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Rehabilitation Counseling Careers

In the United States, many rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of arenas. The predominant placement of rehabilitation counselors are state rehabilitation programs as Vocational Counselors, social service agencies as Clinicians, and at the collegiate level as Disability Counselors/Specialists.

Job Outlook

Employment of rehabilitation counselors is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow with the increase in the elderly population and with the continued rehabilitation needs of other groups, such as veterans and people with disabilities.

Older adults are more likely than other age groups to become disabled or injured. Rehabilitation counselors will be needed to help the elderly learn to adapt to any new limitations and learn strategies to live independently.

In addition, there will be a continued need for rehabilitation counselors to work with veterans who were disabled during their military service. They will also be needed to work with other groups, such as people who have learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, or substance abuse problems.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be good because of job growth and the need to replace workers.

For more information, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Rehabilitation Counselors.

What Rehabilitation Counselors Do

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.

Duties

Rehabilitation counselors typically do the following:

  • Provide individual and group counseling to help clients adjust to their disability
  • Evaluate clients’ abilities, interests, experiences, skills, health, and education
  • Develop a treatment plan for clients, in consultation with other professionals, such as doctors, therapists, and psychologists
  • Arrange for clients to obtain services, such as medical care or career training
  • Help employers understand the needs and abilities of people with disabilities, as well as laws and resources that affect people with disabilities
  • Help clients develop their strengths and adjust to their limitations
  • Locate resources, such as wheelchairs or computer programs, that help clients live and work more independently
  • Maintain client records and monitor clients’ progress, adjusting the rehabilitation or treatment plan as necessary
  • Advocate for the rights of people with disabilities to live in a community and work in the job of their choice

Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities at various stages in their lives. Some work with students, to develop strategies to live with their disability and transition from school to work. Others help veterans cope with the mental or physical effects of their military service. Still others help elderly people adapt to disabilities developed later in life from illness or injury. Some may provide expert testimony or assessments during personal-injury or workers’ compensation cases.

Some rehabilitation counselors deal specifically with employment issues. These counselors, sometimes called vocational rehabilitation counselors, typically work with older students and adults.

Work Environment

Rehabilitation counselors held about 119,700 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of rehabilitation counselors were as follows:

Rehab Counseling Employment
Category Percent %
Community and vocational rehabilitation services 30
Individual and family services 18
State government, excluding education and hospitals 13
Nursing and residential care facilities 12
Self-employed workers 8

Rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of settings, such as community rehabilitation centers, senior citizen centers, and youth guidance organizations.

How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors typically need a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. Some positions require certification or a license.

Education

Most employers require a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. Master’s degree programs teach students to evaluate clients’ needs, formulate and implement job placement strategies, and understand the medical and psychological aspects of disabilities. These programs typically include a period of supervised clinical experience, such as an internship.

Although some employers hire workers with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and disability studies, these workers typically cannot offer the full range of services that a rehabilitation counselor with a master’s degree can provide. Students in bachelor’s degree programs learn about issues faced by people with disabilities and about the process of providing rehabilitation services. Some universities offer dual-degree programs in rehabilitation counseling, in which students can earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in 5 years.

Certification

Some employers prefer or require rehabilitation counselors to be certified. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification offers the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification. Applicants must meet advanced education, work experience, and clinical supervision requirements and pass a test. Certification must be renewed every 5 years. Counselors must complete continuing education requirements or pass a reexamination to renew their certification.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Rehabilitation counselors need to be able to communicate effectively with clients. They must express ideas and information in a way that is easy to understand.

Compassion. Rehabilitation counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations. They must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Critical-thinking skills. Rehabilitation counselors must be able to develop a treatment plan to help clients reach their goals by considering each client’s abilities and interests.

Interpersonal skills. Rehabilitation counselors must be able to work with different types of people. They spend most of their time working directly with clients, families, employers, or other professionals. They must be able to develop and maintain good working relationships.

Listening skills. Good listening skills are essential for rehabilitation counselors. They need to give their full attention in sessions in order to understand clients’ problems, concerns, and values.

Patience. Rehabilitation counselors must have patience to help clients learn new skills and strategies to address their disabilities.