Rehabilitation Specialist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A rehabilitation specialist may only earn a median annual salary of approximately $34,000. Is it worth the education and training requirements? Read real job descriptions and see the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a rehabilitation specialist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Rehabilitation Specialist Career

Rehabilitation specialists help individuals with physical and mental disabilities reintegrate into society and live independently. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of this career to see if the job is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Rehabilitation Specialist
Opportunity to help people with disabilities*
High predicted job growth (20% between 2012 and 2022)*
Variety of workplace opportunities with mostly full-time work*
Relatively independent with one-on-one sessions with clients**

Cons of Becoming a Rehabilitation Specialist
Requires great patience and the ability to handle stress*
Lower-than-average pay ($34,380 median salary in 2014)*
Advanced education often required (2-year master's degree)*
Varying licensure requirements per state*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Duties and Description

A rehabilitation specialist, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is a counselor who helps clients or patients with mental or physical disabilities learn how to live on their own ( The BLS further adds that rehabilitation specialists counsel patients and advocate for them as they are treated for their mental or physical impairments in life.

Rehabilitation counselors first assess patients and help them to better understand and cope with both their own disabilities and the resulting limitations. They then help establish objectives and goals that a patient will try to meet. At the same time, any living situations or work opportunities are handled by the rehabilitation specialist. Other duties might include educating their patients' potential employers about the abilities of disabled people, tracking down additional resources for patients to use and monitoring patient growth and progress in the community.

Job Salary and Prospects

The BLS reports that there should be a 20% growth in employment for rehabilitation specialists in the 2012-2022 decade. The employment rate will increase due to the constant need to help those who are disabled or ill and because of an aging U.S. population. In terms of pay, the BLS states that the median salary for rehabilitation specialists calculated to $34,380 in May 2014. The 10th percentile of workers earned a salary of $21,200 or less, while the 90th percentile of workers earned a salary of $59,810 or more.

Career Requirements


Employers require rehabilitation specialists to have a bachelor's degree, but many employers may desire a worker with a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling. Although the BLS states that any bachelor's degree might be adequate for certain jobs, a range of duties may be unavailable for a rehabilitation specialist who does not have a master's degree. In your academic training, you'll learn how to provide mental health strategies, how to find employment or services for a client and to generally advocate on behalf of the client.

Licensing and Certification

The BLS states that some employers may want workers to be certified, although no state explicitly mandates it. To earn the Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) credential from the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), you will be required to have a master's degree in counseling from an accredited university. You will also be required to complete 3,000 hours of counseling experience, 100 of which must be supervised; the NBCC is not the only certifying body for counselors. The Commission of Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) is another body that also requires a master's degree and several other criteria for certification eligibility.

You also have the option to earn state licensure as a rehabilitation counselor. This is mandatory if you plan to work in a private practice. Each state has its own requirements, and each has its own specific designations, which may include Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). You will typically be required to have a master's degree and some type of counseling experience to earn licensure.

What Do Employers Look For?

Many jobs for rehabilitation specialists involve helping the mentally ill. Being comfortable with these clients is highly recommended. Medical ailments are another factor to work with as rehabilitation specialists. Many rehabilitation specialists help children or adults who suffer or are born with physical ailments that may hinder their full participation in society. Adequately preparing for any sort of client is especially important. The following real jobs were available as of May 2012.

  • A California health association that helps the blind needed a rehabilitation specialist. The specialist would specifically help children who were born blind or had become blind. Candidates needed a background in child psychology to help the children adjust to life with blindness.
  • A Maryland behavioral health facility needed a rehabilitation specialist for young adults with psychiatric disabilities. The specialist would advocate for specific care for a client as well as respond to any emergency situations that might occur 24 hours a day. A master's degree in a mental health field or bachelor's degree with one year experience was required.
  • An Indiana behavioral health facility needed a rehabilitation specialist who could work with mentally ill patients. The rehabilitation specialist would act as a case manager to will help train patients to function within the larger community. Candidates must have had two years of prior service in the human services sector.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get Certified

The BLS states that certification may be preferred by many employers. Certification will highlight your introductory work experience in rehabilitation counseling, your academic attainment and your ability to pass a professional test. These traits might make you more marketable to future employers or give you chance at upward mobility.

Develop Career-Related Skills

Becoming a rehabilitation specialist requires several key character traits in order to better serve your clients. Being compassionate and patient with clients will help your clients learn their abilities to function much better. Building communication and people skills will also help with the dialogue between you and your clients.

Alternative Careers to Consider

Occupational Therapist

If you want to help clients develop their vocational and everyday skills for functioning, such as walking or cooking, you might want to become an occupational therapist. An occupational therapist helps with a client's daily needs such as home-care work, walking or exercise. Clients may have disabilities or severe injuries that limit their mobility. Occupational therapists do need a master's degree in occupational therapy to perform their duties. The BLS states that employment for occupational therapists should grow by 33% from 2010-2020. In addition, the BLS calculated that the median annual salary for an occupational therapist to be approximately $74,000.

Clinical Psychologists

If you are more focused with the behavior and choices of all individuals and want to help any person modify how they behave, you might want to consider becoming a psychologist. A psychologist is a scientist who studies human behavior and uses this analysis to suggest ways to clinically help a person. Although psychologists can work as academics or researchers, many clinical psychologists directly help patients with emotional or mental issues to face their everyday lives. To become a psychologist, you will need a master's degree and either licensing or certification depending on your state. According to the BLS, clinical psychologists should see an employment growth rate of 22% from 2010-2020. They also earn an annual median salary of about $69,000.

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