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How to Become a Rehab Counselor

Alternate Career Titles:

Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Rehab Counselor

Rehabilitation Counselor Job Description: Rehabilitation Counselors help people with developmental or emotional disabilities to live independent lives

Rehabilitation Counselor Salary (Annual): $35,950

Rehabilitation Counselor Salary Range: $23,820 to $63,790

How Long to Become a Epidemiologist: 6 years

Epidemiologist Requirements: Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling

Rehabilitation Counselor Medical Career

Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

Career Description

A Rehabilitation Counselor is responsible for helping patients of all ages with developmental, physical, mental or emotional disabilities to live independent lives. They seek to achieve this by providing individual and group counseling along with evaluating patient abilities, skills, health and other factors. They will also develop a treatment plan and arrange for any additional patient services needed (psychiatry, physical therapy, etc.).

In this role, Rehabilitation Counselors will additionally locate resources for a client, keep all patient records up-to-date and accurate and assist in building client strengths and ability to compensate for any limitations. Furthermore, Rehabilitation Counselors inform employers of the needs, laws protecting and resources available regarding their employees with disabilities. Many Rehabilitation Counselors additionally choose to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. Learn about other careers in mental health, including that of a Psychologist, Psychiatrist and Counselor, today!

“This career is very rewarding,” Diana Galvan, a Rehabilitation Counselor practicing in Modesto, Calif., said. “My role consists of working with people with disabilities, and I provide services for people who mental and physical needs.”

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Education & Training

To become a Rehabilitation Counselor, a learner must first obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in rehabilitation and disability studies, followed by being accepted into and completing a Master’s Degree program in rehabilitation counseling. During these programs, learners will receive instruction on the physical and psychology aspects of disabilities, evaluation techniques and placement strategies. They will also engage in supervised clinical experience. Lastly, prospective Rehabilitation Counselors must become licensed by the state in which they practice by passing an exam and completing 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

“First I completed a Bachelor’s Degree in human services, so I was able to learn how to work with people. Then I worked for a few years at an organization for children and learned to work with families,” Galvan explained. “Then I decided I wanted to pursue a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling and work with adults.”


One way to advance in a career as a Rehabilitation Counselor is to become certified through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. These professionals can also choose to take on a specialty. For example, some career professionals in this role wish to specialize in employment issues (called Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors), while others may specialize in working with students, veterans or seniors.

“One way to advance would be to contract with different places, because there’s always room for growth if the person is ambitious,” Galvan advised. “They could also choose to open their own practice, or go work at a university. At a university, they usually start you in at the bottom and you work your way up, being promoted to different positions or in different departments.”

Experience & Skills

To be an effective Rehabilitation Counselor, professionals should have strong communication skills. They must be able to communicate with all clients, explaining treatment plans them in ways which they can understand. Rehabilitation Counselors also need to be able to listen to their patients to help identify concerns for problems. When an issue arises, these professionals must use critical-thinking skills to develop and begin a treatment plan.

“Critical thinking skills are important in this career in healthcare because you have to do a lot of research,” Galvan noted. “Not only do you need to know about a client’s disability, but about their medical background as well. I ask a lot of questions because I’m not a Family Physician, so I keep an open mind and a learner’s heart.”


“In this field you need to have a positive attitude, because you’re working with people who have disabilities and they just don’t know which direction to go in. I’m there to help guide them,” Galvan said. “There disabilities can range from mental to physical, and sometimes the physical is pretty intense.

She added that the ability to remain positive, and to seek alternative solutions to problems relating to disability are crucial. Also, as a Rehabilitation Counselor, professions should exhibit compassion and empathy in response to clients presented with difficulty or stress resulting from their disability. They should also be patient, especially when helping their clients learn new skills and strategies. Furthermore, these professionals should genuinely want to help their patients improve the quality of their lives, offering them support.


Rehabilitation Counselors may work full for part-time schedules, and depending on their employer they may be asked to work evenings, nights or weekends. In a typical day in this career, a Rehabilitation Counselor will evaluate clients and their progress, provide counseling, develop treatment plans and monitor patient progress. In some of these instances, patients will need to be transitioned for moved, and the Rehabilitation Counselor will be the professional expected to do so. Therefore this career can be somewhat physically demanding.

“I’m super busy because I have two kids and am a single mom, but my career is always secondary to my family,” Galvan said. “However, I’m extremely ambitious and work full-time and part-time hours. So I work Monday through Friday, some evenings and also weekends.”


Now is a great time to take the first steps toward a rewarding career as a Rehabilitation Counselor. Over the next decade, this career is projected to grow 10 percent, a rate faster than the average for all occupations. This demand can largely be attributed to an increase in the elderly population in addition to a growing awareness regarding disabilities. Other professionals who work with patients with disabilities includes Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists.

“There’s a huge need in this industry,” Galvan stressed. “The Department of Rehabilitation and the Veteran’s Association are always hiring Rehabilitation Counselors.”

The majority of Rehabilitation Counselors are employed by community and vocational rehabilitation services, followed by individual and family services, the state government and nursing and residential care facilities. Other areas employing these professionals are senior citizen centers, community facilities and youth guidance organizations. Rehabilitation Counselors can also be self-employed, and the states with the highest level of employment in this occupation are California, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Ohio.


The median annual wage for a Rehabilitation Counselor is $35,950. While the lowest 10 percent are recorded to have earned less than $23,820, the top 10 percent made over $63,790 annually. The top paying employers in this industry are the state government, individual and family services, nursing and residential care facilities and community and vocational rehabilitation services. Additionally, the top paying state for this occupation is Alaska, followed by New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine and Colorado.

“There’s a wide salary range in this career,” Galvan explained. “Professionals can start making lower than $40,000 per year and go on to make over $100,000 a year. Salary largely just depends on location and need.”

She added that in addition to her salaried position, the private practice she operates charges clients by the hour. Galvan further noted that between the two incomes, she is able to live very comfortably.

Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations

The American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA) is an organization dedicated to enhancing the visibility and effectiveness of the disability experience, rehabilitation toward wellness and advancement of human rights. The ARCA does this through providing leadership that will encourage excellence in the rehabilitation counseling practice, research, consultation and professional development.

The American Counseling Association (ACA) is an organization dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. The goal of the ACA is to also promote the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.

Getting Started

  • Shadow a Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Enroll in and complete a Bachelor’s Degree program in Rehabilitation Counseling
  • Enroll in and complete a Master’s Degree program
  • Network with other career professionals
  • Attend career fairs
  • Search career boards

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rehabilitation CounselorMeet the professional: Diana Galvan

Age: 44
Practice: Vocational Rehab Service
Location: Central Valley, CA

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

“I would suggest that they make sure they enjoy working with people, listening to people’s’ stories and are able to be neutral and not get emotionally involved.”

What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

“They aren’t a people person, but go through the educational requirements, get a position as a Rehabilitation Counselor and realize this career isn’t for them.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

“Am I a people-person and culturally-sensitive to people?”

Why did you choose to become a Rehabilitation Counselor?

“I was pregnant with my first daughter, and was working with kids who had disabilities as a Clinician Trainee. I started thinking that I would like to work work people with disabilities and be able to show them that there is great potential out there.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would that be?


Credentialing organizations: The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification

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