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Careers in Rehabilitation Counseling

Rehabilitation counseling helps disabled people lead productive lives.

counselor with woman in wheelchair

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

Find salaries for rehabilitation counselors in your state.

Rehabilitation Counselors

National data

Median Salary: $38,560

Projected job growth: 10.5%

10th Percentile: $28,890

25th Percentile: $30,610

75th Percentile: $52,920

90th Percentile: $65,880

Projected job growth: 10.5%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $41,270 $24,130 $65,680
Alaska $48,480 $38,390 $83,880
Arizona $38,270 $28,340 $48,550
Arkansas $37,200 $24,000 $58,700
California $36,280 $29,410 $72,410
Colorado $43,610 $29,710 $66,650
Connecticut $37,790 $28,990 $77,020
Delaware $38,780 $29,490 $52,150
District of Columbia $47,560 $31,610 $77,020
Florida $36,360 $23,870 $66,010
Georgia $52,370 $32,130 $74,100
Hawaii $38,720 $30,540 $38,720
Idaho $39,740 $23,780 $59,360
Illinois $43,150 $29,100 $70,680
Indiana $38,290 $28,290 $58,120
Iowa $36,360 $28,820 $59,150
Kansas $30,440 $17,560 $47,520
Kentucky $38,500 $29,190 $62,740
Louisiana $37,340 $28,820 $75,930
Maine $48,700 $36,590 N/A
Maryland $38,320 $29,090 $62,420
Massachusetts $47,720 $30,740 $77,020
Michigan $38,610 $28,950 $66,190
Minnesota $46,990 $30,380 $62,610
Mississippi $33,350 $18,130 $53,520
Missouri $43,150 $29,550 $60,030
Montana $31,750 $28,020 $48,130
Nebraska $43,090 $28,820 $59,850
Nevada $48,040 $23,870 $73,370
New Hampshire $44,560 $28,990 $64,500
New Jersey $76,410 $48,480 $96,940
New Mexico $38,500 $29,170 $53,370
New York $38,390 $27,770 $74,390
North Carolina $39,320 $24,410 $58,180
North Dakota $53,840 $30,540 $62,610
Ohio $38,320 $26,200 $76,410
Oklahoma $29,250 $18,340 $53,700
Oregon $58,640 $36,380 $58,640
Pennsylvania $36,590 $26,640 $74,270
Rhode Island $59,990 $36,590 $96,520
South Carolina $30,220 $28,560 $48,040
South Dakota $42,430 $30,440 $59,360
Tennessee $38,500 $24,410 $59,910
Texas $44,320 $22,830 $61,920
Utah $37,060 $24,460 $69,080
Vermont $38,500 $30,440 $75,280
Virginia $39,210 $24,600 $64,400
Washington $47,390 $37,340 $74,310
West Virginia $37,200 $24,290 $75,360
Wisconsin $37,060 $23,420 $56,080
Wyoming $53,150 $29,350 $65,780

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

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 11 percent growth in the field through 2031, which is much faster than the national average.