Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between rehabilitation counseling and counseling?

Rehabilitation Counseling emphasizes empowerment of individuals with disabilities to maximize employability, attain economic self-sufficiency, independence, inclusion, and integration into American society. The philosophical foundation of rehabilitation counseling includes the belief in advocacy and the rights of people with disabilities.  Rehabilitation counseling emphasizes integration and inclusion, focusing on assets of people, and assisting in the pursuit of independence. By moving from a status of dependence to a status of independence, personal adjustment and/or the opportunity to succeed economically, via employment, can be achieved. A rehabilitation counselor is a special type of professional counselor who helps evaluate and coordinate needed services to assist people with disabilities in coping with limitations caused by such factors as cognitive and learning difficulties, environmental and societal discrimination and barriers,  psychological conflict/distress, or loss of  physical/functional ability.

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Counseling typically emphasizes relationships; it is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals. Rehabilitation places greater emphasis on the philosophy and attitudes of  professionals which are used to facilitate the effective delivery of rehabilitation services. The importance of relationships is important for both counseling and rehabilitation efforts. Rehabilitation counseling is generally seen as a specific type of counseling that emphasizes services to various types of individuals experiencing limitations that have resulted in disability. 

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What do rehabilitation counselors really do?

Rehabilitation counselors help individuals with disabilities deal with societal and personal problems, plan careers, and find and keep satisfying jobs. They also may work with individuals, professional organizations, and advocacy groups to address the environmental and social barriers that create obstacles for people with disabilities. The rehabilitation counselor builds bridges between the often isolated world of people with disabilities and their families, communities, and work environments. Major goals are to empower individuals to make informed choices, to help individuals achieve positive mental health, and maximize opportunities for economic independence (obtain employment if possible).

Professionals in rehabilitation settings may arrange for rehabilitation and transition services for children within the school systems, provide geriatric services to older persons who are experiencing changing lifestyles and health problems, serve industrially-injured workers through private rehabilitation companies and employee assistance programs, assist individuals with behavior problems associated with failure to follow laws that govern our society, support medical rehabilitation efforts in hospital-based programs, and assist individuals with addiction disorders. 

Reflecting this wide range of job opportunities, rehabilitation counselors are often employed in positions with different job titles, such as counselor, job placement specialist, substance abuse counselor, rehabilitation consultant, independent living specialist, or case manager. 

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Where do rehabilitation counselors work?

Potential employers include ­comprehensive rehabilitation centers, universities and academic settings, insurance companies, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities, halfway houses, and independent living centers. Settings may also include working for private rehabilitation companies or insurance-based programs that assist individuals in returning to work following illness or work injuries.

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To whom do rehabilitation counselors provide services?

Historically, rehabilitation counselors primarily served working-age adults with disabilities. Today, the need for rehabilitation counseling services extends to persons of all age groups who have disabilities. Rehabilitation counselors also may provide general and specialized counseling to people with disabilities in public human service programs and private practice settings.

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How is disability defined?

Disability is an impairment or limitation that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include, but are not limited to reading, bending, walking, communicating, caring for oneself, sleeping, eating, seeing, hearing, standing, lifting, speaking, breathing, learning, concentrating, thinking, and working. This includes the operation of major bodily functions, including but not limited to functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.  Remediation of disability requires more than assessment and treating an individual. Therefore, CORE supports a very broad definition of disability that considers external factors in the environment as reasons a person may be considered as a person with a disability.

Why should I choose an accredited rehabilitation counseling program?

CORE accreditation provides recognition that the scope and quality of a program have been evaluated and meets standards established by the rehabilitation counseling profession. A student as a consumer and employers of program graduates can be assured that appropriate knowledge and skills areas have been covered in the academic curriculum and that the program is viable, nationally recognized professionally, and meets high academic and professional standards.

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Where can I find a list of accredited programs in rehabilitation counseling?

The Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) maintains a directory of both accredited undergraduate and graduate level programs in rehabilitation counseling/services. The list may be accessed on the CORE website, www.core-rehab.org.

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What influenced the growth of professional rehabilitation counseling?

Initially, rehabilitation professionals were recruited from a variety of human service disciplines, including public health nursing, social work, and school counseling. Although educational programs began to appear in the 1940s, it was not until the availability of federal funding for rehabilitation counseling programs in 1954 that the profession began to grow and establish its own identity.

How is the profession of rehabilitation counseling changing?

The roles and responsibilities of rehabilitation counselors have expanded greatly over the last ten years, further increasing the attractiveness of a career in the profession. Rehabilitation counselors, for example, have begun to determine, coordinate, and arrange for rehabilitation and transition services for children within school systems. In addition, rehabilitation counselors are providing geriatric rehabilitation services to older persons with health problems, and workers injured on the job are increasingly receiving rehabilitation services through private rehabilitation counseling companies and employers’ disability management and employee assistance programs. They may also become life-care planners assisting individuals who will experience major long-term disability. Many former teachers, attorneys, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, clergy, and business people have found second careers as professional rehabilitation counselors.

How long does it take to earn a masters degree in rehabilitation counseling?

Rehabilitation counselor education programs typically provide between 18 and 24 months of academic and field-based clinical training. Clinical training consists of a practicum and a minimum of 600 hours of supervised internship experience. Clinical field experiences are available in a variety of community, state, federal, and private rehabilitation-related programs.

What type of academic background is best for potential success?

A rehabilitation counselor draws on knowledge from several fields, including counseling, psychology, medicine, psychiatry, sociology, social work, education, and law. Their specialized knowledge of disabilities and environmental factors that interact with disabilities, as well as specific knowledge and skills, differentiate rehabilitation counselors from other types of counselors.

What is included in a typical masters level curriculum?

Rehabilitation counselors are trained in counseling theory, skills, and techniques; individual and group counseling;  environmental assessment; psychosocial and medical aspects of disability, including human growth and development; social and cultural diversity; principles of psychiatric rehabilitation; case management and rehabilitation planning; issues and ethics in rehabilitation service delivery; technological adaptation; vocational evaluation and work adjustment; career counseling; research and program evaluation; and job development and placement. In addition, students may enroll in courses such as:  marriage and family counseling, substance abuse rehabilitation, juvenile and adult offender rehabilitation, mental retardation, communication disorders, sign language, stress management, psychological testing, conflict management, crisis counseling, and rehabilitation administration.

Is a professional credential required to work as a rehabilitation counselor?

Upon graduation, nearly all rehabilitation counselors obtain either certification or licensure. These credentials help protect the public and provide a means of identifying those individuals who possess the minimum training and meet supervised work experience standards established by professional groups and governmental agencies. Certification means an individual meets educational and work experience requirements and passes an examination. A counseling license is a credential authorized by a state legislature that regulates the title and/or practice of professional counselors. Rehabilitation counselors are eligible for licensure as professional counselors in nearly all states that regulate counselors; licensure requirements include passing an examination, acquiring needed supervised counseling experience, and, in some states, completing specified coursework.

What is the beginning salary range for rehabilitation counselors?

Salaries vary with previous work experience and whether the rehabilitation agency is public or private, credentials held, and the purpose of the employing program or institution. The average overall salary in the private sector of rehabilitation is estimated to be between $55,000-$75,000. Salaries in the public sector may be somewhat lower; however, there are advantages or benefits to opportunities in both settings. Salaries are dependent on the purpose of the program providing services and the type of interventions/services needed.

What are the job prospects for me when I graduate?

Rehabilitation counselors serve a large portion of the US population. An estimated 48 million Americans have physical, mental, or psychological disabilities that restrict their activities and prevent them from obtaining or maintaining jobs. Consequently, the employment outlook for the profession is excellent. Based on national employment outlook studies and regional and state surveys, hundreds of rehabilitation counselor positions are expected to be available in the coming years for ­qualified master’s level professionals. Recent studies show that rehabilitation counselor education programs are not graduating sufficient numbers of qualified students to meet current and anticipated marketplace needs.

What is the major goal of rehabilitation counseling?

Major goals are to empower individuals to make informed choices, to help individuals achieve positive mental health, and maximize opportunities for economic independence (obtain employment if possible).

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