Rehabilitation Psychology Degree Programs & Schools

A branch of applied psychology, rehabilitation psychology is one of the fastest growing fields in psychology. It focuses on treating individuals with disabilities and problems that make living a normal life difficult. These problems can be social, developmental, and cognitive, as well as physical addiction.

Rehabilitation psychologists work with a wide variety of clients and treat a wide range of issues, including:

  • Physical problems
  • Sensory problems
  • Neurocognitive disabilities
  • Behavioral problems
  • Emotional issues
  • Brain injuries
  • Strokes
  • Cancer
  • AIDS
  • Substance abuse
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Psychiatric disabilities
  • Autism
  • Developmental disabilities

Rehabilitation psychologists work in a wide variety of settings, including:

  • Private Practice
  • Mental Health Centers
  • Substance Abuse Treatment
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Youth Transition Centers
  • State and Federal Offices
  • Veterans Hospitals
  • Autism Treatment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury Centers
  • Substance Abuse Treatment
  • Vocational Rehab
  • Physical Therapy Offices

Bachelor’s Degree in Rehabilitation Psychology

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Many universities and colleges do not offer a specific degree in rehabilitation psychology. Instead, they offer psychology degrees with a specialization in rehabilitation psychology.

As most rehabilitation psychologists hold a doctoral degree, the first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, such as counseling psychology or clinical psychology, from an accredited program. It is also recommended that students minor in rehabilitation psychology or rehabilitation counseling. Formal programs in rehabilitation psychology typically begin at the postdoctoral level.

Although uncommon, it is possible to obtain an entry-level job in rehabilitation psychology with a bachelor’s degree. However, as rehabilitation psychologists must be licensed, individuals will be required to pay fees and undergo testing in order to obtain licensure in the state they wish to practice.

Coursework at the bachelor’s level, includes:

  • Psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Introduction to human services
  • Theories of counseling
  • Crisis intervention
  • Case management
  • Counseling
  • Addiction and substance abuse

Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Psychology

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Rehabilitation master’s degree programs will have cross-disciplinary curriculum that provides students the opportunity to gain extensive knowledge of psychology application theory and practice. Depending on the college or university program requirements, students may or may not complete an academic thesis or dissertation. Most programs will require that students complete an internship, practicum, and a comprehensive examination, as well as show high grades on their GRE, or GRE psychology subtest.

It should be noted that a master’s degree does not meet licensure eligibility requirements to practice as a rehabilitation psychologist in most states. However, a master’s degree may make students eligible for licensure as a rehabilitation counselor, followed by supervised work experience. It is very important to consider state requirements, as well as program accreditation.

Typical coursework at the master’s degree level will include core classes and electives, which include:

  • Occupational analysis
  • Rehabilitation research
  • Rehabilitation counseling and assessment
  • Case management
  • Psychosocial disadvantages and disabilities
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • Medical aspects of disabilities
  • Ethics in rehabilitation counseling
  • Culture and disabilities and disadvantages
  • Addictions rehabilitation
  • Sexuality and disabilities
  • Classification/assessment of emotional, mental, and physical disorders

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports professionals in field of rehabilitation have 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, completed annual development credits, they have passed a state-recognized exam, and they maintain licensure.

Doctoral Degree in Rehabilitation Psychology

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Individuals who complete a master's degree typically pursue additional graduate level education to meet the requirements for licensure in their chosen area of specialty. Students who intend on practicing Rehabilitation Psychology must earn a doctoral degree which typically requires 2-3 years of study, including practicum and experiential courses. Other important considerations include:

  • Most states require a rehabilitation psychologist hold a doctorate degree
  • Many schools offer a doctorate degree in rehabilitation psychology.
  • Students can apply for a clinical psychology doctorate program (PsyD), or a counseling psychology doctorate program (PhD).
  • Students considering clinical work should complete a supervised clinical internship or look for work experience at a mental health clinic, become a research assistant, or participate in a research project.
  • Graduate students must also complete original research in the field and defend that research.

Advanced coursework at the doctoral level includes core areas of study and practicum, including:

  • Foundations in Psychology
  • Biological bases of behavior
  • Cognitive-affective bases of behavior
  • Measurement, statistics and research design
  • Statistical methods
  • Psychometric theory

Online Rehabilitation Psychology Programs

An aspiring rehabilitation psychologist can earn a bachelor’s degree in general psychology online. A bachelor’s degree – earned online or on-campus – will give students the foundational knowledge necessary to pursue a master’s and/or doctoral degree in rehabilitation psychology.

Professional psychologists, in general, consider approval by the American Psychological Association (APA) a necessity for a degree in any field of psychology. If the APA does not accredit an online program of study, students may face significant obstacles when searching for employment, and may be ineligible for licensure (if needed) in some states. Accredited degree programs can be found at: the American Psychological Association accreditation page.

There are a number of online programs accredited by the APA at the master’s level, but very few with an emphasis in rehabilitation psychology. There are programs in science in applied psychology, counseling, clinical mental health counseling, and general psychology (among other related fields), which will prepare students for advanced study. However, to enter a doctoral program, students must have a master’s in rehabilitation psychology, advanced training, and experience in the field.

Licensing and Credentialing for Rehabilitation Psychologists

Each state lists different requirements for licensure. To practice psychology, or a specialization in psychology, such as rehabilitation psychology, individuals must be licensed. Individuals who choose to work at a university or college, state or federal institution, in research, or for a corporation may be exempt. Requirements can be found in the Handbook of Licensing and Certification Requirements for Psychologists (US and Canada), which is published by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB):

  • Most state licensing boards require a doctoral degree in psychology from an accredited or government chartered institution.
  • Applicants must pass The Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), a 225-question test developed by ASPPB on core areas of psychology.
  • Aspiring rehabilitation psychologists should acquire 2,000 hours in an internship, and 2,000 hours during postdoc to meet most state’s requirements.
  • Individuals must submit information about their postdoc, internship, and doctoral degree. This information can be banked for easy access through the National Psychologist Trainee Register, or the ASPPBs credentials bank.
  • Fees must be paid, which can range from $550 to $1000. This includes application and initial licensing fees, and exam costs. ASPPB's online "Handbook of Licensure and Certification Requirements" lists state's licensing fees.

APA Certification in Rehabilitation Psychology

Rehabilitation psychologists have the option of obtaining national board certification through the American Board of Rehabilitation Psychology, a member board of the American Board of Professional Psychology.

To attain board certification in rehabilitation psychology, an individual must obtain a doctoral degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), or one listed in the Doctoral Psychology Programs Meeting Designation Criteria. All American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) candidates must be licensed psychologists.

To meet eligibility requirements for specialty certification in rehabilitation psychology, post-doctoral graduates must have three years of experience in rehabilitation psychology, two of the three years must be supervised, and one year may be satisfied by an internship with an emphasis in rehabilitation psychology. Graduates must also submit applications and credentials, practice samples, and successfully complete the oral exam.

In addition to the above requirements, to apply for board certification graduates must:

  1. Submit an application, provide current psychology license/certification, and pay fees to the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) Central office.
  2. Submit doctoral graduate transcripts
  3. Submit letters of accommodation from two supervisors, and endorsement forms from at least two colleagues or peers.

Rehabilitation Psychologist Career Outlook and Wage Estimates

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics records the medium annual wage for a rehabilitation psychologist as $33,800. The BLS also indicates that the field of rehabilitation psychology is growing at a faster than average rate of 20 percent, from 2012 and 2022. Individuals with less education and little experience in the field might make less than $21,000, annually. Professionals with a master’s or doctoral degree, and those with several years of experience can expect to make $60,000 per year. Location, industry, and education all play a part in the annual salary of a rehabilitation psychologist.

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