Mental Therapist: Job Description and Requirements

Mental therapists requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Mental health therapists work directly with clients and other mental health professionals in treating disorders of the mind. Their career involves listening, counseling, tracking progress, and developing treatment plans for their patients. A graduate degree required to become a licensed mental health therapist.

Essential Information

Mental therapy is a broad field that encompasses a variety of positions. Therapists use a variety of techniques to help their patients. Before becoming a mental therapist, students must take advanced courses in psychology and many other subjects. Working as a mental therapist may be suitable for those with high energy and a commitment to helping others.

Required Education Master's or doctoral degree
Other Requirements Post-degree clinical practice and professional licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 20% for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists*
Median Salary (2015) $41,880 for mental health counselors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Mental Therapist Job Description and Requirements

Job Description

Mental therapists are trained and licensed to treat clients with emotional, behavioral and mental disorders. They may work in conjunction with psychologists and psychiatrists, and refer patients to these specialists as they see fit. Counseling sessions may be one-to-one, group therapy, or sessions involving family members.

People might seek out a mental therapist if they are dealing with such issues as stress, grief, addiction, depression or conflict. Therapists may also work with patients who have special needs. A good mental therapist allows patients to share their emotions and listens objectively and without passing judgment. This encourages patients to open up and be frank about their emotional issues.

As part of the counseling process, they conduct interviews, testing and risk assessment sessions with patients in order to evaluate their mental condition and formulate a treatment plan. They keep detailed notes and records on their patients and monitor their progress. With these tools, therapists are able to make a diagnosis of mental illness and advise their patients on the best treatment plans.


With a bachelor's degree, a person can work as a mental counseling aide or a social service worker. A master's degree is usually necessary to become certified or licensed as a mental therapist. It is even advisable to have a doctorate degree in mental health therapy. To become a mental therapist, students must complete 48 to 60 semester hours of postgraduate study.

Licensing prerequisites depend on the work setting, the state and counseling specialty. Courses of study for those wishing to become mental therapists include human development, addiction counseling, mental health counseling, observation techniques, counseling psychology and professional ethics.

Some states require approximately 3,000 hours of supervision in a clinical setting, after a master's degree is obtained. This is referred to as an internship. Each year after receiving their licenses, mental therapists have to take 100 units of academic credit to keep their licenses active.

Some counselors opt for certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors. Passing this certification exam exempts mental therapy students in certain states from taking the state licensing exam. Becoming certified is usually voluntary.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that mental health counselor jobs will increase 20% from 2014-2024, much faster than the average increase of 7% predicted for all jobs ( The agency also reported that the median salary for mental health counselors was $41,880 in May, 2015.

Licensing requirements for mental health therapists vary depending on the state. An undergraduate degree can get you experience in the field of mental health, but to become a licensed therapist who is able to practice, a graduate degree is needed, including clinical experience. This can be acquired through master's and doctorate programs, and additional education is often necessary to maintain an active license.

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