Becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor: Job Description & Salary Info

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A rehabilitation counselor's median annual salary is about $34,000, but is it worth the education requirements and training? Get the truth about job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right path for you.
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A Rehabilitation Counselor Career: Pros and Cons

Working as a rehabilitation counselor allows you to help people adapt to physical or mental disabilities so that they can live productive and independent lives. Consult the pros and cons table below to learn more about this career.

PROS of Becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor
Faster-than-average job growth (9% from 2014-2024)*
Multiple employment options (rehabilitation centers, schools, government agencies, self-employment)*
Offers a chance to serve as an advocate for clients' rights and well being*
Can positively impact the lives of those with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorders and substance abuse addictions*

CONS of Becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor
Relatively low wages (median annual wage of about $34,000 in May 2014)*
Usually requires a master's degree*
Licensure is needed to work at a private practice*
Assisting individuals who are struggling with difficult illnesses or disabilities can be stressful*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Your job as a rehabilitation counselor is to help individuals who have emotional, mental or physical disabilities or issues. Together, you can work towards adopting strategies that allow them to pursue important life goals like caring for themselves independently, staying active or connecting with their community. You may provide counseling services to individuals or groups. As you work with patients, you must evaluate them and determine the best course of assistance to offer. You may work with a client's other doctors to formulate a treatment plan.

In some cases, you may provide vocational rehabilitation services that allow you to help employees with disabilities return to work. Jobs are also available with veterans assisting them with overcoming the disabilities they developed during their period of service.

Job Growth and Salary Info

Rehabilitation counseling positions may be found at healthcare facilities, schools, prisons, colleges and government agencies. The BLS projected that rehabilitation counseling positions would grow at a rate of 9% from 2014-2024. This faster-than-average growth was due to an increase in the number of people needing rehabilitation services, particularly among the elderly.

The BLS reported that most rehabilitation counselors earned about $21,000-$60,000 as of May 2014. The top-paying employers were educational support services, and they paid rehabilitation counselors in this field a mean annual wage of approximately $55,000.

Career Skills and Requirements

Education and Licensure Requirements

Rehabilitation counselors typically need to earn a master's degree. During a graduate program in rehabilitation counseling, you usually must complete an internship to help you learn the skills needed to counsel all types of patients, such as those with mental disabilities, physical disabilities or addictions. Some employers may hire you with only a bachelor's degree, but your duties may be limited. You also may need a license to legally work in some settings, such as private counseling, and many employers prefer to hire state-licensed individuals. To earn your licensure, the National Board for Certified Counselors reported that you must hold a master's degree, complete supervised experience hours and pass a national standardized exam (www.nbcc.org).

Needed Skills

To work as a rehabilitation counselor, you not only need to hold the proper education and licensure, but you also need the right skills and personal qualities. You'll be working with people who might be at very difficult stages of their lives and possibly frustrated with their situations. A good counselor must:

  • Be compassionate to clients' needs
  • Be a good listener
  • Show patience
  • Work well with a variety of people
  • Speak clearly

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers often look for independent workers willing to take on tasks associated with vocational and psychiatric rehabilitation. Many employers have specific education requirements and prefer that professionals hold at least two years of experience in the field. Here are a few April 2012 job postings for rehabilitation counselors.

  • A New York rehabilitation center is looking for a team player who can offer job coaching and vocational rehabilitation services. Applicants must hold a master's degree in social work and be available to work evenings. The employer prefers that candidates have one or two years of prior experience.
  • A healthcare provider in Ohio wants an individual with a master's degree in counseling or rehabilitation counseling, 3-5 years of vocational rehabilitation experience and certification in the field. Candidates also need previous management experience.
  • A nonprofit organization in Connecticut is looking to hire a vocational rehabilitation counselor with case management skills, a valid driver's license and an associate or bachelor's degree. Two years of prior rehabilitation experience may be able to substitute for a degree.
  • A Maryland medical facility seeks a psychiatric rehabilitation counselor with a bachelor's degree in psychology, social work, rehabilitation counseling or mental health counseling. Candidates also need a valid driver's license and strong writing and computer skills.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Getting a counseling master's degree allows you to apply for a wider range of jobs, since employers often prefer to hire a rehabilitation counselor with advanced education. You can also seek certification to further help you stand out from the competition. The title of Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) is available from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (www.crccertification.com). To take the CRC exam, you need to meet education and training requirements, which involve holding at least a master's degree or being currently enrolled in a master's degree program and in most cases, having a certain number of supervised work or internship hours. You must renew your CRC status every five years through continuing education courses or retesting.

Other Fields to Consider

Low wages and the potential debt incurred from obtaining a master's degree can often be a deterrent to entering a career as a rehabilitation counselor. If you still want to help people with disabilities better their lives, but want a chance at higher earnings, then consider becoming an occupational therapist or a special education teacher.

Occupational Therapist

As an occupational therapist, you can provide therapeutic services to clients with injuries or other disabilities in order to help them regain the skills to function normally in their daily lives. This career requires a master's degree in occupational therapy, but average occupational therapist earnings are considerably higher than those of rehabilitation counselors. The BLS reported that the mean annual wage for occupational therapists as of May 2011 was about $75,000, with the majority of workers earning $50,000-$104,000.

Special Education Teacher

A special education teacher works with students who suffer from disabilities that may make it difficult for them to learn or function in a regular classroom environment. You typically need an education bachelor's degree and a teaching license to work in this field. The BLS stated that as of May 2011, special education teachers made a mean annual income of just over $56,000, with most teachers earning $35,000-$84,000.

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Grand Canyon University

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What is your highest level of education?

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