Rehabilitation Counselor Career Guide

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are about 90,000 rehabilitation counselors working in the US as of 2021.1 Rehabilitation counselors help their clients adapt to disabilities in order to live as independently as possible. Their work touches on the physical, social, and mental health aspects of living with disabilities. 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

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.

What Does a Rehabilitation Counselor Do?

Rehabilitation counselors work with individuals who have physical, social, emotional, mental health, and related disabilities or challenges in order to assist those individuals in living a full life with the greatest degree of independence possible. The types of disabilities and adaptations that rehab counselors encounter in their daily work are broad. They may work with clients who have physical or motor challenges, mental health challenges, or developmental disabilities, including social or emotional regulation challenges. In many cases, rehabilitation counselors provide services to individuals across a range of disabilities, and the individual clients a rehabilitation counselor sees may have challenges from more than one of these categories.

Some rehabilitation counselors may focus more on advocacy on behalf of the disabled and the community resources and programs available to their clients. Often, rehabilitation counselors work in the area of job placement assistance or vocational rehabilitation services more generally. 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 disabilities 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. These are just a few examples of the services a vocational rehabilitation counselor may provide. Rehabilitation counselors also work with adaptations beyond the work environment.

Rehabilitation Counselor Requirements and Common Tasks

Rehabilitation counselors must earn the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC), which requires a master’s degree. In order to expand the scope of practice to provide mental health counseling, counselors are additionally required to be licensed. 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.

In order 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 in order to adjust the counseling provided. Documenting client outcomes is a significant responsibility in rehabilitation counseling. Rehabilitation counselors typically spend much of their time working one-on-one with clients, but may also provide group 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.

As allied health professionals, 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.

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 CRCC in order to work as a rehabilitation counselor. To become a rehabilitation counselor, you will therefore need to:

  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), in accordance with CRCC guidelines.
  3. Take the CRCC Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination (CRCE).
  4. Receive your CRC certificate.
  5. Begin applying for rehabilitation counseling jobs.

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). All 50 states and Washington DC have licensing guidelines for mental health professionals, if you wish to add mental health counseling or therapy to your scope of practice; these credentials carry different requirements.

Rehabilitation Counselor Education and Job Training

A master’s degree is the minimum educational requirement to work as a rehabilitation counselor. Some, but not all, states may allow you to provide vocational rehabilitation services in a support role with a lower-level degree.

There are numerous counseling programs that include an emphasis on rehabilitation counseling. You may begin your path to this career with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field, such as human services, psychology, or social work. Earning your undergraduate degree can qualify you for support roles in rehabilitation counseling as well as prepare you for the work required to earn a master’s degree in counseling. In addition to traditional campus-based programs, there are online master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs that can make it easier to continue working while you study. Be sure to research programs, their counseling concentrations, and their accreditation status before committing to a program.

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

Rehabilitation Counselor Career Interviews

  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Litigation Consultant, John Berg

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a typical rehabilitation counselor job description?

While there can be large differences in rehabilitation counselor job descriptions from job to job and employer to employer, rehabilitation counselors do share commonalities that will generally be applicable to the role. They work with individuals who have physical, mental, social, or other disabilities in order to help those individuals adapt to their challenges and improve their personal well-being. They build rehabilitation plans for clients that address their strengths and their disabilities.

What is rehabilitation counseling?

Rehabilitation counseling is the practice of helping clients overcome disabilities 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 a vocational rehabilitation counselor and what does a vocational rehabilitation counselor do?

Vocational rehabilitation counselors work to address disabilities that are related to a client’s work. Such disabilities may be caused by a work-related accident, but not always; vocational rehabilitation counseling also includes disabilities and challenges clients were born with or developed outside the work environment that must be addressed in order to find and maintain meaningful work. Vocational rehabilitation counselors, therefore, do many of the same tasks as rehabilitation counselors. However, their tasks are specifically focused on work-related issues.

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.

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 disabilities address those disabilities in order to work. Vocational counseling is the practice of helping people plan and pursue careers. While vocational counselors may work with people who have disabilities, 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.

What is the average vocational rehabilitation counselor salary?

The BLS does not break out vocational rehabilitation counselors from rehabilitation counselors, who make an average annual salary of $44,740 per year (as of 2021).1

Where can I find vocational rehabilitation counselor jobs?

Vocational rehabilitation counselor jobs can be found in many of the same environments as rehabilitation counselor jobs, including private practices, hospitals, governmental departments of labor, and residential care facilities. Visit our jobs board for daily updates on available jobs in this field.

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