How to Become a Certified Rehab Counselor

What Does a Rehabilitation Counselor Do?

rehab counselor with patient

Disabled people are the largest minority in the world. And every disability is a unique combination of visible and invisible impairments, unique costs, social discrimination, and pain. Certified rehabilitation counselors, or CRCs, help people with disabilities live full and independent lives and accomplish their personal goals. Whether clients hope to return to a much-loved job following an injury, or move into an apartment after years of living with less independence, CRCs equip their clients with the skills and strategies needed to succeed.

Rehabilitation counselors work with people with a wide range of disabilities. Because their clients’ needs are so diverse, CRCs are ensured a challenging, but immensely rewarding working environment with a massive social impact.

CRCs help with a multitude of disabilities, including:

  • Mobility impairment
  • Degenerative disease
  • Mental illness
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Chronic disease (e.g. Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, chronic pain disorder)
  • Addiction and substance abuse disorders
  • Sensory impairments (blindness, deafness, pain insensitivity)
  • Language and communication disorders (mutism, austim, etc.)
  • Coordination impairment
  • Mental or cognitive disability

Beyond providing direct, one-on-one assistance to disabled people, CRC professionals also play an important role in raising public awareness about disability issues, making the world more accessible, and achieving social justice for this underserved population.

To help people with disabilities explore their needs, manage their symptoms, and live their lives, CRCs conduct personal and group counseling sessions and help clients to locate peers as well as external resources. Assessments are also used to create a clearer picture of clients’ abilities and interests, and to assist in the client’s medical profile and applications for disability services.

Through supportive therapy, counselors help people to deal with feelings of anger, depression, isolation, and helplessness, helping clients to develop the resilience they need in order to move forward. Most vitally, a CRC serves as an advocate for their clients, helping them to navigate a Byzantine and complex bureaucratic system, ensuring they receive the medical care, accommodations, and financial supports they deserve.

Helping Clients Achieve Their Goals

One-on-one, a certified rehabilitation counselor must perform a needs assessment with his or her client. This will typically take the form of structured, yet open-ended interview, wherein the client can share negative experiences, barriers, and overall goals that are being impeded upon. Once a goal has been identified, the client and counselor work together to develop the necessary strategies. This might involve role-playing, learning new skills, job modification or engaging in assistive technology.

As needed, the counselor connects the client with helpful organizations and community resources, and may help locate government or legal assistance. Rehab counselors also work with employers to help them accommodate the on-the-job needs of people with disabilities, and to ensure that employers are not discriminating against disabled employees. Social and systematic discrimination remains an ongoing problem for many disabled people, particularly those with invisible disabilities.

Because disability is a complex condition, CRCs generally practice within a team of physicians, nurses, social workers and psychologists, in order to manage every client’s unique combination of needs. These professionals work together to develop an individualized treatment plan and coordinate client care. An ability to communicate across disciplines is therefore a crucial skill.

Rehabilitation counselors take great satisfaction in the successes of the people they serve. Whether helping a senior citizen to age and maintain independence, or assisting a wounded veteran in rejoining the workforce, CRCs devote a great deal of time and empathy to the assistance of their clients, and reap massive emotional rewards.

Workplace Details

A large portion of CRCs work for vocational rehabilitation services. Other common settings include state departments of vocational rehabilitation and community agencies serving the disabled. School districts, colleges and correctional facilities employ a significant number of rehab counselors. Experienced counselors often open their own practices.

Much of the rehabilitation process takes place in clients’ everyday environments, so CRCs frequently travel to homes, workplaces and schools. They spend much of their work time interacting with others, including clients, family members, employers and members of the treatment team. Assistive technologies, from electric wheelchairs to iPad apps, play an important role in the field.

Most CRCs work full time during regular business hours. However, they usually offer some evening and weekend sessions for the benefit of working clients.

CRC Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$36670
New York
$35930
Pennsylvania
$37620
Massachusetts
$39840
Washington
$45700

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA
Median Salary: 
$32,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $17,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$23,720$34,120$59,500

ALASKA
Median Salary: 
$55,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$35,850$58,250$76,640

ARIZONA
Median Salary: 
$35,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $43,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$18,270$32,120$41,160
Tuscon$21,020$37,520$46,670

ARKANSAS
Median Salary: 
$37,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $55,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$32,880$38,060$51,840
Fort Smith$15,750$17,750$23,000

CALIFORNIA
Median Salary: 
$30,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 490

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$19,780$28,260$57,420
San Francisco Bay$22,940$36,490$64,480
San Diego$21,170$28,610$52,470
Sacramento$22,920$42,860$61,820

COLORADO
Median Salary: 
$36,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $65,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$22,750$37,410$63,750
Colorado Springs$20,720$29,680$95,370

CONNECTICUT
Median Salary: 
$41,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$26,990$38,880$73,200
Bridgeport$26,520$39,390$78,680
New Haven$31,240$67,640$80,930

DELAWARE
Median Salary: 
$34,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $46,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$25,890$34,630$46,180
Dover$26,230$39,740$48,750

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Median Salary: 
$40,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $66,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$25,520$40,710$67,410

FLORIDA
Median Salary: 
$34,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$25,010$34,590$49,420
Orlando$26,810$34,420$46,240
Tampa$27,090$36,340$49,570
Jacksonville$26,010$33,950$47,260

GEORGIA
Median Salary: 
$39,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$29,170$42,050$72,750
Augusta$21,170$34,770$48,300

HAWAII
Median Salary: 
$34,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$26,810$34,190$44,700

IDAHO
Median Salary: 
$36,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $17,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $53,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,090

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$17,110$33,780$51,510
Idaho Falls$31,780$37,120$53,150

ILLINOIS
Median Salary: 
$34,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$21,570$36,960$81,580

INDIANA
Median Salary: 
$31,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$26,690$37,990$52,210
South Bend$21,830$33,020$45,190
Fort Wayne$22,080$32,970$67,230

IOWA
Median Salary: 
$30,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$27,070$39,890$67,120
Cedar Rapids$25,420$37,330$62,830

KANSAS
Median Salary: 
$29,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $44,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$17,490$23,620$47,960
Kansas City$23,820$31,050$71,130

KENTUCKY
Median Salary: 
$33,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$21,970$29,750$49,390
Lexington$28,580$39,560$57,430

LOUISIANA
Median Salary: 
$42,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $68,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$30,450$45,240$76,510
Lafayette$27,270$42,550$63,270

MAINE
Median Salary: 
$36,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,100

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$31,580$37,740$105,620

MARYLAND
Median Salary: 
$31,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $51,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$23,250$29,720$48,470
Frederick$22,190$35,830$62,840

MASSACHUSETTS
Median Salary: 
$31,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $52,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$19,420$32,240$47,550
Worcester$25,560$30,310$58,340
Springfield$21,960$28,630$47,250

MICHIGAN
Median Salary: 
$36,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $66,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$18,510$32,770$59,470
Grand Rapids$24,850$37,030$66,070

MINNESOTA
Median Salary: 
$33,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$24,420$33,440$64,680
Rochester$25,030$35,910$63,050

MISSISSIPPI
Median Salary: 
$34,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$29,740$38,270$58,610
Gulfport$20,200$24,320$37,440

MISSOURI
Median Salary: 
$31,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$24,830$34,000$67,690
Kansas City$23,820$31,050$71,130

MONTANA
Median Salary: 
$36,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,500

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$21,110$29,490$44,240
Missoula$24,040$36,300$50,060

NEBRASKA
Median Salary: 
$34,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$27,330$36,850$61,210
Lincoln$29,180$38,820$62,680

NEVADA
Median Salary: 
$38,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$28,400$37,490$66,300
Reno$34,060$44,950$69,950

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashua$31,030$41,450$54,620

NEW JERSEY
Median Salary: 
$40,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $87,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$20,000$34,300$81,150
Trenton$35,050$69,160$96,000

NEW MEXICO
Median Salary: 
$31,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $17,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$16,720$24,150$56,810

NEW YORK
Median Salary: 
$33,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $53,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 370

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$23,090$34,710$60,000
Buffalo$21,940$32,040$61,260
Rochester$21,020$33,930$47,470
Albany$21,880$28,820$43,920

NORTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$35,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $18,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$22,370$31,490$53,680
Raleigh$29,730$38,790$59,280
Greensboro$17,920$23,860$45,110
Winston - Salem$26,330$38,220$49,710

NORTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$44,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$26,580$41,290$59,070

OHIO
Median Salary: 
$35,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$28,430$40,510$70,360
Columbus$26,970$38,210$71,660
Cincinnati$23,740$35,630$66,060
Dayton$21,700$38,530$71,350

OKLAHOMA
Median Salary: 
$25,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $16,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$17,310$28,860$50,840
Tulsa$19,860$33,270$41,540

OREGON
Median Salary: 
$36,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$26,420$36,390$59,330
Salem$34,570$51,350$69,660

PENNSYLVANIA
Median Salary: 
$35,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 260

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$26,030$36,190$57,320
Pittsburgh$20,660$29,840$52,930
Harrisburg$25,240$48,130$75,920
Allentown$23,960$32,280$54,920

RHODE ISLAND
Median Salary: 
$42,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$24,730$36,560$71,680

SOUTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$26,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$20,440$33,020$48,450
Columbia$20,480$23,740$59,480
Charleston$25,020$35,960$77,010

SOUTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$39,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$31,240$48,370$79,800
Rapid City$31,700$39,300$47,910

TENNESSEE
Median Salary: 
$18,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $16,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $35,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$15,890$18,310$45,010
Memphis$16,380$19,440$38,520
Knoxville$16,130$19,410$31,240
Chattanooga$15,830$18,000$39,620

TEXAS
Median Salary: 
$39,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$31,570$41,980$61,060
Houston$29,800$40,520$57,230
San Antonio$32,450$38,610$59,730
Austin$35,090$49,630$61,720

UTAH
Median Salary: 
$44,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $65,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$27,470$47,160$70,310
Ogden$20,900$45,150$60,730

VERMONT
Median Salary: 
$40,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$39,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$21,550$39,320$56,630
Richmond$23,330$37,480$56,770

WASHINGTON
Median Salary: 
$36,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $65,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$25,440$35,770$68,560
Spokane$26,220$35,440$64,480

WEST VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$35,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$19,560$33,670$61,200
Charleston$29,900$36,820$60,750

WISCONSIN
Median Salary: 
$32,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $53,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$22,970$30,270$48,370
Madison$24,130$38,350$52,550

WYOMING
Median Salary: 
$32,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$26,730$34,110$61,450
Casper$21,040$24,350$56,340

The median annual salary for rehabilitation counselors is $34,670, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Eighty percent of rehab counselors earn between $21,710 and $62,010. Those working for hourly pay have an average income of $18.62 per hour. Benefits vary, but those who work in government or hospital settings are typically provided high quality health insurance and retirement plans.

Rehabilitation counselors working for state and local government generally command higher pay than those employed by vocational rehabilitation services and nursing homes. Earnings increase with experience and education.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of rehabilitation counselors is expected to increase by 9% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than the average rate of growth for jobs in the United States.

The aging of the American population is the major force driving demand for qualified CRCs. Because older people are more likely to experience disability, there will be a need for counselors to work with those living with the effects of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, muscle degeneration, and orthopedic problems. Rehabilitation counselors also play an important role in helping the elderly to remain in their homes, which improves quality of life and eases the financial burden on the health care system.

Other populations that require ongoing rehabilitation services include the many wounded veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. The growing incidence of autism spectrum disorders among children could drive demand for rehabilitation counselors when these young people begin to enter the workforce in large numbers. In some instances, rehabilitation counselors may also work with individuals suffering from mental illness such as depression and anxiety; increased coverage for mental health services under the Affordable Care Act may help to create more jobs in this field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most new jobs for CRCs will occur within individual and family service agencies. Positions are posted on Internet job boards and the websites of community and government agencies.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$34710 Per Year

$16.68 Per Hour

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$28260 Per Year

$13.58 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Certified Rehab Counselor

1

Earn a bachelor's degree.

An undergraduate education in psychology, school psychology, counseling, disability studies, or pre-med may be helpful. Volunteer or internship experience with disabled populations will provide necessary skills and help to bolster a prospective CRC’s resume.

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2

Attend graduate school and earn a master's degree.

To become a certified rehab counselor, candidates must hold a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a closely related field such as behavioral health or disability studies. Master’s programs in rehabilitation counseling require 2-3 years of coursework and experience beyond the bachelor’s level.

3

Get certified as a rehab counselor.

To become certified, candidates must first meet the eligibility criteria set by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. The simplest way to fulfill this requirement is to earn a master’s degree from a CORE-accredited program. Candidates must then pass a computer-based certification examination covering assessment, career development, case management, employment issues, counseling skills and disability management. Each exam is unique to the particular state granting licensure. See the American Counseling Association’s guide to certification for more details.

4

Determine whether you need licensure - it varies from state to state.

Licensure rules for rehabilitation counselors vary geographically. Some states allow unlicensed counselors to work in agencies but require licensure of those in private practice. The website of the National Board for Certified Counselors is an excellent resource for state licensure information.

5

Commit to ongoing training and education.

Most employers and licensing bodies require rehab counselors to engage in continuous professional education following graduate education and licensure. On-the-job training is often provided for interns and assistants, though newly hired counselors will also be trained on the particulars of their new workplace as well.

6

Gain experience and entertain opportunities for career advancement.

Experienced CRCs may be promoted to supervise the work of others as directors of counseling services or agency administrators. With sufficient experience and an outstanding track record, certified rehabilitation counselors may begin their own private practices, and enjoy independence and higher pay. Some CRCs leave the agency setting to conduct research or advocate from within academia. Those who hold a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling have the option to teach at the university level, which comes with greater flexibility and more benefits.

Explore Degree Paths

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

A bachelor’s degree is the not the end goal of budding rehab counselors, but rather a necessary step along the way toward certification following your master’s degree. Graduate school admissions will be very competitive and it’s vital that you maintain a good GPA as an undergrad.

Psychology is one of the most popular undergraduate majors of them all. Students may have the option of majoring in counseling as undergraduates, though that is less common. Alternately, they may also follow a pre-med track with coursework heavy in biology and chemistry.

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Because of its clear connection to counseling and the fact that there’s such an abundance of psychology programs across the country, many students opt to major in psychology to lay the foundation for their higher degree. Your university may offer a choice between a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. Both options would prepare your for applying to graduate school, but the BS degree is sometimes perceives as being more demanding (whether that’s fair or not); it also prepares students better for scientific research work. However, the BA degree’s inclusion of more English and social science coursework along with the science coursework can help students fortify their communication skills and social sensitivities, thereby preparing them better for the role of counselor.

Regardless of major, your coursework as an undergraduate should include the following subjects among others:

Introduction to psychology

A broad, sweeping orientation to the field of psychology, its history and major topics such as memory, human behavior, personality, dreams and research methodology.

Human behavior and behavioral disorders

A deeper dive into the study of human behavior - undergrads are taught how to recognize and explain behaviors. Students also explore how social structures and pressures come to bear on people in different ways.

Human development

A course that explores theories and current research of individual development at all stages, from birth to death, as well as the variety of social and environmental factors that influence this development.

MASTER'S DEGREE

2-3 years

Most graduate-level counseling programs accept students from all majors. Some schools require candidates to meet certain GRE scores or experience requirements prior to admission. Interested applicants should aim for a GRE of 1200 and a GPA of 3.0 or higher, plus relevant experience. Graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling are accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), which maintains a list of approved schools on its website.

Classes in this discipline typically cover counseling theories and strategies, assessment methods, career development and treatment planning, and legal procedures. All accredited counseling programs incorporate extensive, supervised clinical experience, which must be tracked and logged for certification purposes.

Here are a few example courses commonly included:

Substance abuse

Students gain the deep insight and sensitivity regarding all aspects of addiction, so as to help addicts recover their independence and healthy lifestyles.

Employment strategies

A course devoted to one of the central aspects of rehab counseling: getting people with various disabilities back to gainful and gratifying employment.

Assessment techniques

Students learn the latest research-based thinking on sophisticated assessment techniques and ideal rehab environment.

Keys to Success as a Rehab Counselor

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Sensitivity and insight

CRCs understand the social, emotional and occupational barriers their clients face, and see their clients as more than their disorders. In order to be an effective counselor, a CRC must be acutely aware of the medical, as well as social and systemic, aspects of disability. Disability is not just a physical or mental limitation or difference, of course; it is a lack of social accessibility, and therefore interacts uniquely with each particular client’s social status and culture.

Compassion

Most rehabilitation counselors are drawn to the profession by their compassion and empathy for people who are living with disabilities. Many have grown up with disabled relatives or friends, or themselves have disabilities. A genuine, outgoing interest in the well-being and agency of disabled people will help counselors to forge strong therapeutic relationships and to work effectively with family members, employers and other professionals.

Patience

An effective counselor will be patient and willing to accommodate his or her clients’ needs in terms of transportation, scheduling, and communication.

Respect

It is essential that a counselor study and carefully consider issues of discrimination and stereotyping, and work to see all clients as possessing agency and full humanity, regardless of their mental or physical ability level. Respect for all people is a key requirement of the job and does not necessarily come naturally to all interested parties. Sympathy for the disabled is not sufficient to succeed in this line of work.

Great communication skills

Counseling requires excellent speaking and listening skills. CRCs must be able to work effectively with people who have difficulty communicating and understanding in neurotypical ways. Counselors also rely on patience and emotional resilience to deal with occasional setbacks and conflicts that arise. Managing care is an intensive process that requires interaction with many social and bureaucratic systems, and those who are disorganized or easily frustrated will not do well in a counseling position.

Erika Price, PhD

Erika Price has a PhD in Social Psychology from Loyola University Chicago, and serves as an instructor at North Park University and The Chicago School for Professional Psychology. A recent Postdoctoral Research Associate, Erika has studied Open-Mindedness and Political Tolerance with support from the John Templeton Foundation.

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