Behavioral Therapist Career Info and Education Requirements

Sep 15, 2019

A behavioral therapist aims to improve a client's emotional well-being and functioning, tailoring treatment approaches to each individual's psychological needs. A master's or doctoral degree in clinical psychology or related field is typically required. Clinical experience is needed for certification state licensure is required to be able to practice.

Essential Information

Behavioral therapists, often known as cognitive-behavioral therapists or behavioral disorder counselors, treat clients suffering from psychological disorders such as panic disorder and depression using psychological interventions. Advanced degrees in the field and licensure are requirements.

Education Requirements Master's or doctoral degree
Licensure State licensure typically required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 22% for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
Mean Annual Salary (2018)* $44,630 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information for Behavioral Therapists

Cognitive-behavioral therapists (CBTs) work in a broad area of psychology that places emphasis on the idea that actions and emotions are the result of internal thought, as opposed to external factors. CBTs use a wide variety of clinical techniques to help cure or manage psychological disorders such as panic disorder, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Cognitive-behavior therapy is a leading field in the use of empirically supported treatments to treat specific disorders for adults and children, according to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling positions are predicted to increase much faster than the national average through 2028. In May 2018, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $72,990 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $28,240 or less per year.

Education Requirements

Cognitive-behavioral therapists enter professional status in their field with a graduate degree in clinical psychology, psychiatry, counseling or social work. A bachelor's degree program in general psychology is a useful starting point for prospective CBTs to begin their training by concentrating in clinical psychology or behavior analysis. Undergraduate programs in general psychology can help students acquire useful communications skills, as well as an introduction to the methods and theories of psychology.

After completing an undergraduate degree in general psychology, a master's or doctoral degree program is the next step for those interested in specializing in cognitive-behavioral therapy. Graduate programs in clinical psychology may include coursework on the foundations of behavior (cognitive, affective, biological, social, racial, ethnic, cultural and multicultural), adult and child psychopathology, systems and methods of psychology, professional standards/ethics and history of psychology. Clinical psychology programs typically include professional practicums.

Career Requirements

Either independently, or as part of a graduate program, aspiring behavioral therapists can receive first-hand clinical training via an internship. Many schools incorporate psychology internships into graduate programs, offering clinical opportunities to practice CBT as a specialty. Clinical experience is a prerequisite for professional certification.

After completing a graduate degree, a recognized certification program and a minimum of six years of professional experience as a CBT, voluntary certification is available through the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists ( Successful completion of a certification exam demonstrates professionalism, and credentialed CBTs are committed to continuing education and publishing requirements. Certification for cognitive-behavioral group therapy is also offered for candidates with a graduate degree in a mental health discipline.

Finally, all practicing CBTs need a state license to treat patients one-on-one or in group counseling sessions. State requirements vary, although educational and clinical experience is generally required before candidates can sit for a licensing exam.

As we've just learned, behavioral therapists require a great deal of education, from graduate degrees to years of clinical experience. After practicing behavioral therapy for a number of years, certification may be pursued. State licensure is mandatory for behavioral therapists.

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