Rehabilitation counselors work with individuals with disabling conditions caused by illnesses, injury, genetic conditions, and other devastating events. Mental health counselors are rehabilitation counselors specialized in working with psychologically troubled people.

Working out of public and private treatment and rehabilitation facilities, or with private clients, rehabilitation and mental health counselors can make a real difference in the lives of individuals who are going through difficult transitional periods or are generally psychologically unsettled.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008:

  • 25% of rehabilitation counselors worked in vocational rehabilitation services
  • 17% worked for individual and family services
  • 16% worked in residential mental health and substance abuse facilities
  • 14% worked for state government organizations
  • 7% worked for local government organizations
Where to work Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Mental health counselors were much more spread out among different industries; outpatient care facilities were the largest industry group, employing 20% of mental health counselors.

Rehabilitation Counseling Career Opportunities

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 129,500 working rehabilitation counselors in 2008. Job outlook for rehabilitation counselors is expected to be strong, as an aging population more susceptible to disabling illnesses and injuries demands their services. The field is expected to add 24,500 jobs over 10 years, for a 2018 total of 154,000 jobs. That's a 19% growth rate, faster than the average for all occupations and much faster than the expected 8.2% expansion of the entire civilian workforce.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Real job opportunities for rehabilitation counselors will be better than that estimate. According to the Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be 50,700 positions available to qualified substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes those 24,500 predicted new positions AND positions vacated by retirement, career change, early termination, etc.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 113,300 working mental health counselors in 2008. Job outlook for mental health counselors is expected to be strong, as an aging population more susceptible to mental disorders and more psychological conditions are diagnosed and treated. The field is expected to add 27,200 jobs over 10 years, for a 2018 total of 140,400 jobs. That's a 24% growth rate, the highest of any counseling field, and much faster than the average for all occupation.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Real job opportunities for rehabilitation counselors will be better than even that robust estimate. According to the Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be 50,100 positions available to qualified mental health counselors from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes those 27,200 predicted new positions AND positions vacated by retirement, career change, early termination, etc.

Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Earnings

According to the BLS, rehabilitation counselors made an annual median of $30,930 in 2008. The middle 50% of the field made between $24,110 and $41,240, while the bottom 10% earned less than $20,150 and the top 10% earned more than $56,550 a year.

Mental health counselors made an annual median wage of $36,810 in 2008. The middle 50% of the field made between $28,930 and $48,580 a year, while the bottom 10% made less than $23,580 and the top 10% made more than $63,100.

Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earnings for rehabilitation and mental counselors vary by the candidate's education and work history, and by the employer's industry.

  • Addiction and behavior counselors who worked for state government organizations earned the most, with median annual wages of $45,350. Counselors that worked in residential mental health and substance abuse facilities earned the least of any large group: an annual median of $25,950.
  • Mental health counselors who worked for local governments earned the most; an annual median of $45,510. Those in residential mental health facilities earned an annual median of $29,950, the least of any large group.

Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counselors Educational Benefits

Rehabilitation and mental health counselors generally must have graduate degrees. Most states license counselors; licensing requirements generally include a counseling master's degree and varying levels of supervised clinical experience.

According to the Occupational Information Network, the vast majority – 73% – of rehabilitation and mental health counselors have a bachelor's degree or higher. Only 9% have no formal education beyond a high school diploma, and the remaining 18% have completed some college, including counseling associate's degree programs.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

Counseling programs generally include coursework in areas like psychology, sociology, human development, social and cultural sensitivity and diversity, and counseling techniques. Rehabilitation counseling programs include science classes designed to teach the physiological causes and effects of disabling conditions. Mental health programs generally include advanced psychology and neuroscience courses.

Rehabilitation Counseling Programs Online

Master's and doctoral rehabilitation and mental health counseling degrees are offered online, through a growing number of colleges and universities, as are continuing education graduate certificates in more specialized areas. Licensing requirements for rehabilitation and mental health counselors vary by state; remember that your state may include a supervised clinical experience requirement and make sure that your online program facilitates the necessary rotations.

The best online rehabilitation and mental health counseling programs provide an education as good as one pursued at a local ground school, in a more flexible and remote format that may be better suited to working students. As with all expensive and important educational decisions, do your research when choosing an online counseling degree program at any level. Is the school accredited? Do credits transfer? What are people saying about this program specifically and this school in general? The answers to many of these questions can be found on this Web site, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselor difficult questions.

Rehabilitation Counseling Skills and Abilities

Counselors of all kinds are professional listeners and communicators. They should be skilled at drawing people out of their shells though active listening, mutual respect, and intelligent questions. Counselors cultivate an attentive, sympathetic relationship so they can gather information that may be useful in creating a personalized counseling plan.

Most rehabilitation and mental health counselors work with patients one-on-one, but the sheer volume of cases they handle at any given time makes organizational and time management skills crucial.

Rehabilitation counselors often work with people in states of crises and grief, and sometimes have to help their clients come to terms with what can seem like the harsh realities of a physically or mentally constrained life. Mental health counselors work with people in various states of mental erosion, including violent and suicidal patients.

In service-based careers like rehabilitation and mental health counseling, attitude is everything. Counselors must come to work for the right reasons, or the intensity of their responsibilities will wear them down.

Though rehabilitation and mental health counselors usually meet with their clients and patients one-on-one, those that work for larger treatment programs often work as part of a counseling team. Their relationships with their coworkers are often subject to the same stresses as with their patients and clients; counselors who are cooperative and personable can add to the team's cohesion and effectiveness.

Rehabilitation Counselor Qualifications and Advancement

Master's and doctoral-level rehabilitation counseling and mental health counseling programs, and completion of your state's licensing requirements qualifies the graduate for positions as Rehabilitation Counselors, or Mental Health Counselors.

A combination of continuing education in rehabilitation and mental health counseling and good work experience can qualify practicing counselors for supervisorial positions in larger healthcare facilities, like nursing homes and hospitals.

Additional Information

The American Counseling Association maintains a Web site at http://www.counseling.org.

The American Mental Health Counselors Association maintains a Web site at http://www.amhca.org.