniques and counseling approaches.

It can also help improve your communication skills to provide relevant treatment recommendations more effectively.

More importantly, a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science will give you an understanding of the human mind and behavior. This essential knowledge helps rehabilitation counselors work with clients dealing with various mental health issues.

Suppose you want to specialize in a specific area of rehabilitation counseling. In that case, you can consider pursuing a graduate degree in that specialty. However, this is only necessary if you want to advance your career.

2. Acquire a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling

The next step to becoming a rehabilitation counselor requires you to get a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. There are several types of advanced degrees available for this career path.

However, the Master of Science (MS) or Master of Education (MEd) in Rehabilitation Counseling will equip you with all the tools and knowledge needed for your future job.
The MS in Rehabilitation Counseling is a science-based degree that offers more advanced research and analytical training. Suppose you are interested in pursuing a career as an investigator or researcher. In that case, this may be the right path for you to take.

On the other hand, if you’re more interested in working directly with people, the MEd in Rehabilitation Counseling would be a better fit. This program provides students with more clinical training and prepares them to work directly with clients in various settings.

Whichever degree you decide to pursue, make sure the school you choose holds accreditation by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This important accreditation ensures the program meets the highest standards in the counseling profession.

3. Complete an Internship

It’s not difficult to understand why completing an internship is highly recommended for anyone who wants to become a rehabilitation counselor. It gives you the chance to gain valuable experience. It will also increase your chances of getting hired once you graduate from college.

In addition, an internship allows you to learn more about how the rehabilitation counseling process works.

You don’t have to wait until you graduate from college before completing your internship. You can do so as a sophomore or junior in college. However, make sure that your training meets the requirements set by your state licensing board.

4. Take and Pass Rehabilitation Licensing Exams

Most states require rehabilitation counselors to pass licensing exams for them to practice. The National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) is a national exam that rehabilitation counselors must pass to become certified.

The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) offers the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification. This credential, while voluntary, shows that you have met specific standards in the rehabilitation counseling field.

Finally, many states have their own rehabilitation counselor licensing exams. Be sure to check with your state’s licensing board for licensure requirements.

5. Maintain Your License/Certification and Stay Updated in the Field

Rehabilitation counselors need to maintain their licenses and certifications to practice. This means staying up-to-date on the latest research, techniques, and best practices in the field. You may also need to complete continuing education hours each year.

It’s important to stay current in your field as a rehabilitation counselor to be the best counselor you can be. You may find attending conferences and workshops helpful, joining professional organizations such as the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA), and reading relevant journals.

Rehabilitation counselors should continue to learn and grow to provide the best possible care for their clients throughout their careers.

Essential Skills for Rehabilitation Counselors

There are several essential skills rehab counselors need to perform their roles effectively. Some of them include:

  • Excellent Communicators: They must listen attentively and communicate effectively with their clients and other professionals in the field.
  • Skilled Problem-Solvers: Rehab counselors often face complex problems that require creative solutions. They must be skilled problem-solvers who can think on their feet and develop practical solutions.
  • Compassionate: Rehab counselors must be compassionate people who can connect with their clients on a personal level. They must provide support and guidance and help their clients work through difficult emotions.
  • Flexible: The field of rehabilitation constantly evolves, and rehab counselors must be flexible enough to keep up with new trends and changes. They must also be able to adapt their approaches as needed to meet the needs of their clients best.

Average Salary for Rehabilitation Counselors

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for rehabilitation counselors was $37,530 in 2020. The lowest-paid workers earned less than $25,660, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $66,180. There are a number of great-paying jobs in the psychology field.

What Education Does a Rehabilitation Counselor Need?

An undergraduate degree in rehabilitation counseling provides the foundation for becoming a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC).

A master’s degree in this field sharpens your skills even further while qualifying you to pursue a career in teaching or research.

The rehabilitation counseling degree program you choose should offer coursework in assessment, case management, counseling, and treatment planning. Throughout your program, you will develop the knowledge and skills needed when meeting with patients.

Students considering this career should also consider volunteering or interning at a mental health facility. This can provide them with valuable experience to help them in their future careers.

Valuable Degrees for Rehabilitation Counselors

Education is an integral part of any career. The education you choose to pursue can significantly impact your future job opportunities.

College programs beneficial for rehabilitation counselors include:


Psychology provides the basis for understanding human behavior, emotions, and cognitive processes. Such knowledge helps rehabilitation counselors have a deeper understanding of a patients’ needs during recovery from an illness or injury.

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Learning about how people learn and develop helps rehabilitation counselors create individualized treatment plans for their patients.


Understanding the social context in which people live helps rehabilitation counselors better understand how to address the needs of their patients.

GetEducated Sponsored Programs

View More Sociology Bachelor's Programs

Special Certifications for Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors may pursue specialty certifications to enhance their expertise in a specific area. Additionally, certifications demonstrate that you have the skills and knowledge required for the job.:

Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC)

The Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification stands as the primary certification for rehabilitation counselors. It demonstrates that you have met the standards of knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the profession.

To become a CRC, you must meet eligibility requirements. This includes a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. You will also need two years of full-time work experience as a rehabilitation counselor. The final requirement lies in passing the CRC exam.

Certified Mental Health Rehabilitation Counselor (CMHRC)

The Certified Mental Health Rehabilitation Counselor (CMHRC) certification focuses on rehabilitating people with mental health conditions. This certification requires a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. You will also need two years of full-time work experience as a rehabilitation counselor. Then you must pass the CMHRC exam.

Certified Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Counselor (CSARC)

The Certified Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Counselor (CSARC) certification focuses on rehabilitating people with substance abuse conditions. To become a CSARC, you must have a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field and two years of full-time work experience. You must also pass the CSARC exam.

Certified Disability Management Specialist (CDMS)

The Certified Disability Management Specialist (CDMS) certification qualifies professionals who work with employees who have been injured or are ill and unable to return to their jobs.

For candidates to earn this certification, they must meet eligibility requirements. These requirements include a bachelor’s degree and two years of full-time work experience in disability management. Students must also pass the CDMS exam.

Certified Vocational Evaluation Specialist (CVES)

The Certified Vocational Evaluation Specialist (CVES) certification trains professionals to conduct vocational assessments. These assessments help to determine an individual’s ability to return to work.

Students must meet eligibility requirements, including a bachelor’s degree and two years of full-time work experience in vocational assessment. You must also take and pass the CVES examination.

Certified Rehabilitation Supervisor (CRS)

The Certified Rehabilitation Supervisor (CRS) certification prepares rehabilitation counselors to pursue a career in supervision. To earn a CRS certification, you must meet eligibility requirements, including a master’s degree and two years of full-time work experience as a rehabilitation counselor. You’ll also need to pass the CRS exam.

Certified Employment Specialist (CES)

The Certified Employment Specialist (CES) certification provides job placement and career counseling services. To acquire a CES, you must meet eligibility requirements, including a bachelor’s degree and two years of full-time work experience in employment services.

Certified Career Counselor (CCC)

A certified career counselor (CCC) earns this credential from the National Career Development Association. To become a certified career counselor, you must have a master’s degree or higher in counseling, rehabilitation counseling, psychology, social work, or another related field.

You must also have at least two years of post-graduate experience working with clients in career development.

Work Environment for Rehabilitation Counselors

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that rehabilitation counselors held around 104,500 jobs in 2020. Employment opportunities include:

  • Community and vocational rehabilitation services
  • Individual and family services
  • State government, excluding education and hospitals
  • Nursing and residential care facilities
  • Self-employment

Rehabilitation counselors work in various settings, depending on the population they serve. Some work in hospitals, clinics, or schools. Others may work for state or federal government agencies, private rehabilitation companies, or nonprofit organizations.

Rehabilitation counselors often travel to meet with their clients. They may also be required to attend meetings and workshops outside of regular working hours.

Work Schedule for Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors typically work full time. They may have some evening or weekend hours. They often travel to meet with clients at their homes, schools, or workplaces.

Some rehab counselors also work remotely. They may need to be on call occasionally. In most cases, rehab counselors can expect a regular work schedule. However, depending on the setting and clientele involved, there may be some variance in their hours.

Benefits of Becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehab counselors enjoy several benefits, including:

  • A fulfilling career that helps others: These professionals help people facing challenges in their lives. This can be very rewarding, as you help people regain their independence and improve their quality of life.
  • Job stability: The demand will grow in the next decade, making this a stable career choice.
  • Good salary and benefits: This career path is typically well compensated for their work. They often enjoy good benefits packages.
  • Flexible job options: Work settings vary and include hospitals, clinics, schools, and private practice.

Some Drawbacks of Becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor

The rehabilitation counselor profession is a great career choice with many benefits. Still, challenges exist that you should consider before making a decision.

  • First, the job can be emotionally taxing because it involves working with struggling people.
  • Second, the salary range for rehabilitation counselors may be lower than expected when compared to other professions.
  • Finally, the work schedule can be demanding, with many counselors working long hours.

Despite these drawbacks, the job’s pros outweigh them, making rehabilitation counseling an excellent career choice.

How to Advance as a Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehab counselors have the opportunity to specialize in several different areas. Specialization can help you advance your career and increase your earning potential. Some popular specialties for rehabilitation counselors include:

  • Addiction counseling
  • Disability services counseling
  • Mental health counseling
  • Workforce development counseling

Each specialization will have its own set of required courses. You may want to consider pursuing a certification in your chosen area.

To advance, you may also want to consider pursuing a graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. A graduate degree can help you gain the skills and knowledge you need to become an expert in your specialization. It can also lead to higher-paying jobs.

The bottom line is that there are many opportunities for advancement available to rehabilitation counselors. By pursuing a certification or graduate degree in a specialized area, you can take your career to the next level.

Take the Next Step

If you are looking for a challenging and rewarding career, consider becoming a rehabilitation counselor. This profession helps people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities lead productive lives. You will make a difference in the lives of those in need.

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