Licensed Clinical Therapist: Job Description & Career Info

Research the requirements to become a licensed clinical therapist. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in clinical therapy.

Should I Become a Clinical Therapist?

The field of clinical therapy is diverse and includes many specialties, such as marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling and addictions counseling. Regardless of the specialty, these professionals help patients cope with behavioral, mental and emotional problems that interfere with their daily lives. Licensed clinical therapists can work in mental health facilities, schools and government-run centers. Besides running one-on-one or group counseling sessions, they organize treatment programs and may refer serious cases to medical professionals. Stress is often involved when working with individuals who have mental or emotional issues.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree is required
Degree Field Psychology, counseling or related field
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required
Experience Experience in counseling is required
Key Skills Active listening, speaking, social perception, service orientation, complex problem solving, writing, monitoring, judgment and decision making skills; accounting, medical, spreadsheet and word processing software
Salary (2014) $42,250 (median annual salary for mental health counselors and marriage/family therapists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most jobs for clinical therapists require a master's degree, and a bachelor's degree is a necessary stepping stone toward the master's. Though most bachelor's degree programs are accepted by graduate psychology and therapy programs, students may wish to pursue their bachelor's degrees in psychology, social work or related areas. If a student's bachelor's degree is not in psychology or a related subject, he or she may need to have completed certain prerequisite courses, such as statistics, abnormal psychology and child psychology.

Success Tip:

  • Obtain research experience. Some programs require that students have research experience in order to be admitted. Even if a program does not require research experience, obtaining this experience can help students get to know faculty members and may lead to better letters of recommendation (which are a common entrance requirement for master's programs).

Step 2: Take the GRE

Most master's degree programs require GRE scores as part of their application requirements. Some accept the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) in place of the GRE. Students may take the appropriate admissions test while working toward their bachelor's degrees.

Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree

Master's programs may focus on a particular form of therapy, such as marriage and family therapy, or they may focus on general clinical psychology. The curricula in these programs consist of theoretical and applied coursework. Some master's programs are designed to prepare students who want to become clinical psychologists for doctoral programs.

Many master's programs require clinical experience or an internship for graduation. This may involve full-time work under the supervision of a licensed professional and take place in a setting relevant to the student's career interests. Some schools have on-site clinics that students may work out of to provide counseling services to community members. Clinical experience gained in a master's degree program may also satisfy licensure requirements. Some programs may also encourage students to participate in collaborative research projects with faculty members.

Step 4: Meet Licensing Requirements

The BLS indicates that licensing requirements vary by state and specialty; however, common prerequisites include earning a master's degree and obtaining supervised clinical experience in addition to passing a state-recognized exam. According to the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), the National Counselor Examination (NCE) is used as the licensing exam in many states. Licensure is required for marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors and career counselors who work in private practice. Individuals may need to meet continuing education requirements to remain licensed.

Step 5: Consider Certification

Certifications are voluntary, but they may help with career advancement. The NBCC awards the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential to individuals who meet eligibility requirements (which are similar to those required for state licensure) and pass the NCE. This organization also offers specialty credentials in school, mental health and addictions counseling; specialty certification is open to counselors who have obtained the NCC credential. Therapists who want to earn specialty certification need to meet experience requirements and pass an exam.


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