Rehabilitation Counseling Careers

In the United States, many rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of arenas. The predominant placement of rehabilitation counselors are state rehabilitation programs as Vocational Counselors, social service agencies as Clinicians, and at the collegiate level as Disability Counselors/Specialists.

Job Outlook

As of 2006 there were 141,000 working in the field. Jobs for rehabilitation counselors are expected to grow by 23 percent, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Percent change in employment, projected 2010-2020

  • Rehabilitation Counselors +28% 
  • Community and Social Service Occupations +24% 
  • Total, All Occupations +14%

Note: All Occupations includes all occupations in the U.S. Economy.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Employment of rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow by 28 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow with the increase in the elderly population and with the continued rehabilitation needs of other groups, such as veterans and people with disabilities.

Older adults are more likely than other age groups to become disabled or injured. They will need to learn to adapt to their disabilities and learn strategies to live independently. As a result, they will require the services of rehabilitation counselors. As the size of this population grows, so will the need for rehabilitation counselors.

In addition, there will be a continued need for rehabilitation counselors to work with veterans who were disabled during their military service. They will also be needed to work with other groups, such as people who have learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, or substance abuse problems.

From 2010 to 2020, expected employment growth of rehabilitation counselors in the top employing industries is as follows:

  • Individual and family services - 67%
  • Vocational rehabilitation services - 30%
  • Nursing and residential care facilities - 24%
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals - 9% 
  • State government, excluding education and hospitals - 4%

State Rehabilitation Programs

The predominant need for rehabilitation counselors is within federal/state funded vocational rehabilitation programs. The Veteran's Administration has its own vocational rehabilitation program. Federal/State Vocational Rehabilitation Programs are funded and regulated by Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), a division of the U.S Department of Education. Although policies vary from state to state, rehabilitation counselors who work in the federal/state systems typically must hold a masters degree in rehabilitation counseling, special education or a related field. Counselors in the federal/state Vocational Rehabilitation programs are required to be certified or be eligible to sit for the certification examination. People accepting employment in the federal/state Vocational Rehabilitation programs do so with the agreement they will meet these qualifications by a specified date to maintain employment.

College Disability Counselors/Specialists

By law all community colleges, colleges and universities are required to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. To satisfy this requirement most collegial settings have a Disability Resources Center, a Special Needs Coordinator or a similar office. Staff are responsible for coordinating services that may include but are not limited to: advocacy/liaison, computer access, counseling (academic, personal, vocational), equipment loan, information/referral services, in-service awareness programs, note takers, on-campus orientation and mobility training for visually impaired students, priority registration assistance, readers, scribes, shuttle (on-campus), sign language interpreters, test proctoring/testing accommodations, and tutors.

Employment Settings for Rehabilitation Counselors

Traditionally, graduates of Rehabilitation Counseling Programs have been employed by State/Federal rehabilitation agencies. Because all state agencies follow similar guidelines from the Federal government, geographic mobility is possible for graduates.

Other job opportunities exist for qualified rehabilitation counselors in a variety of other rehabilitation settings, including but not limited to:​​​​​​

  • Comprehensive rehabilitation centers
  • University and other school settings
  • Insurance companies
  • Private-for-profit rehabilitation companies
  • Alcohol and other drug rehabilitation programs
  • Correctional centers
  • Facilities for persons with developmental disabilities
  • Developmental disabilities agencies
  • Mental health clinics
  • Rehabilitation units in hospitals
  • Veterans Administration centers
  • Special education/transition programs
  • Vocational schools
  • Programs for the elderly
  • Independent living centers
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Halfway houses and group homes
  • Client assistance and advocacy programs
  • Counseling centers
  • Head injury rehabilitation programs

Other human service programs serving people with mental, physical, emotional and social disabling conditions

From: The Growing Profession of Rehabilitation Counseling distributed by the National Council on Rehabilitation Education