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How to Become a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

What Does a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Do?

group session with rehab counselor

Vocational rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities live fuller, more independent lives by assisting them in securing gainful employment. Their clients are people coping with physical disabilities and injuries, mental illness, psychological disorders or substance abuse problems. These counselors often work directly with clients as well as their families, doctors, speech therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, and other service providers in order to optimize a client’s readiness for work.

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many disabled people have pushed for greater accommodation in employment. Living with a disability is often very challenging and socially isolating. Employment helps to boost the self-esteem of those with physical and mental impairments, and helps them to play a greater role in their own care. Vocational rehabilitation counselors help their clients achieve their goals and thrive by arranging for the training, therapy, job skills, and support systems that lead to success.

A vocational rehab counselor's duties include the following:

  • Assessing the client’s capabilities and limitations
  • Working with the client to set goals for employment and independent living
  • Arranging the necessary training and therapy to meet those goals
  • Facilitating job training and placement
  • Assisting in the job application process
  • Providing mock interviews and other application training
  • Serving as an advocate in cases of employment or workplace discrimination
  • Helping people with disabilities find meaningful work serves to increase their independence and social interconnectedness

Workplace Details

Vocational rehabilitation counselors work in several different environments. Many work in the educational system, including elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, where they provide job training sessions and classes with numerous students. Independent-living institutions and prisons employ counselors as well, in much the same capacity. Other counselors have a private practice or work for other community and nonprofit agencies, where services are typically provided in a more one-on-one, advisory fashion. In almost all cases, counselors must tailor their training strategies to the individual client and his or her needs. Most counselors work full time, and flexible hours and home visits are sometimes required.

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 the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working for state and local government programs are paid more, as are those with successful private practices. Compensation for vocational rehabilitation counselors can range anywhere from $21,710 to $62,010 annually.

Institutions such as hospitals and schools that provide a wide range of services including vocational rehabilitation employ nearly a third of all counselors. Nursing facilities, residential care facilities, and state governments together employ nearly another third of the counselors.

Job prospects for vocational rehabilitation counselors are expected to increase through 2024 by about 9%, which is above average job growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment settings include federal and state agencies, as well as positions in hospitals, private rehabilitation agencies, and community mental health clinics. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has its own vocational rehabilitation program to help veterans with military-related disabilities find employment. Some vocational rehabilitation counselors perform contract work through their own offices or join a group practice.

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 Vocational Rehab Counselor

1

Attend a college or university to earn a bachelor's degree.

Most vocational rehabilitation counselor jobs require a master’s degree in vocational counseling, rehabilitation counseling, or counseling psychology. A bachelor’s degree in social services, counseling, or psychology is a good foundation for this career choice. Graduate programs generally seek applicants with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, as well as some past volunteer or internship experience.

Show Me Schools »

2

Earn your master's degree.

Graduate coursework leading to a master’s degree in rehabilitative counseling can typically be completed in two years. Courses will include disability studies; the theory and practice of counseling; psychology; assessment; rehabilitation; case management; and educational and community services. Training will involve learning how to assess and interact with clients, as well as how to navigate social welfare and legal systems. Before enrolling in a program, students should check to see if it is accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE). A degree from a CORE-accredited program opens up more career options and is guaranteed to provide the requisite training and coursework.

Graduate training may be specialized for a specific disabled population. For example, some counselors focus on assisting military veterans, whereas others serve autistic or mentally disabled clients in particular.

3

Complete clinical training.

In addition to coursework, aspiring counselors put in at least 600 hours of clinical training with a qualified rehabilitation counselor serving as supervisor. Many schools help to arrange an internship or counseling job placement for their students based on interests and availability.

4

Consider certification as a means to improve your opportunities.

Counselors can find employment without having a professional credential, but will broaden their opportunities by obtaining a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential. Most state and federal rehabilitation programs will only hire CRC counselors, as will be the case with other select programs.

Obtaining the CRC credential entails taking an exam administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). The exam is taken by those who have earned a master’s degree from a CORE-accredited program and who have completed 600 hours of clinical training supervised by a CRC. Graduation from a non-accredited program requires a year of CRCC-approved work experience combined with a counseling internship, or two years of CRCC-approved work experience, before the exam can be taken.

The CRC credential must be renewed every five years by retaking the exam or accumulating the specified number of continuing education hours. Licensed CRCs who relocated out of state may have to take an additional exam to continue practicing in their new location.

Another option for those interested in vocational counseling work is to be certified as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). This involves qualifying to take a state licensing exam (usually a master’s degree and a specified number of hours of supervised clinical experience) and passing it. An LPC is more generalized, and pertains to work beyond vocational assistance.

5

Keep an open mind and explore avenues for career advancement.

Counselors who have only a bachelor’s degree may be able to obtain employment, but they will not be able to provide nearly as many services as a counselor with a master’s degree. Greater education provides greater flexibility and independence. Counselors with a master’s degree or higher are most likely to be advanced to supervisory and management positions. Administrative and academic positions generally pay better and offer greater benefits than direct work with clients, though experienced professionals may open up a private practice and earn a higher income as a result.

Exploring Degree Paths

MASTER'S DEGREE

6 years (4 of which are undergraduate)

In order to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, you must hold a master’s degree or higher in a counseling-related field. The most direct route to practice is to earn a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.

Your journey starts with four years of undergraduate study. As a prospective vocational rehabilitation counselor, you can technically major in any subject, but would be best served majoring in counseling, psychology, social services or a related subject. To improve your chance for graduate school admission, work hard and maintain a high grade point average (3.0 or higher). College is also a great time to gain some volunteer or work experience with people with disabilities.

Show Me Schools »

Master’s degree programs in rehabilitation counseling can be found at four-year universities. Some programs offer specialty concentrations or certificates (for example, transition services for graduating high school students).

The Council on Accreditation for Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) offers voluntary accreditation for rehabilitation counseling education programs. While it’s not absolutely necessary to choose an accredited program, you should bear in mind that CACREP is very respected within the counseling field. Graduates of accredited programs have a much easier time getting certified and enrolling in doctoral programs. Some employers also prefer graduates of CACREP programs.

As a rehabilitation counselor in training, you’ll attend classes, complete fieldwork, and undergo supervision (debriefing) with a faculty member. Your program will cover subjects like:

Counseling theory

Understand how different counseling frameworks can be applied to assist clients with disabilities.

Assessment

Learn to select, administer, and interpret common psychological and career tests.

Rehabilitation services

Study community-based approaches to increasing employment among people with disabilities.

Psychosocial aspects of disability

This course examines the disability experience through the lenses of culture, ethnicity, personal traits, and environment.

In addition to their coursework, students in CACREP programs complete 600 hours of supervised internship. Some programs also have a research option in which students produce original research and a thesis.

Professionals who hold a graduate degree in a related field (for example, social work) can also work as rehabilitation counselors. To do so, they must generally pursue additional training and certification in the field. Some colleges offer graduate certificates in rehabilitation counseling to help them meet these requirements.

Keys to Success as a Vocational Rehab Counselor

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Good communication and interpersonal skills

Counselors must have good listening skills, compassion, and patience while working with clients.

Compassion

A good counselor feels a great deal of empathy and a strong desire to help people fulfill their goals.

Problem-solving skills

These skills are foundational for counselors. They must be able to think outside the box and creatively apply their training in order to improve the lives of their clients. No two challenges will be the same.

Additional Credentials

Many employers, particularly public agencies, require certification of rehabilitation counselors.

The most recognized credential for vocational rehabilitation counselors is the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), which is administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). Candidates must either graduate from a CACREP-accredited program or show an acceptable combination of education, internship, work experience, and supervision hours.

The Certified Disability Management Specialist (CDMS) credential is open to disability professionals in a variety of fields. Candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and complete 2,080 hours of relevant work experience.

Another well-recognized credential is the Professional Vocational Evaluator (PVE), which is administered by the Registry of Professional Vocational Evaluators (RPVE). PVEs provide career development services and coaching to individuals with disabilities and other employment barriers. To be eligible for certification, master’s-trained counselors must document 1,000 hours of relevant work experience.

The Alliance for Information & Referral Systems (AIRS) offers two certifications for professionals who connect clients with useful community services. To be eligible, master’s trained candidates must also have one year of full-time relevant work experience.

  • Certification for Intake and Referral Specialist in Aging/Disabilities (CIRS-A/D) – for professionals who provide assessment, referral, follow-up, and advocacy to clients
  • Certification for Resource Specialists (CRS) – for practitioners who research and maintain databases of community resources

The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) offers two credentials for vocational rehabilitation counselors:

  • Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) – selects and trains appropriate technologies to meet consumers’ needs. Counselors must have 1,000 hours of work experience in order to sit for the exam.
  • Seating and Mobility Specialist (SMS) – candidates must first be certified as ATPs and must have 1,000 hours of experience in seating and mobility
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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