Behavioral Therapist: Certification & Education Requirements

Behavioral therapists help their patients change their negative behaviors into more positive ones. Read further to learn more about this important career. Schools offering Applied Behavioral Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Behavioral therapists are psychologists who focus on helping their patients overcome harmful habits and behaviors. The chart below shows the education requirements, job duties, and salary of behavioral therapists.

Degree Required Master's degree; doctoral degree preferred
Licensing Required Licensing required in some states
Key Responsibilities Diagnose mental illnesses, engage in therapy to prevent patients from engaging in undesirable behaviors
Job Growth 14% (all psychologists)*
Median Salary (2018) $79,010 (all psychologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Behavioral Therapist?

Behavioral therapists engage in a variety of activities to aid their patients in the best way possible. These can include but are not limited to interviewing patients and their families and friends, diagnosing mental illnesses, and engaging in therapy to help patients overcome destructive and undesirable habits and behaviors. The exact duties of a behavior therapist will vary based on the needs of their patient and the therapeutic areas the behavioral therapist focuses on. These can include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and applied behavior analysis.

What Are the Educational Requirements of a Behavioral Therapist?

A behavioral therapist is expected to hold a master's degree at the very least. One's undergraduate and graduate degrees should be in a field such as counseling, psychology, social work, or a related area that will prepare one for a position as a behavioral therapist. If one earns a doctoral degree one may be able to command a higher wage. Additionally, some states require specific educational requirements as part of licensing.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the way one's thoughts influence one's behaviors. It is the umbrella under which most behavior-based therapies fall. Cognitive behavioral therapy relies on changing one's thoughts and behaviors in response to undesirable circumstances. Unlike dialectical behavior therapy, it does not concern itself with making measurable improvements to one's quality of life, only one's response to it. Cognitive behavioral therapy is known for getting rapid results as opposed to other forms of therapy, which could require years of work on the part of the therapist and the patient.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that was developed to help treat those who were chronically suicidal. This type of therapy focuses on accepting the suicidal individual as they are while simultaneously attempting to improve their quality of life so that continuing to live is more appealing than suicide. The four major components of dialectical behavior therapy are weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly group-based skills training sessions, as-needed appointments between the behavioral therapist and the patient outside of regularly scheduled therapy sessions, and weekly therapist meetings in which dialectical behavior therapists discuss their cases. This has proven effective in both cases of those who are chronically suicidal and those with other mental health issues.

What Is Applied Behavioral Analysis?

The sole goal of applied behavioral analysis is to stop an undesirable or maladaptive behavior and replace it with one which is more socially acceptable. It does not concern itself with the emotional and mental components of behavior. Applied behavioral analysis has proven effective in treating disorders such as trichotillomania. It is also among the most popular therapies utilized for autism. However, some groups, such as the Autism Self Advocacy Network, claim it is harmful for those with autism.

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