Clinical Therapist Education Requirements and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a clinical therapist. Get a quick view of the requirements, as well as details about specializations, job duties and outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Clinical therapists can specialize in a number of fields, including family counseling, private practice, or mental health counseling. At the undergraduate level, therapy programs often provide a general overview and understanding of psychology and therapy. It is at the master's level that students are able to focus their studies on their specialization of choice.

Essential Information

Clinical therapists provide services to patients who are suffering from severe emotional disorders. This employment field offers a variety of work environments and specializations. A master's degree in counseling psychology that includes a clinical component is the minimum educational requirement. A state license is usually needed to secure work as a clinical therapist.

Required Education Master's degree
Additional Requirements Licensure is required for therapists in most states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 20% for mental health counselors
Median Salary (2016)** $42,564

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

Education Requirements for Becoming a Clinical Therapist

While a master's degree in counseling is required to become a clinical therapist, there are no specific subject area requirements at the undergraduate degree level. Many students who choose to enter into the clinical therapist profession often start their education by enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in psychology.

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology

A bachelor's degree program in psychology does not usually include a clinical component; however, it does introduce students to the various processes and functions of human behavior and decision-making. Some of the topics covered in the curriculum include cognition and memory, perception, human development, personality theory and motivational behaviors. The goal is to provide students with the tools needed to accurately predict human behavior and psychological processes. Undergraduate psychology programs are structured so students can continue their study at the graduate level.

Master of Arts in Clinical Counseling Psychology

A master's degree program in clinical counseling psychology prepares students to work as counselors or therapists. Counseling is at the core of the degree, but students can specialize in addictions counseling, marriage and family therapy and organizational psychology. A thesis is typically required, but students begin by taking core courses that provide a foundation in psychological and counseling theory. Some of the courses taken include personality theories, addictions counseling, biological bases of behavior, personality assessment and ethics in counseling.

A practicum or clinical component is also required. Students enrolled in the practicum gain counseling experience while working with families, couples, groups and individuals; the practicum is completed under the supervision of a licensed professional counselor. The degree concludes with the submission of a thesis in the final year.

Career Information

Clinical therapists work in a number of different environments. Some work primarily with schools and others work with mental health and community centers. The place of work depends largely on the area of expertise. A mental health clinical therapist works with patients who are suffering from severe emotional disorders.

A substance abuse therapist works closely with patients to find the underlying emotional issues that may have triggered their addictive behavior. Marriage and family therapists focus on a family or a couple and the emotional trauma they may be experiencing. Their approach is more relationship-based than therapists working in areas such as substance abuse or mental health.

Job Outlook and Salary Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted an 19% growth in employment for psychologists between 2014 and 2024. In 2015, the mean annual salary was $76,040 for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists, per BLS.

According to the BLS, marriage and family therapists were predicted to experience a 15% employment increase from 2014 to 2024, and their 2015 mean annual pay was $53,520.

Counselors who specialize in mental health were predicted to see 20% job growth from 2014 to 2024, reports the BLS. $45,080 was this profession's mean annual salary in 2015, per BLS.

Regardless of the specific branch of clinical therapy one is interested in, a master's degree is the minimum educational requirement before employment. Clinical therapists can choose between various specializations in counseling and therapy, and whether they want to work in private practice or in schools and institutions. This field is expected to continue growing through 2024, making it a good career option for students preparing their college studies.


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