Certified Rehabilitation Counselor

“There’s a gap in services for individuals with disabilities, and only rehab counselors are trained to meet that need. We provide critical support to individuals with disabilities. I teach all my graduate students to understand not just the diagnosis but the person behind the diagnosis.”

Jill Heilmann, Director of Student Accessibility Services Connecticut College

Navigating the world with a disability—be it mental, emotional, or physical—can be incredibly challenging. Not only are disabled individuals required to learn to adapt to their abilities, but they also have to navigate a world that is not set up to accommodate them. To be successful, they need coaching, skill training, and advocacy. Thankfully, trained, certified rehabilitation counselors in nursing homes, care facilities, schools, and government agencies are ready to serve them. 

Certified rehabilitation counselors (CRC) are allied health professionals with the skills to assist people with disabilities. They work hard to help individuals access employment and education, live independently, and access community services. By meeting with clients one-on-one and setting goals, they can assess skills and needs and make a treatment plan to help a client meet their objectives. With a keen understanding of all forms of disability, CRCs can work with diverse populations, from the elderly to kids, to people recovering from workplace injuries, and even with those suffering from PTSD.

Education is critical to becoming a CRC. A master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling is highly recommended, although obtaining certification with a related degree is possible, as long as the required courses have been taken. Certification also requires at least 600 hours of internship experience. Licensure is done state-by-state and requires between 2,000 to 4,000 supervised work hours. Pay for this career varies based on experience and education.

Becoming a certified rehabilitation counselor can be a very rewarding career choice. Below is an outline of the career, including education requirements, how to become licensed, and typical job duties.

Meet the Expert: Jillian Heilman, PhD

Dr. Jill Heilman has extensive experience in rehabilitation science and disability advocacy, spanning over 20 years. 

Before joining Connecticut College as the director of Student Accessibility Services, she worked at the University of South Florida as an assistant professor and program coordinator for the rehabilitation counseling and disability science program. At USF, Dr. Heilman was key in developing the program to train professionals to work with individuals with various disabilities. She also ensured students received appropriate accommodations and established the inaugural Student Accessibility Task Force across USF’s campuses. 

Dr. Heilman holds a PhD in rehabilitation science from the University of Florida, focusing on rehabilitation counseling and pediatric disabilities. Additionally, she is a certified rehabilitation counselor and a professional speaker.

HealthcareDegree.com: What is something you wish the public understood about rehabilitation counselors?

Dr. Heilman: There’s a gap in services for individuals with disabilities, and only rehab counselors are trained to meet that need. We provide critical support to individuals with disabilities. I teach all my graduate students to understand not just the diagnosis but the person behind the diagnosis. 

Often, the public looks at what bodies cannot do, but as rehab counselors, we are focused on finding what the individual is good at. Then, we incorporate psychologically how this is impacting them physically and find the best ways to support them. Rehab counselors have bridged that gap of looking holistically at the individual and seeing them as productive members of our society. 

HealthcareDegree.com: What advice would you give to aspiring rehabilitation counseling students?

Dr. Heilman: Look at the practical experience you can bring to the profession. Start volunteering and working with people with disabilities before enrolling in a degree program. You’re going to learn more from your clients than you learn from me in the classroom. 

Also, be open to the process of learning from people who have a specific diagnosis. I’m a big proponent of everybody having a voice and everybody has a story to share. I have three kids with the same diagnosis. Each one of their stories is different and presents themselves differently. As rehab counselors really look at each of our clients as individuals. 

Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Specializations & Degree Types

To become a certified rehabilitation counselor, you must complete a master’s degree. Most professionals in the field earn their master’s in rehabilitation counseling, although it is possible to obtain a certification with a degree from a related field such as counseling, psychology, or education. This degree program specializes in rehabilitation. However, additional areas of study include addiction, long-term care, and education.

Admissions Requirements for Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Programs

While admission requirements for rehabilitation counselor master’s programs vary, some standard required pieces exist. Most programs require that you have already completed a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, education, or a related field. Many programs require GRE scores to be submitted as well. Frequently, programs require letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, or a resume as supporting documentation. The most competitive programs require on-campus interviews as part of the application process.

Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Program Accreditation

Rehabilitation counselor programs are accredited through The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).  CACREP is important because it ensures the programs meet a minimum quality standard. While becoming a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) without attending a CACREP program is possible, the certification path is much easier with a degree from a CACREP program.

On-Campus Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Degree Programs

University of Wisconsin, Madison – School of Education

Earning a master’s in science in rehabilitation counseling at the University of Wisconsin, Madison School of Education prepares graduates to work with adults, adolescents, kids, and seniors with disabilities to improve their quality of life. This program’s students are well-versed in counseling, assessment, case management, and advocacy for their clients and patients. 

A unique aspect of this program is the strong emphasis on field experience. Students spend a minimum of three semesters in internships in practical rehabilitation counseling settings. Professors in this program are not only professionals in the rehabilitation counseling field, but many are also in the field of psychology, offering students a diverse and well-rounded education. Graduates of this program are eligible to sit for the CRC examination. 

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) 

University at Buffalo

The University at Buffalo offers a full or part-time master’s of science in rehabilitation counseling. Advertised as one of the most affordable programs in Western New York, this degree provides students with the skill to be confident and competent rehabilitation counselors. Each student is required to complete clinical work experiences. These will vary, but most students complete three semesters of these in-person hands-on field placements. 

In addition to classes such as foundations of counseling theory, medical and psychosocial aspects of disability, and vocational placement process, students can engage with research projects that faculty are completing. Admission requirements include two letters of recommendation, official transcripts demonstrating a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, and a statement of intent. 

  • Location: Buffalo, NY
  • Duration: Four to six semesters
  • Accreditation: The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) 

California State University Los Angeles

In three years, students can complete the master’s of science in counseling with the rehabilitation counseling option at California State University Los Angeles. With a holistic approach that encompasses psychological, social, and medical aspects of disability, this program prepares graduates for a unique career as a rehabilitation counselor. This program has a near-perfect graduation rate, and many of the students are offered jobs before they even graduate. 

At the end of this program, students can elect to complete a thesis or take a comprehensive exam. Both options demonstrate competency in this field. Students who want to continue their studies might opt for the thesis option as it prepares them for additional research work, while those looking to enter direct client care may opt for the exam route. Only 36 students are admitted each year, which makes admissions highly competitive. 

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) 

Wright State University ​​College of Health, Education, and Human Services

The master’s or rehabilitation counseling program at Wright State University ​​College of Health, Education, and Human Services offers two concentrations in either severe disability or chemical dependency. Choosing a concentration allows students to tailor their education to their interests and pursue a more specialized aspect of rehabilitation counseling. Both options have the same core curriculum and consist of a total of 60 credit hours. 

For 2020, this program had a 100 percent graduation and job placement rate. Cohorts are typically small, with only around eight students admitted per year. This provides an individual and personalized educational experience with ample time to interact with faculty members. Admission decisions are based on a submitted letter of intent, GRE or GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, a personal interview, and undergraduate coursework. 

  • Location: Dayton, OH
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) 

Northeastern Illinois University

Graduates of Northeastern Illinois University’s master’s of arts in rehabilitation counseling can be eligible for licensure as licensed professional counselors (LPC). This will allow them to work independently with patients of all ages, providing rehabilitation counseling services. Typical places of employment for graduates include vocational rehabilitation agencies, the Veterans Administration, schools, hospitals, and mental health agencies. 

In addition to a rigorous curriculum, this program has both an internship and practicum to prepare students for their post-graduate supervised work experience. Top skills acquired in this program include collaboration, communication, leadership, and compassion.  

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation:  Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

Online or Hybrid Certified Rehabilitation Counselor  Degree Programs

The George Washington University – Graduate School of Education and Human Development

The online master of arts (MA) in education and human development in the field of rehabilitation counseling at George Washington University prepares students to enter this challenging and rewarding field. Graduates of this program are prepared to help patients with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities live as independently as possible. Faculty in this program are also professional practitioners, meaning students will learn from those practicing in the field. 

The flexible courses are through distance learning, allowing students time to complete internships or work while obtaining their degree. Required classes include the theory of counseling, medical and psychosocial aspects of disabilities, and job placement and supported employment. This program boasts a 100 percent graduate employment rate within six months of graduation. 

  • Location: Washington, D.C. 
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) 

University of Kentucky – College of Education

The master’s in clinical rehabilitation counseling accelerated distance learning program at the University of Kentucky College of Education is a completely online degree program. This format features asynchronous classes, meaning students can complete their coursework when best suits them. Supervision for the practicum and internship is completed through video chats. 

This accelerated program can be completed in 15 intense months. Required courses include medical and psychosocial aspects of disability, group and family counseling, mental health diagnosis, and treatment planning. Distance learning students qualify for in-state tuition rates making this program extremely affordable. 

  • Location: Lexington, KY
  • Duration: 15 months
  • Accreditation: The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)  

San Diego State University – Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education

Graduates of San Diego State University’s master’s of science in rehabilitation counseling have the necessary skills to evaluate patients with varying disabilities. They can propose and implement a training program that will aid the patient in reaching their independence goals. This program is offered online and on-campus, so students can choose which learning style best suits their needs. 

Students enrolled in this program take courses in rehabilitation foundations, multicultural dimensions in counseling, and methods of inquiry. Students also complete a practicum as part of their studies. Graduates of this program are eligible to become licensed professional clinical counselors (LPCC) in the state of California, after completing the required 3,000 hours of supervised clinical work and passing the CRC exam.  

  • Location: San Diego, CA
  • Duration: Two and a half to three years
  • Accreditation:  Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) 

Fort Valley State University

The master’s of science in rehabilitation counseling through Fort Valley State University is a fully online program. All 61 required credit hours can be completed through distance learning. Students are admitted for the fall or spring terms, allowing flexibility in starting this degree. Graduates are eligible to pursue licensure in the state of Georgia.  

A practicum and internship are required to earn this degree and can be completed at a site near the student’s home. Students cannot generally use their usual full-time jobs to meet these requirements. These hands-on experiences must be with clients who have some form of disability. This program has a strong history of placing its graduates, with 100 percent of the 2020 class finding work in this field. 

  • Location: Fort Valley, GA
  • Duration: Two and a half to three years
  • Accreditation:  Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) 

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Outreach College

At the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Outreach College students can complete an online master of science in kinesiology and rehabilitation science- rehabilitation counselor education degree. This three-year program combines kinesiology and rehabilitation so graduates can provide well-rounded services to their clients. This is a great program for people who already are with individuals with disabilities or in a rehabilitation job as it provides additional training that isn’t in other programs. 

Students take classes part-time over the course of three years to earn a total of 48 credit hours. Classes are offered in synchronous and asynchronous formats, which offers a high degree of flexibility and some regular faculty and peer interactions. Upon completing the didactic coursework, all students will complete three semesters of field experience in their communities. 

  • Location: Honolulu, HI 
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation:  Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor?

After graduating high school, becoming a certified rehabilitation counselor can take four to six years. The timeline varies based on the time it takes to complete a master’s degree and the number of hours of supervised clinical work required for state licensure.

How To Become a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor  – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or obtaining a GED is the first step toward becoming a certified rehabilitation counselor. Students who wish to pursue this career can get a head start on their studies by taking psychology, biology, math, and health courses. Advanced placement tests can allow students to obtain college credits while still in high school, reducing the required number of credits to complete their undergraduate degree. 

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Most graduate rehabilitation counselor programs require applicants to complete a bachelor’s degree. Typical majors for prospective rehabilitation counselors include counseling, psychology, disability studies, education, or other social sciences. Internships in clinical rehabilitation clinics are recommended as they can give students hands-on experience and make them more competitive when applying for master’s programs.  

Step 3: Complete a Master’s Degree (One to Three Years)

In order to become a certified rehabilitation counselor, completing a master’s in rehabilitation counseling is necessary. Depending on the program it can be either a master’s of science or a master’s of arts. Attending a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) makes the professional certification process easier, as the program already meets specific standards. Programs typically take between one to three years and can be taken online or on campus. 

Step 4: Complete 600 Internship Hours (Timelines Vary)

If the master’s program does not require an internship component, prospective CRCs will need to complete at least 600 internship hours to be eligible to sit for the certification exam. 

Step 5: Get Certified (Timeline Varies)

Certification is awarded by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). Once students have met all the requirements including internship hours and required education, they may apply to sit for the CRC exam. This exam takes three-and-a-half hours and comprises 175 multiple-choice questions. Students may take the exam in the final months of study if they so choose. 

Step 6: Complete State-Required Supervised Work Experience (Two to Four Years)

All states require certified rehabilitation counselors to complete supervised work experience before licensure. The number of hours varies by state but can range from 2,000 hours on the low end to more than 6,000 in some states. 

Step 7: Attain Licensure (Timelines Varies)

Once the required number of supervised work hours is complete, professionals may apply for licensure from their state. Licensing is done on a state-by-state basis and requirements vary. Applicants should verify requirements with their state boards. 

Step 8: Maintain Certification and Licensure (Timelines Varies)

Part of maintaining state licensure and certification entails continuing education. Professionals must renew their CRC every five years and complete 100 continuing education hours to do so. Additionally, states require varying continuing education hours to maintain licensure. Professionals should check their state board for requirements. 

What Do Certified Rehabilitation Counselors Do?

Certified rehabilitation counselors work anywhere disabled individuals need services, including in long-term care facilities, youth organizations, hospitals, school districts, and government agencies. Job duties vary based on place of employment but typical responsibilities include:

  • Meeting with clients one-on-one or in a group
  • Assessing client abilities
  • Developing a professional rapport with the client to better understand their goals and objectives
  • Writing a treatment plan
  • Interfacing with the client’s other medical providers, including therapists, doctors, and psychologists
  • Assisting clients in developing the skills they need to meet their goals
  • Working with employers to understand the client’s abilities and limitations and aiding the employer in complying with state and federal disability laws 
  • Helping clients access resources such as medical goods, transportation, and social services
  • Advocating for the client 
  • Maintaining client records

Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Certifications & Licensure

The primary certification for certified rehabilitation counselors is through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). The education requirements to be a CRC through the CRCC are either having completed a CACREP-accredited program, have completed a non-CACREP-accredited counseling program that meets coursework requirements, or having a master’s or doctorate in a related field with significant coursework in counseling. 

Once eligibility has been established, candidates must pay $420 to sit for the CRC exam. This exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions that must be answered in three and a half hours. The 12 topics covered include:

  • Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice
  • Counseling Theories, Techniques, and Evidence-Based Practices
  • Group and Family Counseling
  • Crisis and Trauma Counseling and Interventions
  • Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Chronic Illness and Disability
  • Assessment/Evaluation, Occupational Analysis, and Service Implementation
  • Career Development and Job Placement
  • Business Engagement
  • Community Resources and Partnerships
  • Case Management
  • Healthcare and Disability Management
  • Research, Methodology, and Performance Management

There is also general counselor licensing through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). 

All states require rehabilitation counselors to be licensed. Licensing is done on a state-by-state basis and requirements vary however, all states require testing and supervised work experience. For example, the requirements in California include:

  • Complete an approved master’s degree in counseling of at least 60 semester-credits (or 90 quarter-credits). The program must include a practicum of at least 280 supervised hours of direct client contact. 
  • Registering with the Board of Behavioral Science (BBS) as an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC) 
  • Complete a Live Scan Department of Justice background check 
  • Pass an additional state background check 
  • Take and pass the California Law and Ethics Exam annually

After registering as an APCC, candidates can start their supervised work experience to gain the  3,000 hours needed for a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) license. Of those hours, 1,750 must be in direct counseling, and the remaining 1,250 in non-clinical experiences such as supervision, writing reports, or administering tests. These hours must be accrued in a minimum of two years.

Once the 3,000 hours have been earned, the BBS will authorize the candidate to take the NCMHCE exam through the NBCC. Full licensure can be awarded upon passing the exam and applying for LPCC status.

How Much Do Certified Rehabilitation Counselors Make?

Wages for certified rehabilitation counselors vary based on responsibilities, place of employment, and years of experience. According to the BLS (May 2023), the 84,750 professionals in this field earned an average annual salary of $48,430. Here are the latest salary percentiles as of June 2024:

  • 10th percentile: $31,390
  • 25th percentile: $36,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $44,040
  • 75th percentile: $56,610
  • 90th percentile: $73,710

Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a certified rehabilitation counselor: 

Become a Psychologist

Psychologists work with clients with mental health disorders or in research on mental health issues. They often work with the most complex cases and can work in specialized fields such as pediatrics, sports psychology, conflict resolution, or educational leadership. 

  • Typical Education: Doctor of psychology (PsyD) or a doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) 

Become a Social Worker

Social workers are, by definition, helpers. They can provide mental health care services to clients or work with them to access social services, medical care, housing, and even food. The services they provide will vary from client to client based on their needs. While they typically work with social services, they can also be employed at hospitals, government agencies, non-profits, and private clinics.  

  • Typical Education: Master’s of social work (MSW)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)

Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists provide mental health therapy and support to individuals, families, couples, and children. Instead of the traditional approach to therapy, they address relationship behavior first and help establish health patterns to strengthen connections. While they can work with a client one-on-one, they frequently hold group sessions with family members or partners. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s in marriage and family counseling
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) 
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

At HealthcareDegree.com, Kimmy Gustafson has delivered in-depth and insightful articles since 2019, aiding prospective students to navigate the complexities of choosing the right healthcare degree. Her recent work includes topics such as the ethics of gene editing and physician assistant’s fight for autonomy.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.

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