Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Guide
The type and level of the degree you need to earn in order to find work as a rehabilitation counselor will vary according to the type of counseling you wish to practice and the state where you wish to work. A master’s in rehabilitation counseling is necessary in order to become certified as a rehabilitation counselor. Depending on the state and your desired scope of practice, you may also need to become licensed as a counselor.
Recognized titles for this career include Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPC, LCPC, or LPCC), Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor (LRC), and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC). At the same time, many states permit the practice of vocational rehabilitation counseling, a subspecialty for working with those who have disabilities in an employment context, with an undergraduate degree. Job titles at this level may include Employment Specialist or Job Coach. Continue reading to learn more about rehabilitation counseling degree programs as well as career opportunities and licensing and certification options for becoming a provider in the rehabilitation counseling field.
Table of Contents
- Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Requirements and Coursework
- Undergraduate Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling
- Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling
- Doctorate in Rehabilitation Counseling
- Certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling
- Licensure for Rehabilitation Counselors
- Professional Certifications for Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Holders
- US News & World Report’s Best Rehabilitation Counseling Programs of 2019
- What Jobs Can You Get with a Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling?
- Other Degrees in Counseling
- Frequently Asked Questions
Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Requirements and Coursework
Undergraduate Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling
An undergraduate degree is the entry-level preparation for a career in this field. There are few programs available in rehabilitation counseling at the associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree levels, but an undergraduate degree in a related subject such as human services that includes relevant coursework can prepare you for work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor in some states and lay the groundwork for graduate study and licensure in others.
In states where it is recognized, you may also qualify for support roles in rehabilitation counseling, such as behavioral health technician, mental health technician, or counselor’s aide. An associate’s degree typically takes 60 credit hours or two to four years of study depending on whether you are a full-time or part-time student. A bachelor’s degree typically takes 120 credit hours or four to six years of study depending on attendance status. Some schools offer bachelor’s-to-master’s programs in rehabilitation counseling, which can allow you to earn both degrees on an accelerated timeline.
A rehabilitation counseling undergraduate program will include foundational liberal arts courses as well as courses in the sciences and courses specific to counseling. This combination of courses will prepare you for entry-level counseling practice as well as for graduate study. Common courses in an undergraduate rehabilitation counseling program include:
- Behavioral Health and Analysis
- Career Counseling in Rehabilitation
- Counseling Ethics
- Disability and Society
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling
- Group Counseling Methods
- Introduction to Rehabilitation
- Rehabilitation Psychology
- Treatment Planning
- Vocational Rehabilitation
Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling
In order to be admitted to a master’s in rehabilitation counseling program, you will first need to earn your bachelor’s degree. It is also common for master’s degree programs to require a minimum GPA (3.0 is typical), letters of recommendation, and a minimum score on a graduate entrance exam, such as the GRE or MAT. Master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs typically take 60 credit hours to complete in order to fulfill state licensing requirements, though you can find programs that range from 40 credit hours and up. Programs that are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) are typically at least 60 credit hours. CACREP accreditation can provide a smoother pathway to licensure and is a requirement in some states.
Master’s in rehabilitation counseling degree programs typically focus on clinical skills and knowledge and include practicum and internship requirements in order to prepare graduates for licensure and certification in the counseling field. These focus areas will be the same in an on-campus or an online rehabilitation counseling degree. In addition to practicum and internship placements, courses you can expect to take include:
- Counseling Techniques for Rehabilitation Counselors
- Diagnosis and Assessment
- Group Counseling Practices
- Human Growth and Development
- Medical Aspects of Disabilities
- Mental Health Counseling and Consultation
- Methods in Rehabilitation Counseling
- Professional Ethics
- Psycho-Social Impact of Disabilities
- Research in Disabilities
- Research and Program Evaluation
- Vocational Rehabilitation, Case Management, and Employment
Doctorate in Rehabilitation Counseling
If you are interested in working in academia or research, a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling will probably be part of your education plan. While it can prepare you for counseling licensure in some states, a doctoral degree in rehabilitation counseling will go beyond master’s-level practice and include more research-based courses as well as in-depth study of the theories of counseling.
Earning a PhD is academically challenging, and will usually require students to write and defend a thesis. Including coursework, it usually takes from three to seven years to earn a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling. Academic courses that are typical for doctoral counseling programs include:
- Doctoral Rehabilitation Counseling Practicum
- Graduate Statistics
- Grant Writing
- Multivariate Analysis
- Psychiatric Rehabilitation
- Qualitative Research
- Special Topics in Rehabilitation Counseling
- Supervision in Counseling
- Rehabilitation Administration and Leadership
- Research in Rehabilitation
Certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling
Certificates in rehabilitation counseling are usually found at the graduate and post-graduate levels. These can be used as “bridge programs” to fulfill state licensing requirements in states that require 60 graduate credit hours for those who completed a lower-credit-hour master’s degree. A graduate certificate also offers an opportunity to add a specialty area of practice to your professional competencies, as certificates typically consist of a cluster of closely-related courses. Prospective students typically must fulfill specific prerequisites and may also need to be licensed in one or more areas of counseling to be considered for admission to such a program.
Program lengths for rehabilitation counseling certificates vary, though 15 to 30 credit hours, or one to three years of study depending on attendance status, is common. Courses you may find in such a program include:
- Career Development
- Clinical Interventions in Crisis Management
- Disability Assessment
- Educational Aspects of Disabilities
- Leadership, Consultation, and Advocacy
- Occupational Analysis and Career Counseling
- Placement Services and Techniques
- Rehabilitation Counseling for Military Veterans
- Substance Abuse Seminar
- Vocational Rehabilitation Systems Design
Licensure for Rehabilitation Counselors
Rehabilitation counselors who want to provide counseling services to individuals with physical and/or developmental disabilities must earn the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). However, in order to provide mental health therapy, counselors must also be licensed as LPCs, LMHCs, or the state equivalent. Counselor licensing requirements vary by state, though in most states you should expect to complete at least a master’s degree. Visit our state guides to licensure for more information on this pathway.
While the title of “counselor” is typically reserved for those with a master’s degree and the appropriate credential, you may qualify for related roles such as vocational rehabilitation specialist, job coach/skills trainer, or behavior technician with an undergraduate degree.
In Tennessee, for example, you can qualify to become a Vocational Specialist with an associate’s degree but must have a master’s degree to become a licensed rehabilitation counselor. In Maryland, you can become registered as a Rehabilitation Practitioner with a bachelor’s degree. Some states and federal agencies hire vocational/employment specialists with a bachelor’s degree in human services, vocational counseling, or related subjects.
Professional Certifications for Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Holders
With a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, you can also qualify to sit for the CRCC Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Exam (CRCE) to earn the CRC credential. While it is not a license, the CRC credential is a widely-recognized accomplishment that is held in high regard by employers that serve individuals with disabilities. Many organizations require applicants to have their CRC in order to be hired to work in the field, particularly state and federal government agencies. Some states, such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Utah also recognize the credential as part of the licensing process for licensed professional counselors. The following states may also accept the CRCE exam for general counselor licensure:
- Select a State
- North Carolina
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
In addition to recognizing the CRCE for first-time counselor licensure, many states recognize it as being substantially equivalent for the purposes of license reciprocity (also known as license portability, comity, or licensure by endorsement). For additional information, see our Counseling License Reciprocity Guide.
The following table provides a comparison of common license titles and certifications for rehabilitation counselors. As noted above, requirements for rehabilitation counselors vary by state. Licensure and certification can also be defined differently by employers. As a result, although earning a higher-level degree may qualify you for other roles where a lower degree is common, this will not always be the case. Check with your state’s licensing board for full requirements.
|Counseling License Type||Associate’s Degree Commonly Required||Bachelor’s Degree Commonly Required||Master’s Degree Commonly Required|
|Certified Professional Counselor (CPC)||—||—||Yes|
|Clinical Professional Counselor (CPC)||—||—||Yes|
|Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CMHC or MHC)||—||—||Yes|
|Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)||—||—||Yes|
|Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC or MHC)||—||—||Yes|
|Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)||—||—||Yes|
|Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)||—||—||Yes|
|Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LPCC)||—||—||Yes|
|Rehabilitation Counselor or Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor (LRC)||—||—||Yes|
|Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor||—||—||Yes||Vocational Specialist||Yes||—||—|
US News & World Report’s Best Rehabilitation Counseling Programs of 2019
US News & World Report has ranked the top graduate schools for rehabilitation counseling degree programs in the US in 2019. The ranking below is based on peer assessments, hiring surveys, admissions selectivity, and school resources.1
- Michigan State University (#1 tie)
- University of Wisconsin-Madison (#1 tie)
- George Washington University (#3)
- Pennsylvania State University-University Park (#4 tie)
- San Diego State University (#4 tie)
- University of Arizona (#4 tie)
- University of Wisconsin-Stout (#4 tie)
- Virginia Commonwealth University (#4 tie)
- University of Kentucky (#9 tie)
- University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (#9 tie)
- Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (#12 tie)
- University of North Texas (#12 tie)
What Jobs Can You Get with a Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling?
As licensing requirements and scope of practice for mental health counselors and rehabilitation counselors vary by state, be sure to check with your state licensing board for up-to-date requirements. As you plan your education, you may also find it worthwhile to view job listings for rehabilitation counselors in your area in order to compare common employer requirements with state licensing options.
Prospective rehabilitation specialists with an undergraduate degree may qualify for vocational rehabilitation positions in some states and agencies. In other cases, an undergraduate degree in rehabilitation counseling will qualify you for related support roles. Depending on the content of your degree and your state’s licensing guidelines, you may also qualify for a substance abuse counseling credential.
A master’s in rehabilitation counseling will typically qualify you for licensure as a rehabilitation counselor or mental health counselor. Even in states where vocational rehabilitation services are permitted with a lower-level degree, the master’s degree is considered the entry level for licensure and therefore professional-level counseling practice. In addition to the degree, you will need to earn supervised professional experience (which is typically paid) and pass a qualifying exam to earn your license.
A PhD in rehabilitation counseling is preparation for careers in academia teaching counseling practice to others and in research. Jobs that are posted for those with a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling therefore tend to focus less on the role of the counselor as a practitioner and more on the role of the counselor as a scholar. However, if your doctoral program meets state licensing guidelines, you may qualify for licensure with this degree and find work in rehabilitation counseling.
Visit our guide to rehabilitation counseling careers to learn more about possibilities with a degree in rehabilitation counseling.
Other Degrees in Counseling
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you earn a master’s in rehabilitation counseling online?
Yes! There are many schools that offer a master’s in rehabilitation counseling online. In online rehabilitation counseling programs, you will typically take some or all of your classes online and then complete any required supervised internship experiences in your local area. However, program requirements do vary, and some schools may require a mix of on-campus classes and/or short-term residencies. Be sure to check with the programs you are considering before committing to a degree plan.
Do I need a rehabilitation counseling master’s degree to work as a rehabilitation counselor?
Whether you need a rehabilitation counseling master’s degree depends on the licensing guidelines of the state where you wish to work as well as the type of work you wish to do. As a general rule, you will need a master’s degree in order to enjoy the full scope of practice recognized for rehabilitation counselors. However, it may be possible to work in vocational rehabilitation counseling or in other counseling support roles with less than a master’s degree.
What is the difference between a rehabilitation counseling degree and a vocational rehabilitation counseling degree?
A rehabilitation counseling degree includes coursework on all aspects of rehabilitation counseling and prepares you for licensure and work as a rehabilitation counselor or mental health counselor. A degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling will prepare you specifically for the subfield of rehabilitation counseling that deals with work-related disabilities and adaptations. Relatively few programs exist that offer a formal concentration in vocational rehabilitation counseling, though if this area of practice interests you, you may be able to add an emphasis in this field through the careful selection of courses.
What is the difference between a mental health counseling degree and a rehabilitation counseling degree?
Rehabilitation counseling is defined by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) as “a systematic process that assists persons with physical, mental, developmental, cognitive, and emotional disabilities to achieve their personal, career, and independent living goals in the most integrated setting possible.” Mental health counseling, on the other hand, is provided to prevent and treat a broad range of mental health issues across a variety of client populations.
Why get a degree in rehabilitation counseling?
A rehabilitation counseling degree allows an individual to have flexible career options, including but not limited to private practice as a licensed therapist, a vocational counselor working with insurance companies within the worker’s compensation field, or in the education field as a professor/researcher. Since it is a requirement for licensure, a degree in rehabilitation counseling is typically a requirement for jobs in this field.
Do you need a master’s in order to be admitted to a PhD in rehabilitation counseling?
Many PhD programs prefer applicants who have completed a master’s degree, since completing a master’s degree is an indication that the applicant has more than a foundational knowledge of counseling. However, there are PhDs in rehabilitation counseling that will consider applicants with a bachelor’s degree. These programs are longer as they award the master’s degree, typically at the end of the second year of study, before building on this work with doctoral-level courses.
1. US News & World Report Best Rehabilitation Counseling Programs, 2019: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/rehabilitation-counseling-rankings