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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Rehabilitation Counseling?

Although the name “rehabilitation” is often associated with substance abuse or physical disability, the field of rehabilitation counseling is broad and includes providing professional counseling to individuals with a wide range of chronic illness, mental health and/or other disabling conditions (including sensory impairment disorder, addiction disorders, developmental, and physical disabilities) to help them live to their fullest potential and achieve individual goals. Click here for the Commission for Rehabilitation Counselor Certification's full description of Rehabilitation Counseling.

What is Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling?

Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling is a new emphasis option in some CACREP Accredited Counselor Education programs. This emphasis combines the skills required of Clinical Mental Health Counselors and Rehabilitation Counselors to better serve people with disabilities in a variety of settings.  Penn State is one of the few programs in the country that has an integrated Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health program that is dually accredited by CACREP in both Clinical Rehabilitation and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. 

What is unique about the Rehabilitation Counseling and Clinical Rehabilitation and Clinical Mental Health Counseling Curricula?

In addition to taking all of the same core counseling coursework as their peers in other counselor education emphasis areas, rehabilitation counseling and clinical rehabilitation and clinical mental health counseling students take specialized coursework in the medical aspects of counseling, which helps to refine their expertise of the critical relationship between physical and mental health. This knowledge base is particularly relevant given the numbers of people seeking counseling services who have coexisting physical and mental health challenges. Additionally, in light of the key role that employment plays in all of our lives as a source of income, identity and social interaction, rehabilitation counseling students take course work that provides critical information about laws and resources available to help individuals find and/or maintain employment as well as practical skills on how to complete a job analysis and transferable skills assessments. These skills enable our graduates to address important civil and human rights and to help reduce poverty, stigma and social isolation of individuals with chronic health, mental health and/or other disabling conditions.

Can I tailor my program to focus on one primary disability?

Students who already know that they are interested in working with a specific population (e.g., mental health, addictions, veterans, corrections, sensory impairment, autism or other developmental disability) can tailor their program through the choice of electives, focus of course assignments and selection of internship sites. However, students are not required to have a specialized focus when they apply to the program. Since the program provides a strong foundation for working with a wide variety of people with varied disabilities, it is not uncommon for graduates to work with varied populations throughout the course of their careers.

How long is the program?

Both the Rehabilitation Counseling emphasis and Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health emphasis take two years to complete with some course work during the summer of the first year.

Do I need to have a particular college major to apply for this program?

The field of rehabilitation counseling is an exciting interdisciplinary field that draws upon expertise from the fields of psychiatry, sociology, business, medicine, disability studies, psychology, assistive technology and philosophy, among others. Applicants from a wide range of academic and/or professional disciplines are welcome to apply.

Can I apply to your program as an international student?

Our program welcomes students from all different parts of the world who have an interest in becoming rehabilitation counselors and/or developing or advancing the mission of our program within their native countries. Given the clinical components of the program that require providing counseling services, English proficiency is required. International students are advised that they are not eligible for positions with the federal government including within the federal-state vocational rehabilitation services system.

What is the job outlook for Rehabilitation Counselors?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (2018), the employment for rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow by 10%) from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The employment for Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counselors is expected to grow 22% from 2018 to 2028.

A number of complex factors account for the increased need for rehabilitation counselors. Some of these factors include: (a) the population explosion of several decades has increased the number of people expected to experience disability, (b) increases in life expectancy as a result of medical advances, (c) federal legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, (d) an increasing success in the treatment of traditionally underrepresented groups (e.g., people with sensory impairment, mental illness, severe physical disabilities) through innovative community-based programs, (e) the aging of the baby boomers, (f) the opioid epidemic and (g) veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts in the world with a range of war-related physical and cognitive disability. Over the past 5 years 100% of our graduates have found employment upon graduation.

When was the rehabilitation counseling program established?

The Pennsylvania State University was one of the first institutions to apply for and receive a training grant in rehabilitation counseling following the passage of Public Law 565. The Rehabilitation Counseling Project, as it was officially designated, was initiated in September 1955. The first year was devoted to program development and to a series of orientation institutes for newly employed counselors from the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The first class of 10 students was admitted in September of 1956. The program has expanded steadily since that time and has granted over 800 graduate degrees in rehabilitation counseling.

In what type of settings do rehabilitation counselors work?

One question that is often asked by students who are contemplating pursuing the rehabilitation counseling master's emphasis is, "What can I do with my degree when I finish?" The answer depends upon student interest in serving particular rehabilitation client (consumer) populations, desired job functions within the spectrum of rehabilitation practice, and intended rehabilitation setting practice. For example, master's level rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, psychosocial rehabilitation programs, vocational evaluation units, comprehensive rehabilitation centers, independent living centers, prisons, employee assistance programs, private rehabilitation firms, insurance companies, inpatient and outpatient substance abuse facilities, university offices of disability services, and high school and university programs. While some students specialize in working with a particular rehabilitation clientele (e.g., persons with mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse), other students provide services to a wide variety of clientele. For the most part, however, master's level rehabilitation counselors tend to work with adult and young-adult (transition age) populations where vocational and psychosocial rehabilitation plays a primary goal in service delivery. Others go on to develop their own private practice.

Students also have the option of pursuing careers in the public, non-profit sector, or the private- for-profit (proprietary) sector. Proprietary rehabilitation is often characterized by efforts to rehabilitate the injured worker to a level of functioning prior to the injury. Efforts are directed toward returning the industrially injured client to work as quickly as medically feasible. Consequently, most services are funded through insurance companies and self-insured employers that deal with workers' compensation referrals. Students who want to pursue this career path should have a strong interest in job placement, especially in working directly with employers, be entrepreneurial, independent, and goal-directed. Some students also may work as licensed counselors and set up their own rehabilitation counseling practice.

Depending upon individual coursework, emphasis, electives, and previous work experience, students may be eligible to take the State Civil Service examination for a variety of rehabilitation careers (e.g., Drug & Alcohol Treatment Specialist, Rehabilitation Counselor, Youth Development Counselor). Each month a list of Civil Service examination dates with the respective employment vacancy position is published. Lists are available at the Career Development and Placement Center (CDPS) in 115 Bank of America Career Services Center and State Employment Services Offices throughout the Commonwealth. Details about the examination and job opportunities may also be obtained by writing the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission, P.O. Box 569, State Civil Service Commission Offices, Harrisburg, PA 17120, or on their website at

What exam should I take to become a Licensed Counselor?

Clinical Rehabilitation and Clinical Mental Health Counseling students can take the rehabilitation counselor certification exam to be eligible for counseling licensure in PA. Passing the CRC will allow students to be eligible for both their CRC and LPC and we recommend this exam for those in the Rehabilitation Counseling emphasis area. Typically, professional counseling jobs only require a CRC or LPC so the NCC is (not?) required unless students want to work in a different state where the NCC is required (state licensing laws can vary). However, the NCE exam would not make students eligible for the CRC so we only recommend taking the NCE as needed. If you are interested in pursuing licensure as a professional counselor, we suggest considering the Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Emphasis.

When am I eligible to take the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor exam?

Both rehabilitation counseling and clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling students are eligible to take the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) examination after they have completed three- fourths of their program of study. Students can take the CRC exam to be eligible for counseling licensure in PA.

What if I have already taken some of the master's level course requirements as an undergraduate at Penn State University?

Students with Rehabilitation Services undergraduate degrees are not required to retake courses already completed for the undergraduate major (e.g., RHS 403), but they must complete 60 credits post-Bachelor's degree in order to graduate. This gives the students more options for electives to take for each class that they already completed as an undergraduate.