Rehabilitation Counselors: What They Do + How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities live independently. Learn more about this impactful career.

[Featured Image]:  A rehabilitation counselor is sitting behind her desk as she prepares to meet with clients.

Rehabilitation counselors support individuals with disabilities and help them live independent, personally fulfilling lives. Pairing knowledge of different disabilities with empathy and patience, rehabilitation counselors have the ability to change their patients’ lives for the better. 

If you’re considering a health care career that allows you to work directly with clients and positively impact their lives, then you might consider a career in this meaningful profession. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about rehabilitation counseling, what counselors do, and where they work. You’ll also learn how much they make, how to become one, and find suggested courses to help you get started today. 

What is a rehabilitation counselor? 

Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities live independently. Trained to work with those with mental, emotional, physical, or developmental disabilities, rehabilitation counselors confidently support and guide their clients through such important tasks as taking care of themselves and working a job.  

Rehabilitation counselors work with clients from all age groups and a wide range of backgrounds, such as elementary school students or retired veterans. The sensitive nature of their work, consequently, means that they must also possess patience, empathy, and strong communication skills to ensure that their clients receive the best possible care.  

What does a rehabilitation counselor do?

The wide range of clients that they work with means that a rehabilitation counselor’s duties can vary from one day to the next. Their most common duties include: 

  • Assessing a client’s needs, health, education, skills, and abilities

  • Designing client treatment plans with the help of other relevant professionals, such as doctors and therapists

  • Coordinating medical and therapeutic services for clients

  • Ensuring that clients receive the appropriate resources to assist them with their disabilities

  • Educating employers and other organizations about a client’s conditions to ensure their needs are met within the environment

  • Teaching clients about their disabilities to help them better understand their conditions and how they might impact their lives

  •  Advocating for client rights in a range of workplace and personal settings

  • Maintaining detailed client records to track and improve treatment plans

Work environment 

Rehabilitation counselors can work in a wide variety of environments. Some of the most common work environments include community rehabilitation services centers, nursing homes, government facilities, hospitals, schools, and within a client’s home.

Rehabilitation counselor salary 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for rehabilitation counselors is $39,990 [1]. However, Glassdoor indicates the average salary for rehabilitation counselors is slightly higher, with the national median salary at $48,443  a year [2].

The exact amount that you can expect to earn will vary based on your work experience, educational qualifications, and geographic location. 

Job outlook for rehabilitation counselors

According to the BLS, the number of rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow by 2 percent between 2022 and 2032. Around 6,700 job openings are expected per year on average over the decade [1]. 


Related job titles

There are many other job titles that rehabilitation counselors can be called. While some of these positions perform the exact same duties as one another, others might have slightly different responsibilities. Some of the most common alternative job titles for rehabilitation counselors include: 

  • Vocational rehabilitation counselors 

  • Rehabilitation consultant 

  • Independent living specialist 

  • Job placement specialist 

  • Case manager

How to become a rehabilitation counselor

The path to becoming a rehabilitation counselor is defined by education, work experience, and developing the right skills. Here’s what you should consider when pursuing this impactful career: 

1. Obtain the rehabilitation counselor education requirements.

Typically, rehabilitation counselors must possess a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field, such as social work or psychology. While some employers might consider applicants with a bachelor’s degree, most will prefer applicants with a graduate degree. Employers who hire bachelor's degree holders will likely give them fewer responsibilities and a more junior position. 

2. Consider earning your license.

Some states might require you to become licensed in order to practice professionally. Before applying to any jobs, check your state’s guidelines to see if you need to pursue licensure. 

If you work in a state without any license requirements, you might still consider gaining a relevant license or rehabilitation counselor certification as these can have a positive impact on your job prospects and earning potential. 

3. Develop your skills.

Rehabilitation counselors offer care to some of the most vulnerable populations. As a result, it’s important to hone your interpersonal skills to ensure that you can provide the best possible help to those with disabilities. Some of the most important skills you might consider honing include: 

Learn more with Stanford University

If you’re considering a future as a rehabilitation counselor, then you might take a flexible, online course through Coursera.

Stanford’s Palliative Care Always Specialization develops skills in symptom management, goals of care, and effective communication to improve the quality of life for patients and families suffering from serious illnesses. Start learning with a free 7-day trial of Coursera Plus.

Article sources


US BLS. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Rehabilitation Counselors, Summary,” Accessed September 12, 2023. 

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.