Rehabilitation Counselor Career Guide

Rehabilitation counselors assist their clients in adapting to diverse abilities to enhance their independence in daily living. Their work encompasses the physical, social, and mental well-being aspects of individuals navigating diverse abilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports about 90,000 rehabilitation counselors working in the US as of 2021.1 In this guide, you will learn more about rehabilitation counseling careers including how to become a rehabilitation counselor, typical requirements, and the career and salary outlook for rehabilitation counselors.

Table of Contents

How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors work in a position of trust, which carries great responsibility. At a minimum, you will need to earn a master’s degree and become nationally certified through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) to work as a rehabilitation counselor. The typical steps to become a rehabilitation counselor include:

  1. Earn a Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP)-accredited master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a closely-related field such as mental health counseling that will meet CRCC requirements.
  2. Complete 600 hours of supervised experience (typically paid), to meet CRCC guidelines.
  3. Take the CRCC Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination (CRCE).
  4. Receive your CRC certificate.
  5. Begin applying for rehabilitation counseling jobs.

Rehabilitation Counselor Job Description

Rehabilitation counselors may work under various titles. Rehabilitation counselor (RC) is a common job title. You may also see such license and job titles as Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), Licensed Professional Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (LPVRC), and Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC).

Rehabilitation counselors work with individuals who experience physical, social, emotional, mental health, and related conditions or face related challenges. Their goal is to assist those individuals in leading fulfilling lives with the greatest degree of independence possible. The types of disabilities and adaptations encountered by rehab counselors are extensive. They may work with clients who have physical or motor challenges, mental health challenges, or developmental disabilities, including those affecting social or emotional regulation. Many rehabilitation counselors provide services to individuals across a range of abilities. Likewise, individual clients a rehabilitation counselor sees may have challenges from more than one of these categories. Rehabilitation counselors typically spend much of their time working one-on-one with clients, but may also provide group counseling.

Some rehabilitation counselors may focus more on advocacy for individuals with diverse abilities, including community resources and programs available to their clients. Often, rehabilitation counselors work in the area of job placement assistance or vocational rehabilitation services. Depending on their scope of practice, a rehabilitation counselor might not provide direct counseling services other than career and vocational counseling.

Rehabilitation counselors and vocational rehabilitation counselors perform many of the same duties and the terms are often used interchangeably. However, vocational rehabilitation counseling is a very specific sub-category of rehabilitation counseling. Vocational rehabilitation counselors specifically work with individuals with diverse abilities who need help obtaining and maintaining suitable employment. They often provide on-the-job support through personalized job coaching, serve as a liaison between the individual and the employer, and identify and request reasonable accommodations to promote independence.

To determine which type(s) of counseling and rehabilitation services are required, rehab counselors must assess their clients’ abilities, challenges, and interests both at intake and on an ongoing basis to adjust the counseling provided if needed. Documenting client outcomes is a significant responsibility in rehabilitation counseling. Because they must be available when their clients are available, rehabilitation counselors may work evenings and/or weekends. Rehabilitation counselors also work in collaboration with other providers, such as psychologists and medical doctors.

Rehabilitation counselors will also devote part of their time to continuing education. To maintain their national certification, rehabilitation counselors are required to renew their certification every five years by obtaining 100 hours of continuing education credits. Ongoing professional development helps counselors stay up-to-date on best practices, new technology, and other important aspects of counseling care.

Rehabilitation counselors most frequently work in community and vocational rehabilitation services facilities, with 32% of counselors reporting that their work environment fits in this category.2 Other common work settings include individual and family services (17%), state government (16%), nursing and residential care facilities (14%), and self-employment (1%).2

Rehabilitation Counseling Careers by Degree Level

To help you understand opportunities with different degrees, we compiled the following table of common jobs for each rehabilitation counselor degree level. Understand that licensing rules vary widely by state and rehabilitation counseling role, and a given state may have different expectations for counselor licensure. In addition to differences between states, there are also differences in how employers may define a particular role. Keeping these factors in mind, this table is a general outline of common degree requirements associated with each role.

Counseling Job TitleMinimum Degree
Commonly Required
Behavioral Health TechnicianAssociate’s
Counselor AideAssociate’s
Crisis Specialist or TechnicianAssociate’s
Human Services WorkerAssociate’s
Mental Health Care AssociateAssociate’s
Rehabilitation TechnicianAssociate’s
Residential Counselor (Paraprofessional)Associate’s
Vocational Rehabilitation CounselorAssociate’s
Emergency Services CounselorBachelor’s
Health EducatorBachelor’s
Intake Counselor or ClinicianBachelor’s
Juvenile Rehabilitation CounselorBachelor’s
Residential ManagerBachelor’s
Social Rehabilitation CounselorBachelor’s
Youth Rehabilitation CounselorBachelor’s
Licensed Mental Health CounselorMaster’s
Program ManagerMaster’s
Professional CounselorMaster’s
Rehabilitation CounselorMaster’s
Research AssistantMaster’s
Department ChairDoctorate

Rehabilitation Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

The average annual rehabilitation counselor salary in the US is $44,740 per year, as of May 2021.1 The highest concentration of jobs in this field is found in Oregon, followed by Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Idaho.1 Rehabilitation counselors in Maine have the highest annual salary on average, at $80,550.1 Other states with a high average rehabilitation counselor salary are New Jersey ($71,570), Rhode Island ($60,230), Alaska ($55,100), Massachusetts ($52,200).1

Demand for rehab counselors is expected to lead to 10% job growth through 2030 (higher than the national average), equating to 10,900 new jobs added during this time period.4 Job growth will be supported by the aging population of the US, as the elderly are more likely to become injured.2 Demand will also be driven by military veterans returning from duty and reintegrating into civilian life.2

Additional Resources

Rehabilitation Counselor Career Interviews

  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Litigation Consultant, John Berg

Frequently Asked Questions

What is rehabilitation counseling?

Rehabilitation counseling is the practice of helping clients in overcoming diverse abilities and related challenges. Rehabilitation counseling most often takes place in dedicated rehabilitation facilities but can also take place in hospitals; nursing and residential care facilities; and private offices. For more information on what rehabilitation counselors do, visit the CRC Scope of Practice statement.

What is the difference between vocational rehabilitation counseling and vocational counseling?

While they sound similar, vocational rehabilitation counseling and vocational counseling are quite different. Vocational rehabilitation counseling is the practice of helping people with diverse abilities address their challenges and engage in meaningful work. Vocational counseling is the practice of helping people plan and pursue careers. While vocational counselors may work with people of diverse abilities, more often they work with people who need guidance on career planning. Licensing is also different between the two fields. Where licensure is required, vocational rehabilitation counselors will usually be licensed as rehabilitation counselors or mental health counselors, whereas vocational counselors will typically be licensed as school counselors.

How do you become a vocational rehabilitation counselor?

To become a vocational rehabilitation counselor, you must earn a master’s degree and obtain CRC certification. If you wish to provide mental health counseling or therapy, you must also follow your state’s steps to become licensed.

Are there any support roles for rehabilitation counselors and what are the requirements?

Certain support roles, such as job coach or employment specialist, may only require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. There are many rehabilitation counseling programs that offer specific preparation for this career path. Be sure to check with your state’s counselor licensing board for exact requirements.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Rehabilitation Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211015.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Rehabilitation Counselors:
3. O*NET OnLine, Rehabilitation Counselors: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1015.00
4. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm