Clinical Therapist: Career Info & Requirements

Mar 23, 2019

Career Definition for a Clinical Therapist

Clinical therapists, who are a specific type of counselor, work with patients to help identify, examine, and treat mental health and emotional issues or disorders. Clinical therapists often work at social work or outreach agencies, mental health clinics, or in an individual or group practice. Common duties include assessing patient needs, designing treatment plans, conducting individual, group and family counseling sessions, monitoring patient progress, implementing case management techniques, preparing treatment reports, and making referrals.

Education Master's degree required
Job Skills Patient interaction, communication, emphatic, working under stress
Median Salary (2017)* $43,300 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, $48,790 for marriage and family therapists
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 23% for mental health counseling and marriage and family therapists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

To become a clinical therapist, you'll need a master's degree in a field like psychology, social work, professional counseling, or marriage and family therapy. Coursework in a 2-year master's program that would qualify you to work as a clinical therapist includes the foundations of mental health, theories and techniques of group and individual therapy, dynamics of marriage and family therapy, developmental psychology, and substance abuse therapy. Additionally, you'll also need to be licensed as a clinical therapist; licensing requirements vary by state but generally include a number of supervised clinical hours and an examination.

Skill Requirements

The foundation of most clinical therapists' methods involve talking with patients in order to identify and treat the issues from which they suffer; thus, it's important for clinical therapists to have very strong communication and interpersonal skills. Clinical therapists should also be empathetic and work well in potentially stressful or uncomfortable situations.

Economic and Employment Outlook

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment outlook for the wider field of mental health counseling and marriage and family therapy, which includes clinical therapy, is excellent; employment in this field is expected to increase 23% from 2016-2026. Median wages for clinical therapists vary by specialty; in May 2017, those working in the field of substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors had median earnings of $43,300, while clinical therapists working in the field of marriage and family therapy had median earnings of $48,790.

Alternative Careers

Listed below are some alternatives for careers in counseling and mental health:

Social Worker

Closely related to a clinical therapist, some social workers provide counseling services in addition to other duties that include referring clients to community resources and programs, assessing physical and emotional needs and creating plans to meet these needs and solve issues. Social workers generally need a master's degree, but for those who are not involved in clinical counseling, a bachelor's degree may be enough to gain employment. Clinical social workers must also be licensed by the state where they work. According to the BLS, a 14% increase in job opportunities is predicted for this school, family and child social workers between 2016 and 2026, which is considered faster than average growth. The median yearly salary was estimated by the BLS to be $44,380 in 2017.


For those who want to delve more into the study of the human mind and behavior, becoming a psychologist could be the right career move. Psychologists not only use therapy as treatment but they also employ scientific theories and processes to help clients better understand why they act and believe as they do. A doctoral degree in psychology is required to work in the field, but organizational and school psychologists may only need a master's degree. All psychologists who provide counseling in an independent setting must also obtain a state license, which involves passing an exam and meeting experience requirements. In May of 2017, the BLS determined that counseling, clinical and school psychologists specifically, received a median wage of $75,090. It also projected that almost 21,000 new jobs will be created for these types of psychologists during the 2016-2026 period, an increase of 14%.

Next: View Schools
Created with Sketch. Link to this page

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?