Rehabilitation Counselor – Career, Salary & State Licensure
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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.
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
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Rehabilitation counselors in Virginia are credentialed as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) or Licensed Professional Counselor – Residents (LPC Residents).
LPC Resident license candidates must:
To qualify for as an LPC candidates must already hold an LPC Resident license and must:
LPC Resident licenses expire annually and cost $30 to renew. As part of the renewal, LPC Residents must attest the supervised work experience is still in effect and that they have completed three continuing education hours in ethics.
LPCs must renew their licenses annually online by completing the application and paying the $130 fee.
LPCs are required to complete 20 hours in continuing education, two of which must be in ethics. LPCs are not required to submit this information to the board; however, random audits are performed so counselors must keep careful records.