How to Become a Behavioral Therapist

Learn more about how to become a behavioral therapist, including education and license requirements. Find out about the job outlook and salary to determine whether this career is right for you. Schools offering Applied Behavioral Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Behavior therapists use a form of treatment that focuses on identifying and changing unhealthy behaviors. As a behavioral therapist, you will treat a range of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, anger issues, substance abuse, and self-harm.

Recommended Degree Master's degree; doctoral degree preferred in some settings
Education Field of Study Social work, psychology, counseling
Key Skills Listening, speaking, social perceptiveness, critical thinking, written communication, analytical skills
License Required depending on the state; certification also available
Job Growth (2016-2026) 23% (Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors)*
Median Salary (2019) $37,840**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com

What Does a Behavioral Therapist Do?

A behavioral therapist counsels patients on how to change their behavior to make healthier choices. This involves interviewing patients about their health background and current mental health needs. Therapists must take detailed notes during each therapy session so they can develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to the patient. They document and evaluate a patient's progress and make changes when necessary. Behavioral therapists can see patients either one on one or in a group setting.

Do You Need a Degree?

Many behavioral therapist jobs require a minimum of master's degree, although some jobs may require a doctoral degree. Those seeking to become a behavioral therapists should obtain a degree in a related field, such as psychology, social work, or mental health counseling. Required coursework typically includes topics such as human development, psychopathology, counseling theory, and psychology methods. Many degree programs also require clinical fieldwork as a therapist.

Do You Need a License?

Many states require a license to become a behavioral therapist. The requirements vary by state, but generally include completion of a degree program, obtaining a minimum number of hours of fieldwork, and passing a state licensing exam. Students should contact the National Board of Certified Counselors or their state's licensing board to determine the exact requirements needed for a therapist license. Behavioral therapists can also complete requirements for certification, such as a Behavior Analyst certification. Overall, these certifications are optional, but can help advance a behavioral therapist's career.

Where Can You Work?

Behavioral therapists work in many different settings, such as schools, health clinics, substance abuse centers, and hospitals. They can be found working in juvenile detention facilities, prisons, and employee assistance programs. Some therapists may choose to open their own private practice, which allows for more flexibility in scheduling therapy sessions.

What Are Some Related Careers?

There are many related career options for those interested in the behavioral therapy field. A behavioral therapy assistant career is suitable for those who have a bachelor degree in a related field. Behavioral therapy assistants cannot practice on their own, but perform similar functions under the supervision of a more senior therapist.

School and career counselors help clients focus their educational and career goals based on their strengths and interests. These counselors typically work in high schools, universities, and career centers.

A clinical psychologist offers comprehensive mental health care to their patients. This career typically requires a doctorate and a greater understanding of psychopathology and diagnostic procedures. Clinical psychologists often take on supervisory roles and conduct research.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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