Rehabilitation Counselor – Career, Salary & State Licensure

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC 2020), one in four Americans is living with a disability. These disabilities can range from physical, to mental, to emotional. More than 6 percent of Americans struggle to live independently. While some of these disabilities may be life long, many of them onset later on in life.

There are varied health professionals that assist disabled people including doctors, social workers, therapists, and psychologists. However, learning to adapt to day-to-day life with a disability can be incredibly challenging, which is why rehabilitation counselors are essential.

Rehabilitation counselors work with clients with mental, developmental, physical, or psychological disabilities. They provide coaching, counseling, skills training, and advocacy to help their clients live as independently as possible, gain employment, and access community resources. Typical places of employment for rehabilitation counselors include government agencies, hospitals, clinics, schools, nonprofits, long-term care facilities, and senior citizen centers.

Becoming a rehabilitation counselor takes six to ten years of education and training, after graduating from high school. All states require rehabilitation counselors to be licensed and have earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

While certification isn’t required in most states, earning a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) is industry-standard and can boost employment opportunities.

Keep reading to learn the specific steps needed to become a rehabilitation counselor, as well as state requirements for licensing.

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How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Completing high school or obtaining a GED is the first step towards becoming a rehabilitation counselor. Students who wish to pursue this career should focus on classes such as psychology, biology, math, and English. Taking advanced placement (AP) classes and the associated exams can earn students college credits before graduating high school which can reduce the number of credits needed for their undergraduate degree.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is necessary to become a rehabilitation counselor, as it is required by most master’s programs. While students can major in a variety of fields, the most common degrees are in disability services, counseling, psychology, social sciences, and rehabilitation counseling. Students should complete internships or volunteer experiences in rehabilitation counseling to give them experience in the field and strengthen their graduate school applications.

Step 3: Complete a Master’s Degree (One to Three Years)

A graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling or related field typically is required for this career. Programs are offered online as well as on-campus, allowing students the flexibility to choose how they will complete their education.

In order to earn CRC certification and state licensing, students must attend either a regionally accredited institution or one that is nationally accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The program must include a 600-hour internship, of which 240 hours must be direct client contact.

Step 4: Pass the CRC Exam (Timeline Varies)

In order to be a certified rehabilitation counselor prospective professionals must pass the CRC exam. This exam is administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) and costs $410. The test is offered three times a year in March, July, and October. Candidates will have three-and-a-half hours to answer 175 questions in 12 knowledge domains of rehabilitation counseling. An immediate pass or fail is given upon completion of the test, with a more detailed score report to follow a few weeks post exam.

Step 5: Complete State Required Supervised Work Experience (One to Four Years)

All states require rehabilitation counselors to be licensed and complete supervised work experience. The number of hours of experience varies by state, but it can be as low as 2,000 hours or as high as 6,000. Additional education beyond a master’s degree can often reduce the number of hours required. Some states require counselors to have an associate or intern license while obtaining these hours while others do not.

Step 6: Attain Licensure (Timelines Varies)

Most states require rehabilitation counselors to earn the same license as a licensed professional counselor, although there are a few states that have separate rehabilitation counselor licenses. Not all states accept the CRC exam for licensure so it may be necessary to take another national counseling exam along with any required state jurisprudence exams.

Step 7: Maintain Certification and Licensure (Timelines Varies)

Each state has their own requirements for maintaining counseling licenses. Requirements typically include an application, an application fee, and completing continuing education hours. To maintain CRC certification, holders must renew every five years. Requirements to renew include completing 100 hours of continuing education or retaking the CRC exam.

What Do Rehabilitation Counselors Do?

Certified rehabilitation counselors work in clinics, doctor’s offices, youth organizations, hospitals, community centers, government agencies, schools, and nonprofits providing services to disabled individuals. Responsibilities vary based on place of employment but typical job duties include:

  • Meeting with clients to understand their disability
  • Setting goals with clients for independence
  • Writing treatment plans based on goals
  • Providing counseling to help clients adapt to their disabilities
  • Consulting with clients’ other healthcare workers such as psychologists, caseworkers, and physical therapists
  • Advocating for clients with housing services, employers, and other agencies
  • Assisting clients to access services such as government assistance, therapy, and skill training
  • Assessing the client’s progress towards goals
  • Maintaining client records
  • Educating employers about the client’s disability and rights

How Much Do Rehabilitation Counselors Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), rehabilitation counselors earn on average $40,160 per year. Wages vary based on experience, level of education, and place of employment. The percentiles for national wages were:

  • 10th percentile: $23,820
  • 25th percentile: $28,140
  • 50th percentile (median): $35,950
  • 75th percentile: $48,110
  • 90th percentile: $63,790

Rehabilitation Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

  • The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC)
  • National Rehabilitation Association
  • The American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA)
  • The National Council on Rehabilitation Education (NCRE)
  • National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM)
  • The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)
  • National Council on Disability (NCD)

Licensing & Certification Requirements By State for Rehabilitation Counselors

State Licensing Authority Eligibility & Details Renewal Requirements
Iowa

Iowa Department of Public Health Board of Behavioral Science

Iowa issues temporary Mental Health Counselor (MHC) licenses to rehabilitation counselors who still need to complete supervised work experience. Candidates must:

  • Pay a $120 application fee
  • Complete part one of the Supervised Clinical Experience Approval and Attestation form
  • Pass the NCE exam
  • Graduate from a CACREP accredited master’s or doctoral program or obtain an equivalency evaluation if a graduate degree is earned at a non-CACREP accredited school
  • Complete an application

To apply for a full MHC license, candidates must:

  • Complete 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience of which 200 hours must be supervision hours. In lieu of this applicants can provide proof of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor status with the National Board for Certified Counselors
  • Pass the NCE exam
  • Graduate from a CACREP accredited master’s or doctoral program or obtain an equivalency evaluation if a graduate degree is earned at a non-CACREP accredited school
  • Complete an application

Iowa requires licenses to be renewed every two years on even-numbered years. The period to renew a license runs from October 1st of an even-numbered year till September 30th of the next even-numbered year. During that period, counselors must submit their renewal application, pay the $120 fee, and complete 40 hours of continuing education.

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about counseling careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.