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.

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

Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling (ABEC)

Rehabilitation counselors in Alabama must fulfill the requirements to become Associate Licensed Counselors (ALCs) or Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC).

To be licensed as an ALC, candidates must:

  • Have completed a master’s degree from a CACREP or CORE accredited school of at least 48 semester hours or 72 quarter hours. The program must include a 100-hour practicum, 40 of those hours must be direct client contact as well as one hour of direct supervision and 1.5 hours of group supervision per week, and a 600-hour internship with 240 hours of direct client contact along with 2.5 hours of supervision a week and at least one hour of individual supervision per week.
  • Submit three letters of recommendation, two of which must be from supervisors.
  • Provide official school transcripts to the ABEC board.
  • Submit a proposed plan of supervision for work experience including names of supervising counselors, goals for the supervision, and strategies to meet those goals.
  • Complete an application for an ALC license.
  • Pay the $200 application fee.

In order to progress from an ALC to LPC, candidates must:

  • Complete 3,000 hours of supervised work experience, Of those 3,000 hours, 2,250 hours must be direct service hours and 750 of indirect service hours. All hours must be under the supervision of a supervising counselor.
  • Pass a national counselor exam such as the NCE.
  • Submit three recommendations, two from supervisors from the work experience.
  • Complete and submit an application to the ABEC board.
  • Pay $200 application fee

If graduate coursework beyond the master’s is completed, candidates may subtract 1,000 hours of supervised work experience for every 15 graduate semester hours or 22.5 quarter hours of coursework directly related to counseling. (A minimum of 1,000 hours of work experience is required, regardless of the number of credits earned.)

In Alabama, ALC or LPC licenses expire every two years. In order to renew a license, counselors must:

  • Complete continuing education units through approved providers such as the NBCC or CRCC. ALCs must complete 10 hours, two of which must be in ethics, and LPCs must complete 40, six of which must be in ethics.
  • Pay a $300 renewal fee
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


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.