How do I Become a Rehabilitation Counselor?

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  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2019
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There are four steps required to become a rehabilitation counselor: complete a post-secondary education program, gain workplace experience, pass the certification examination, and obtain a position as a rehabilitation counselor. A rehabilitation counselor is someone who provides assistance and guidance to people recovering from illness or injury. Rehabilitation counselors can find employment opportunities in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, clinics and in private practice.

One of the most important aspects to consider if you want to become a rehabilitation counselor is the level of personal commitment and empathy required. People who are naturally compassionate, patient and have an upbeat outlook are most likely to find this career satisfying. In most cases, the patient is relying on the counselor to provide encouragement, motivation and support.

There are two main specialties within the role of rehabilitation counselor: physical and mental. Physical rehabilitation counselors work primarily with patients recovering from surgery, long-term illness or auto accidents. The work is very physical, involving exercises, conditioning and development of motor skills.

Rehabilitation counselors who specialize in mental health issues work with patients who are struggling with addiction, long-term depression or a stroke. The primary focus is through counseling sessions, discussion of the issues, identifying triggers and providing strategies to manage in a different way. The work involves a lot of talking and listening.


In order to become a rehabilitation counselor, you must complete a two-, three- or four-year program from a university, community or career college. The length of the program varies depending on the specialization and the type of degree. Admission to this type of program often requires a combination of marks, letters of recommendation and a personal interview. Empathy and compassion are critical to the success in this profession and they cannot be evaluated without a personal meeting.

Almost all programs that provide training on how to become a rehabilitation counselor provide at least one work placement. The practical application of the skills and knowledge is very important. Each placement is under the supervision of a doctor or psychiatrist and a report is added to the file.

Some states have certification requirements for rehabilitation counselors. Check with your local medical agency to determine if this is the case in your state. If certification is required, make sure that you have all the prerequisites in place before applying for the examination. This may include a clinical assessment from an independent counselor and letters of reference from instructors or other clinical supervisors.


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