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Behavior Therapist Education Requirements and Career Information

Behavior therapists require significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

A behavior therapist helps clients live happier, healthier lives through behavior modifications and other treatment techniques. Advanced education is integral to becoming a behavior therapist, including completion of at least a master's degree, as well as continuing education that is required to maintain a state license to practice therapy. Behavior therapists can choose a general practice, or specialize in any number of niches that include substance abuse, eating disorders, mental health issues, addictions, and marriage and family counseling.

Essential Information

A behavior therapist focuses on helping clients eliminate objectionable behaviors and replace them with acceptable behaviors. Some unwanted behaviors that a behavior therapist might address include attention deficit problems, eating disorders and addictions.

Behavior therapists must hold a graduate degree and a state license, which requires continuing education to maintain. During their degree programs, behavior therapists receive extensive clinical training, and they might have the option of studying a specialized type of therapy.

Required Education Master's degree in psychology or counseling
Licensing State license required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 22% for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*
Median Salary (2015) $39,980 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Educational Requirements

A minimum of a master's degree and state license is required of all therapists, but many behavior therapists hold doctoral degrees. Education begins with a bachelor's degree in psychology and continues with graduate programs in psychology or counseling. Some master's and doctoral programs offer a specialization in behavior analysis and therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Graduate programs teach students about effective research methods, conditioning and learning, treatment techniques and ethical issues. Clinical experience is gained by working with patients under the supervision of a licensed professional. State-licensing requirement vary by state.

A licensed therapist who wishes to specialize in behavioral therapy likely will have to attend continuing education programs and seminars in behavioral or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Additional training might be earned under an experienced behavioral therapist. Cognitive-behavioral therapy certifications are voluntary and available through the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (www.nacbt.org). The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (www.bacb.com) also certifies individuals as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA).

Career Information

Behavior therapists might work one-on-one with clients or in group settings. They analyze patients, identify problems and suggest appropriate treatments for issues that impede a person's lifestyle. These suggestions might include relaxation training, positive reinforcement, desensitization and modeling. Under the supervision of a behavior therapist, clients try these different techniques until a satisfying solution is found.

Behavior therapists work in many categories of counseling, including marriage and family, substance abuse, mental health, rehabilitation and school. Mental health clinics, assisted living facilities, academic institutions and hospitals offer employment opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 22% increase in jobs for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that the median annual wage for this field in May 2015 was $39,980.

Achieving a career as a behavior therapist requires graduate-level education and training, but offers the reward of helping clients change their lives for the better through therapeutic behavior modification techniques. Behavior therapists may choose their areas of specialization, work one-on-one or with groups, and find work in clinical, institutional, or community settings. This is a growing sector with plenty of opportunities available.

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