Psychiatric Rehabilitation Specialist Careers: Salary & Job Description

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A psychiatric rehabilitation specialist's median annual salary is around $34,000. Is it worth the educational requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a psychiatric rehabilitation specialist is right for you.
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Psychiatric Rehabilitation Specialist Career: Pros and Cons

A psychiatric rehabilitation specialist is a type of rehabilitation counselor who works specifically with mental health patients. Check out the pros and cons below to see if this career is right for you.

Pros of a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Specialist Career
Option to work in a number of settings, including public institutions and private practices*
Satisfaction of providing vital services to others **
Above average job growth (20% anticipated between 2012-2022) *
Work occurs in a friendly, non-competitive clinical setting**

Cons of a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Specialist Career
Must typically hold a master's degree*
Below-average wages (approximate $37,000 median annual salary as of May 2014)*
May require licensure and a lengthy internship*
Have to deal with the stress of assisting mentally ill patients**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics **O*NET OnLine.

Career Overview

Psychiatric rehabilitation specialists might work with patients on an individual basis or in group settings. They help patients adjust to their conditions by providing coping skills and setting lifestyle goals. As a rehabilitation specialist, you'll guide psychiatric patients through difficult life projects, such as going to college or maintaining employment. You'll have the option to work in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation centers, patients' homes and social service offices.

Job Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of rehabilitation counselors could grow by 20% from 2012-2022, which is faster than the average growth for all jobs. This growth can be attributed to a rise in the number of veterans, elderly dementia patients and substance abusers in need of psychiatric rehabilitation.

In 2014, the BLS stated that rehabilitation counselors made a median annual salary of around $34,000. That year, the lowest ten percent of rehabilitation counselors earned approximately $21,000 or less, while the top ten percent earned an annual wage of around $60,000 or more.

What Are the Requirements?

While some limited opportunities are available for psychiatric rehabilitation specialists with undergraduate degrees, you must typically hold a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related subject to become a counselor. Some employers will require you to be licensed as a counselor. The licensing process varies from state to state, but it usually involves thousands of hours of supervised clinical work, passing a state exam and earning a master's degree. Psychiatric rehabilitation specialists also should demonstrate specific job skills, such as compassion, patience and effective communication.

What Do Employers Look For?

Employers are looking for sympathetic and dedicated caregivers. Many employers want experienced psychiatric rehabilitation specialists who also hold a degree in rehabilitation counseling. To give you an idea of what employers might look for, here are some job postings from April and May 2012:

  • In New York, a major university hospital was looking for a skilled psychosocial rehabilitation specialist to work on a case by case basis and lead group activities. The employer sought candidates with a minimum of a bachelor's degree and at least two years of prior experience. A license in mental health counseling or occupational therapy was preferred.
  • A psychiatric center in Houston was looking for a rehabilitation specialist to assess patients' abilities to function, manage money and work, in addition to conducting leisure and fitness assessments. Qualifications included a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a mental health field with training specific to psychiatric rehabilitation, as well as licensure or certification in a mental health discipline.
  • A behavioral support agency in Florida was looking for a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist to provide psychosocial and psychiatric rehab services to children, teens and adults. This specialist would work one-on-one with patients to help them adapt to their social environment. The employer sought candidates with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in psychosocial rehabilitation or a related field; however, applicants with a master's degree were preferred.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

To establish yourself as a rehabilitation counselor specializing in psychiatric patients, you could take courses in mental health and try to complete your internship and clinical hours at a psychiatric facility. This could help you develop strong care giving skills during your coursework and internship.


State licensure is not always mandatory unless you want to work in private practice, but it may be required or preferred by certain employers. To qualify for licensure, a master's degree holder must complete about 2,000-3,000 hours of supervised work in a clinic. As an aspiring psychiatric rehabilitation counselor, you may want to complete those hours in a mental health facility.


Certification is voluntary for work in this field, but may be required or preferred by some employers. Through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, you can earn the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor credential. Additionally, the National Board for Certified Counselors offers the National Certified Counselor credential. These certifications can help you prove your competency in the field to prospective employers.

Other Careers to Consider

Human Service Assistant

If you don't think the lengthy educational requirements are worth the salary that rehabilitation counselors earn, you might consider becoming a human service assistant. These professionals are supervised by social workers as they help ill and injured people though difficult times. They may create and implement a treatment plan or connect a patient with essential community services. Many employers require human service assistants to hold only a high school diploma, while others require additional training, such as a certificate or associate degree in gerontology or human services. The BLS projects that employment of human service assistants could grow by 28% from 2010-2020, which is faster than average. As of 2011, human service assistants made a median annual income of around $29,000.

Occupational Therapist

If you want to help rehabilitate people but would like to make more money, you could consider becoming an occupational therapist. These professionals help ill, injured and disabled patients learn to perform everyday activities. Occupational therapists work for hospitals and private practices. A master's degree is required to work in this field, as well as licensure. Certification through the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists is voluntary, but usually preferred. Due to the rise in our elderly population, the BLS projects that employment of occupational therapists will grow by 33% from 2010-2020. Occupational therapists made a median annual income of approximately $74,000 as of 2011, according to the BLS.

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