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How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

The path to becoming a rehabilitation counselor involves earning a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, completing between 1,500-4,000 hours of supervised clinical work experience, and passing a state board licensure exam. The specific requirements vary by state, but all 50 states require a master’s degree plus at least 1,500 hours of internships for full licensure as a rehabilitation counselor.

What is Rehabilitation Counseling?

Rehabilitation is a counseling specialization that focuses on providing psychotherapy and other counseling services to individuals with a wide range of mental and physical disabilities. This includes cognitive dysfunctions, emotional problems, and physical impairments that impact a person’s ability to find work, overcome social barriers, and successfully improve his or her quality of life. Rehabilitation counselors receive specialized training in identifying and assessing various disabilities, and in the accepted treatment methods for counseling people with these disabilities. In addition, rehabilitation counselors receive general instruction in the theories and practices of clinical counseling, including methods for individual, group, and family counseling.

How to Become a Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor

The core training in rehabilitation counseling takes place in master’s degree programs. A master’s in counseling plus 1,500-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in rehabilitation counseling is required for licensure in all 50 states. The main prerequisite for admissions to a master’s in counseling program is a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Some master’s programs may prefer students who have taken introductory coursework in psychology, counseling, social work, or another behavioral science, but an undergraduate major in counseling is typically not required.

There are designated master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs, many of which are voluntarily accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE). There are also master’s in clinical, mental health, and professional counseling programs that offer a specialization in rehabilitation counseling. These programs can seek accreditation from CORE or from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which has somewhat different curricular standards and program guidelines. However, CORE and CACREP have agreed to merge and are in the process of developing a standard curriculum for clinical mental health and rehabilitation counseling. It is important to note that graduating from a CORE/CACREP accreditation in not required for licensure, although state curricular standards for training in rehabilitation counseling are typically similar to those set by CORE or CACREP.

After earning a master’s in counseling, rehabilitation counselors must complete supervised work experience requirements as mandated by each state. Most states require roughly two years, or 1,500-4,000 hours of internships and residencies prior to taking the licensure exam. During this period, some states allow those who have completed a master’s degree to receive an interim license as a counseling intern or assistant.

For those who already have a master’s in counseling, psychology, or a related field, there are post-graduate clinical training programs that can provide the necessary instruction for state licensure in rehabilitation counseling. There are also doctoral programs in rehabilitation science and in rehabilitation counselor education. A doctorate is only required for those aiming to teach at the college level or engage in research in the field of rehabilitation counseling.

Steps to Becoming a Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor

  1. Enroll in an undergraduate program at a regionally accredited college or university.
  2. Take introductory social and behavioral science courses in areas like psychology and sociology.
  3. Research the requirements for rehabilitation counseling licensure in the state you intend to practice in.
  4. Earn a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, or complete a master’s in clinical, mental health, or professional counseling with a specialization in rehabilitation counseling.
  5. Obtain licensure as a counseling intern/assistant in states that have this provision.
  6. Complete two years (1,500-4,000 hours) of supervised clinical experience.
  7. Pass the state licensing exam for rehabilitation counselors, and meet any additional requirements, which may include a criminal background check and a state jurisprudence exam.

Rehabilitation Counseling Internships and Residencies

Internships and/or residences are part of the training required for licensure in all clinical counseling specializations, including rehabilitation counseling. Some of these supervised clinical hours may be fulfilled as part of a master’s program. CORE mandates at least 600 hours of clinical training; CACREP’s current standards include a 100-hour practicum plus 600 internship hours. The total number of hours required for licensure varies by state, but is typically within the range of 1,500-4,000 hours. For example, Virginia requires a 3,400 hours, while California mandates 3,000 supervised internship hours over a period of at least two years.

Additional Licensing Requirements for Rehabilitation Counselors

There are two basic models that states use for licensure in rehabilitation counseling. Some states have a special category for Licensed Rehabilitation Counselors (LRCs), while others place rehabilitation counselors in the same category as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs). There are also states that allow those holding a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification to apply for an LPC license. In all cases, rehabilitation counselors must pass a licensing exam. Some states use the CRC exam, while others administer the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) exam. In addition, many states require applicants to submit to a criminal background check, and some states have a jurisprudence exam that tests an applicant’s knowledge of the law as it pertains to counseling.


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