Careers in Rehabilitation Counseling

Rehabilitation counseling helps disabled people lead productive lives.


Scope of Work for Rehabilitation Counselors

People with disabilities face challenges that require creative solutions. Whether a person has a physical, mental or emotional disability, rehabilitative counseling helps them achieve personal and professional goals, and lead their lives more freely.

As Alfred Souma, MA, a professional education rehabilitation counselor in Seattle, confirms, “Rehabilitation counseling deals with assisting people with disabilities to reach specific life goals and improve their quality of life. Most rehabilitation counselors specialize in a specific disability, such as spinal cord injury, blindness, deafness, head injury or psychiatric disability.”

Rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of state departments and community programs. They are also employed in the private sector in for-profit and nonprofit organizations, such as schools, colleges, residential care facilities and drug rehabilitation facilities.

As a rehabilitation counselor, you will likely work with:

  • Disabled people, either individually or in groups
  • Employers, educating them about the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Placement agencies who refer disabled people to employers

As a vocational rehabilitation counselor, you’ll likely work with:

  • Disabled people, assisting them in finding gainful employment
  • On an individual level, you will counsel people through specific job training and be available for post-employment counseling
  • Employment agencies and employers to ensure proper working conditions

Rehabilitation Counseling Degree

Although you can begin a rehabilitation counseling career with a bachelor’s degree in human services, most professional rehabilitation counselors hold master’s degrees. You can earn an MA in counseling and after your first year of post-graduate employment, become a certified and/or licensed rehabilitation counselor. Check state counseling license requirements.

As Souma notes, “My undergraduate studies were in special education, geared toward working with children. Then I did an internship in an outpatient day treatment program for psychiatric adults. My job was to assist newly released individuals from the state psychiatric hospital back into the community.”

“I helped find housing, taught interviewing skills and participated in group therapy and individual counseling. That’s when I knew I wanted a career in rehabilitation counseling, so I got my MS in rehabilitation counseling. “

Besides structured education, Souma mentions innate skills, such as the ability to interact with individuals in an empowering and supportive manner. “Listening and putting others at ease is an invaluable skill in this profession,” he says. “It is important to sincerely enjoy working with people and understand their needs. If you have that, you can learn the counseling skills and techniques. It also helps to have good mentors.”

Facing Challenges Positively

Souma says that there are one or two disabilities that are more challenging to work with in creative ways. As he works in an educational environment, he says, “In an educational setting, it is challenging to work with an individual with head injuries. A main symptom of head injuries is memory loss, while a main component of education is remembering things. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to develop effective strategies to counter this functional limitation.”

But there are things a student can do to gain experience to meet those challenges. Says Souma, “I’ve always been a strong believer in volunteering. Different settings usually specialize in different disabilities—blindness, deafness, spinal cord or head injuries. Volunteering in a hospital or rehab setting gives you an idea of which disabilities you feel most effective with. It also gives you a real idea of what the job expectations will be like once you graduate.”

Currently, Souma works with students to provide academic accommodations for their functional limitations, such as arranging for books on tapes, offering more time on exams, working with the college to reduce physical barriers, and providing individual counseling.

He says it is “personally and professionally rewarding,” and that he “particularly enjoys watching students make progress in a short period of time. Compared to my inpatient work, two years is a short time to see progress. With a little assistance and strong personal motivation, I see a significant change in the students.”

Rehabilitation Counseling Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for rehabilitation counselors is $35,950. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.

Because of effective equal rights legislation for disabled people, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 10% growth in the field, which is faster than the national average. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.