Rehabilitation Counselor - How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation Counselor

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Rehabilitation Counselor Job Description


Rehabilitation counselors assist people with various disabilities become more independent in their lives. They create rehabilitation programs that boost confidence, teach skills that allow them to live independently, and develop useful job skills. . They use a wide range of techniques to gain information about the patient, including direct interviews, researching medical records, reading educational histories, and speaking with physicians, occupational therapists, and psychologists to develop an individually tailored plan.




Rehabilitation Counselors assist people who have disabilities from a wide range of causes, including physical issues, mental and emotional issues, substance abuse problems, social problems, people with depression, chronic pain, and learning issues, birth defects, serious injuries, diseases and other ailments, combat wounds, or the damage inflicted by workplace or vehicular accidents. They identify the person's strengths and weaknesses and use these to create a comprehensive, goal-intensive plan that helps with treatment, job placement, and beneficial personal and vocational advice.

Their responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  • Assessing psychological, medical, and vocational needs

  • Developing treatment plans

  • Counseling patients

  • Interpreting diagnoses

  • Consulting with other health professionals

  • Assessing capacity for independent lifestyle

  • Counseling patients

  • Helping career planning

  • Working with employers to identify and modify work tasks

  • Setting goals to build confidence and improve disability

Rehabilitation counselors work with individuals to teach them how to take on tasks one small step at a time and instill confidence which facilitates development and rehabilitation. They have to be able to adapt their knowledge for many different circumstances since they help treat a wide range of disabilities. 




A rehabilitation therapist needs to be skilled in many areas as they work with a wide range of people with different disabilities. They must be able to tailor their skills for each individual and adapt and learn with each new client. They must be sensitive to patient needs and very service oriented.

Among their skills are the following:


Active Listening

Must give full attention to what others are saying and respond in a constructive, helpful way.

Social Perceptiveness

Understanding the reasons people make the decisions they do and how their behavior is affected by circumstances.


Be able to understand people and relate with them emotionally.


Must be able to convey information effectively and speak with people in a non-abrasive way. 


Keeping an eye on clients and gauging improvements or failures and correcting them.

Critical Thinking

Identify strengths and weaknesses, come up with alternative plans and solutions.


Plan with other healthcare professional proper treatment plans. Adjust your plans to other plans.


Must have a natural desire to improve the lives of others.


Convince others to change their ways of thinking and lifestyles.

Problem Solving

Work with individuals to develop treatment plans specific to them and adjust as necessary if it doesn't work.


Must be able to teach individuals how to learn new skill sets and develop new lifestyles.


Working Conditions


Rehabilitation counselors typically work on a standard schedule of 40 hours per week, since emergency services are not usually needed. However, the counselor must be prepared for flexible scheduling to fit their work in around the clients' schedule.

Substance abuse counselors, behavioral disorder counselors, and independent self-employed specialists often work in the evening. Those working in family or marriage counselors often work weekends to fit the busy schedule of clients' employment and school demands.


How to Become a Rehabilitation Therapist:


Vocational rehabilitation agencies and other potential employers occasionally accept a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation services, or in similar majors such as sociology or counseling. Most prefer a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a closely related topic, however.

Actual experience in social work or job rehabilitation is another useful credential, though not strictly required. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs provides listings of accredited rehabilitation programs on its website.


1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)


Some agencies accept a bachelor's degree for entry-level employment in rehabilitation therapy, but most need a master's degree. Getting a Bachelor's is key to furthering your education. Majoring in a social science or another service profession is a good foundation for becoming a rehabilitation therapist.

Coursework usually includes:

  • Psychology

  • Biological sciences

  • Human development courses

  • General educations


2. Earn a Master's Degree (2 Years)


A master's is necessary for most jobs in rehabilitation therapy. A master's teaches theories, skills, and techniques to provide effective mental health counseling. It's important to get into a Commission On Rehab Education (CORE) accredited program or meet the requirements to get Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) certified. These ensure you complete the proper internships and work experience needed to be eligible to work in the field. 

Master's program coursework includes 39 required credits: 33 credits of coursework in principles and practices of Rehabilitation Counseling, 3 credits of practicum (100 hours of supervised counseling experience) and 3 credits of internship (600 hours of supervised field experience). You can also receive 9 credits of specific electives for additional study in addiction, family, and psychiatric rehabilitation. 


3. Earn a Doctoral Degree (Optional)


A PhD is not necessary, but can help land administrative jobs and be involved in policy making. A PhD also allows you to teach at a University level. It is also needed if you want to research and be involved in academia as a PhD  allows you to teach at a University level. 


4. Earn the Required License


Licensing policies vary by state and are not always necessary, but they are an asset. Lots of times the place and type of work you do dictates the license you need. Counseling services in exempt settings don't need licensure but you need a certain license to be able to be exempt. So either way, you probably need to get some type of license. 

Licensing requires 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and must complete the states licensing exam. Since it varies by state, contact your state-licensing board to learn the requirements. 


5. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education


To maintain certification, Rehabilitation Therapists must renew every 5 years by continuing education or reexamination. To continue practicing one must complete 100 hours of continuing education – including a minimum of 10 hours in Ethics - within the five-year period.



Salary Outlook

Title Company Location Posted
The Department of Rehabilitation and Counselor Education at the University of Iowa invites applications for one open-rank academic year tenure-track faculty position in the Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Program, and the Counselor...
  1. OPEN RANK PROFESSOR COUNSELOR EDUCATION Iowa City, IA University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
    The Department of Rehabilitation and Counselor Education at the University of Iowa invites applications for one open-rank academic year tenure-track faculty position in the Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Program, and the Counselor...