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


Rehabilitation counselors typically do the following:

  • Provide individual and group counseling to help clients adjust to their disability
  • Evaluate clients’ abilities, interests, experience, skills, health, and education
  • Develop a treatment plan in consultation with other professionals, such as doctors, therapists, and psychologists
  • Create rehabilitation or treatment plans based on clients’ values, strengths, limitations, and goals
  • 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 impact people with disabilities
  • Assist clients in creating strategies to develop their strengths and adjust to their limitations
  • Locate resources, such as wheelchairs or computer programs, that help clients live and work more independently
  • Monitor clients’ progress and adjust the rehabilitation or treatment plan as necessary
  • Advocate for the rights of people with disabilities to live in the community and work in the job of their choice

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, emotional, or social disabilities at various stages in their lives. Some work with students to develop strategies to live with their disability and move 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 rehabilitation counselors deal specifically with employment issues. These counselors, sometimes called vocational rehabilitation counselors, typically work with older students and adults rather than young children.

Some rehabilitation counselors work in private practice. These counselors must spend time marketing their practice to prospective clients and working with insurance companies and clients to get paid for their services. Some may provide expert testimony or assessments during personal injury or workers’ compensation cases.

Work Environment

Rehabilitation counselors held about 117,500 jobs in 2012. 

They work in a variety of settings, such as colleges, elementary and secondary schools, prisons, insurance companies, and independent-living facilities. They also work in private practice and in state, private, and nonprofit rehabilitation agencies.

The industries that employed the most rehabilitation counselors in 2012 were as follows:

Social assistance 46%
Health care 22
State government, excluding education and hospitals 15
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 6

Work Schedules

Most rehabilitation counselors work full time.

Education and Training

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


Most employers require a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter a master’s-level program. Master’s degree programs teach students the theories, skills, and techniques to provide effective mental health counseling. These programs also train students in evaluating clients’ needs, formulating and implementing job placement strategies, and understanding the medical and psychological aspects of a disability. They typically require a period of supervised experience or training, 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. Bachelor’s degree programs teach students about issues that people with disabilities face and about the process of providing rehabilitation services.


Licensing requirements for rehabilitation counselors differ by state and by type of services provided. Those providing counseling services to clients and patients must attain a license through their state licensing board. Other services provided by rehabilitation counselors, however, may be exempt from state licensing requirements. Rehabilitation counselors providing only vocational rehabilitation services or job placement assistance, for example, may not need a license.

Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education credits. Applicants should contact the state licensing boards for information on what services or counseling positions require licensure. Contact information for these state licensing boards can be found through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification website.


Some employers prefer or require rehabilitation counselors to be Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRC). Applicants must meet advanced education, work experience, and clinical supervision requirements and pass a test. Counselors must complete continuing education requirements or pass a reexamination to renew their certification. For more information, contact the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Rehabilitation counselors need to be able to communicate with clients effectively, expressing ideas and information in a way that is easily understood.

Compassion. Counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Being able to work with different types of people is essential for rehabilitation counselors, who spend most of their time working directly with clients, families, employers, or other professionals. They must be able to develop and maintain a good working relationship.

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

Patience. To help people learn new skills and strategies, rehabilitation counselors must have patience as clients struggle to learn about and address the impact of their disabilities.


The median annual wage for rehabilitation counselors was $33,880 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,990 and the top 10 percent earned more than $59,330.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for rehabilitation counselors in the top four industries in which these counselors worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $43,550
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 41,530
Health care 32,290
Social assistance 30,390

Most rehabilitation counselors work full time.

Job Outlook

Employment of rehabilitation counselors is projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, 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. They will need to learn to adapt to their disabilities and learn strategies to live independently. As a result, they will require the services of rehabilitation counselors. As the size of the elderly population grows, so will the need for rehabilitation counselors.

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.

For More Information

For more information about counseling and information about counseling specialties, visit

American Rehabilitation Counseling Association

For more information about the Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRC) certification and the state licensing regulating boards, visit

Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification