Sports & Rehabilitation Counselor

No matter how careful a coach or an athlete is, injuries or other physical or mental setbacks can happen. When they do, athletes and teams will want a sports and rehabilitation counselor on their side. Sports and rehabilitation counselors work with athletes to help them maintain their physical competitiveness while also helping them recover when injuries occur, which, after a career throwing 100-mile-per-hour fastballs, for instance, is not an uncommon occurrence.

Sports and rehabilitation counselors are highly trained specialists who work for sports teams and individual athletes to help them avoid and recover from both minor and major injuries. Their work combines extensive knowledge about anatomy and the structure of the human body, healing modalities, and movement science, coupled with skills in mental health counseling, to help motivate their clients. Sports and rehabilitation therapists are critical to the success of a sports team, and there seems to be no decline in the need for specialists in this field.

In 2018, the American Psychological Association, or APA, published an article about the growing demand for sports psychologists. Sports psychologists play a very important role in helping athletes overcome mental roadblocks and improve their performance. They can also be instrumental in helping an athlete manage or recover from interpersonal issues, such as mistreatment by someone close to them (a coach, perhaps), or health problems such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

Rehabilitation counselors are also sometimes called sports therapists or athletic trainers. People with this education can work in a variety of settings and specialty areas including hospitals and medical centers, physical rehabilitation centers, Veterans Administration hospitals, pain management centers, sports injury centers, or rehabilitation facilities that focus on specific physical issues, such as a cardiac rehabilitation facility or brain injury center.

Graduates in this field will find the best job prospects if they earn their degree through a certified or accredited program. There are a few reputable agencies to seek out when selecting a program.

CAATE, or the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education, accredits educational programs leading to licensure as an athletic trainer. CAPTE, or the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education is the only agency recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit physical therapy educational programs and physical therapist assistant education programs. CACREP, or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, is the standard for accrediting counselor education programs.

There may be other accrediting agencies, depending on your state or specialty. Accredited programs should prepare students to take the Board of Certification exams, which are typically required for licensing.<-->=bachelors---->Any--Else--T1==couns_rehab--Select `wp_cs_sb_school_data`.*, `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.* FROM `wp_cs_sb_school_data` JOIN `wp_cs_sb_program_details` ON `wp_cs_sb_school_data`.s_id = `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.s_id WHERE ( `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees = 'bachelors' OR `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,bachelors,%' OR `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like 'bachelors,%' OR `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,bachelors' ) AND ( `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name = 'couns_rehab' OR `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name like '%,couns_rehab,%' OR `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name like 'couns_rehab,%' OR `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name like '%,couns_rehab' ) AND ( `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_restricted_states <> 'VA' AND `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_restricted_states NOT LIKE '%,VA,%' AND `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_restricted_states NOT LIKE 'VA,%' AND `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_restricted_states NOT LIKE '%,VA' ) AND `wp_cs_sb_school_data`.s_active = 'Yes'AND `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_active = 'yes' ORDER BY CASE `wp_cs_sb_school_data`.s_green_state WHEN `wp_cs_sb_school_data`.s_green_state LIKE '%VA%' THEN 1 END, CASE WHEN `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name LIKE '%couns_rehab%' THEN 1 END, CASE `wp_cs_sb_school_data`.s_id WHEN 19 THEN 1 WHEN 51 THEN 2 WHEN 48 THEN 3 WHEN 37 THEN 4 WHEN 50 THEN 5 WHEN 14 THEN 6 WHEN 6 THEN 7 WHEN 2 THEN 8 WHEN 8 THEN 9 WHEN 31 THEN 10 WHEN 52 THEN 11 WHEN 34 THEN 12 WHEN 5 THEN 13 WHEN 41 THEN 14 WHEN 47 THEN 15 WHEN 32 THEN 16 WHEN 33 THEN 17 WHEN 30 THEN 18 WHEN 40 THEN 19 WHEN 53 THEN 20 WHEN 9 THEN 21 WHEN 43 THEN 22 WHEN 29 THEN 23 WHEN 45 THEN 24 WHEN 46 THEN 25 WHEN 42 THEN 26 WHEN 49 THEN 27 WHEN 39 THEN 28 WHEN 20 THEN 29 WHEN 38 THEN 30 WHEN 4 THEN 31 WHEN 7 THEN 32 WHEN 10 THEN 33 WHEN 12 THEN 34 WHEN 13 THEN 35 WHEN 17 THEN 36 WHEN 18 THEN 37 WHEN 21 THEN 38 WHEN 35 THEN 39 WHEN 44 THEN 40 WHEN 36 THEN 41 WHEN 11 THEN 42 WHEN 15 THEN 43 WHEN 16 THEN 44 WHEN 3 THEN 45 WHEN 1 THEN 46 WHEN 28 THEN 47 ELSE 99 END ASC, `wp_cs_sb_program_details`.p_name
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How to Become a Sports & Rehabilitation Counselor

Most positions require a master’s or doctoral degree in clinical counseling, rehabilitation counseling, or sports psychology. The student will learn movement science, anatomy and physiology, and sports medicine. Knowledge of business and marketing, particularly if the employer is a high-profile sports team or university, could be an excellent background. Direct training in sports and exercise is a must.

Specializations can include applied sport psychology, which is utilizing teaching skills to enhance athletic performance; clinical sport psychology, which uses psychotherapy techniques to help clients overcome mental obstacles; or academic sports psychology, which would be a necessity of the goal was to work with an athletic department at a college or university.

Education of a Sports & Rehabilitation Counselor

There are a few types of education that one could pursue for this degree. Some colleges offer sports rehabilitation related post-baccalaureate certificates. Others offer a general clinical mental health counseling master’s degree, which could be tailored specifically for athletes and sports. For instance, one could study for a master’s degree in general mental health counseling, then specialize in school counseling, to be able to work directly with student-athletes.

Athletes can struggle with depression, OCD, or eating disorders, and a counselor who understands how this affects their ability to perform and compete will be able to help them accomplish more than a counselor who does not understand the athletic mindset. Therefore, there is often a lot of overlap in general mental health counseling and sports counseling. Becoming licensed and versed in mental health counseling will be a strong foundation for any sports and rehabilitation counselor.

California University of Pennsylvania, for instance, offers an online certificate in sports counseling and student-athlete mental wellness. The program provides an understanding of the foundations of sports counseling and knowledge and skills for the practice of sports counseling. Sports counselors should understand the details of the sports the athletes play, to be able to “speak the language” of their athletes.

A good sports counselor should be able to understand the differences in culture between different sports, such as NFL football versus women’s basketball. They’ve also got to be knowledgeable about the history and meaning of sports in general.

A degree in psychology or counseling provides many opportunities for cross-disciplinary development of skills that can be applied to sports. Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step in achieving this level of education. In some cases, the student can be admitted to a master’s program with any degree, while in other cases the graduate program would like to see a bachelor’s degree in a field related to counseling. A good course of action would be to major in psychology or counseling and minor in sports or exercise science.

Many master’s programs offer a master of arts or master of science in clinical mental health counseling, with specializations available. The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) is the premier certification agency for sports counselors and fitness trainers. The AASP offers certification for master’s degree holders.

Supervised Hour Requirements for Sports & Rehabilitation Counselors

Each state has its own requirements for what is approved for licensing. Most states require licensure of a student who has completed a program at an accredited school. For most counseling programs, a 100-hour internship is followed by a 600-hour practicum (sometimes 700 or 800). The internships and practicum offer the opportunity for specializations in the sports field.

For instance, Wichita State University offers a master of education in counseling with a sports counseling concentration. This 60-credit program prepares students to meet the educational requirements for licensure as a counselor in the state of Kansas. Graduates of the counseling athletes program track may work with student-athletes, in student affairs, or athletic departments.

This MEd in counseling meets the academic requirements for licensure as an LPC. CACREP does not certify counseling programs that do not meet their requirements of a minimum of a 100-hour supervised practicum over a minimum 10-week academic term. Each practicum must include at least 40 clock hours of direct service with actual clients. Further, the program requires completion of a supervised internship of 600 clock hours, including at least 240 hours of direct service.

Licensure and Certification of Sports & Rehabilitation Counselors

Different states have different requirements for licensure in order to practice as a licensed mental health counselor. Kansas’s Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board, for instance, requires that the graduate degree consist of at least 60 graduate semester hours or the academic equivalent with at least 45 graduate semester hours of core coursework. At least 15 graduate semester credit hours or the academic equivalent must be in diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. The supervised clinical practicum, internship, or field or laboratory training must be completed before licensure. In order for an applicant to qualify for licensure, the college or university must be regionally accredited.

Sports & Rehabilitation Licensure Renewal Requirements

Just as different states have different requirements for licensure, different states have different requirements for licensure renewal. Kansas, for example, requires 30 hours of continuing education every two years while Georgia, for comparison, requires 35 clock hours of continuing education every two years. Each licensee should check their state’s requirements.

What Do Sports & Rehabilitation Counselors Do?

Many people who love sports but aren’t athletes themselves may not realize they can still work in the field of sports by becoming a sports and rehabilitation counselor. Depending on where they work, a sports and rehabilitation counselor’s day can look very different. If they work in a medical center, they can see many patients each day with a variety of problems. If they work for a college or university or sports training center, their day could be focused on very specific movement-related issues depending on the sport.

At its most basic, a sports and rehabilitation counselor works with clients who are not injured to be sure they are using correct form and developing the correct musculature to avoid injury. They also work with clients who are already injured to help them functionally recover from their injury. In both cases, the counselor will develop a plan for future visits, physical goals, and how to reach them.

The sports and rehabilitation counselor may bring in many different healing modalities depending on what is needed to help their patients recover. This work may seem similar to a physical therapist, and it is, with the exception that a sports and rehabilitation counselor works specifically with sports injuries and athletes. A counselor in this field will also help their clients stay on their “mental game.”

How Much Do Sports & Rehabilitation Counselors Make?

This information about rehabilitation counselors was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019).

  • Number employed nationally: 109,040
  • Average salary: $40,160
  • 10th percentile: $23,820
  • 25th percentile: $28,140
  • 50th percentile (median): $35,950
  • 75th percentile: $48,110
  • 90th percentile: $63,790

Sports & Rehabilitation Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

There are a number of professional associations and resources available for guidance counselors. Some of these are professional associations, which provide guidance counselors that are members the opportunity to stay up-to-date on new trends and build their professional networks. Others are online resources that provide important information for working or prospective guidance counselors. These resources include:

  • American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • Professionals Networking for Excellence in Service Delivery with Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (ADARA)
  • Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
  • American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA)
  • Association of VA Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals (AVAVRP)
  • Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
  • International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (IARP)
  • National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns (NAMRC)
  • National Council on Rehabilitation Education (NCRE)
  • National Rehabilitation Association (NRA)
  • National Rehabilitation Counseling Association (NRCA)
  • Rehabilitation Counselors and Education Association (RCEA)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • The Clinical & Counseling Sport Psychology Association (CCSPA)
  • The National Association for Academic Advisors of Athletics (N4HA)
  • Association for Applied Sports Psychology (AASP)
  • International Society of Sports Psychology (ISSP)
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
  • International Institute for Sport and Human Performance (IISHP)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine
Vanessa Salvia

Vanessa Salvia


Vanessa Salvia is an Oregon-based freelance writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. As fun as rigorous studies in math and science were, Vanessa took an independent path and developed a prolific career covering lifestyle and healthcare topics for magazines and newspapers, important industries such as concrete construction and building waterproofing, and even hard science. You can get in touch at Sage Media and Marketing.