How to Become a Certified Rehab Counselor


By Sarah Maurer
Client listens to the advice of her rehab counselor

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 or move into an apartment, CRCs equip them with the skills and strategies they need to succeed. These professionals also play an important role in raising public awareness about disability issues and achieving social justice for this underserved population.

Rehabilitation counselors work with people with a wide range of disabilities, including:

  • Mobility impairment
  • Mental illness
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Chronic disease
  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Sensory impairment (blindness, deafness)
  • Language and communication disorders

CRCs understand the social, emotional and occupational barriers their clients face. To help people with disabilities explore their needs and preferences, they conduct personal and group counseling sessions. Assessments are also used to create a clearer picture of clients’ abilities and interests. Through supportive therapy, counselors help people to deal with feelings of anger, depression and helplessness and to develop the resilience they need to move forward.

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 assistive technology. As needed, the counselor connects the client with helpful organizations and community resources. CRCs also work with employers to help them accommodate the on-the-job needs of people with disabilities.

Because disability is a complex condition, CRCs generally practice within a team of physicians, nurses, social workers and psychologists. These professionals work together to develop an individualized treatment plan and coordinate client care.

Rehabilitation counselors take great satisfaction in the successes of the people they serve. Whether helping a senior citizen to age in place, a wounded veteran to rejoin the workforce or a high school graduate to land a first job, their work has enormous benefits for individuals, families and society.

Work Environment

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 30 percent of CRCs worked for vocational rehabilitation services in 2010. 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.



To become a Certified Rehabilitation 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 require 2-3 years of schooling beyond the bachelor’s level and cover counseling theories and strategies, assessment, career development and treatment planning. All accredited counseling programs incorporate extensive, supervised clinical experience. 

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. Graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling are accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), which maintains a list of approved schools on its website.


Most employers and licensing bodies require rehab counselors to engage in continuous professional education.

Licensing and/or Certification

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.

To become a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), 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.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Most rehabilitation counselors are drawn to the profession by their compassion and empathy for people who are living with disabilities. Their genuine, outgoing natures help them to forge strong therapeutic relationships with clients and to work effectively with family members, employers and other professionals.

Counseling requires excellent speaking and listening skills. CRCs must be able to work effectively with people who have difficulty communicating and understanding. Counselors also rely on patience and emotional resilience to deal with occasional setbacks and conflicts that arise. 

Opportunities for Advancement

Experienced CRCs may be promoted to supervise the work of others as directors of counseling services or agency administrators. Some leave the agency setting to conduct research or open a private practice. Those who hold a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling have the option to teach at the university level.

If you would like to gain the necessary education to become a certified rehabilitation counselor, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.


The median annual salary for rehabilitation counselors was $32,350 in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Eighty percent of rehab counselors earned between $20,770 and $56,720. 

Rehabilitation counselors working for state and local government generally command the highest pay while those at vocational rehabilitation services and nursing homes made below-average salaries. Earnings increase with experience and education.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of rehabilitation counselors is expected to increase by 28% between 2010 and 2020, which is considered faster than the average for all occupations. 

The aging of the 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 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 returning 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.

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.

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