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It’s common to assume that in order to work in therapy, you need to become a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. However, counseling therapists and marriage and family therapists provide many of the same services, while spending less time in school and more time in the field. However, those wishing to work as therapists still need to follow the necessary education and certification steps in order to become licensed to practice in their state.

What Therapist Do

Therapists act as a sounding board for their clients, helping them manage emotional and psychological problems, as well as developing treatment plans. Therapist encourage their clients to open up about their experiences and emotions, and help provide the skills and coping mechanisms necessary to better live with or overcome various problems. Therapists can work with all different kinds of clients, from children to adults, as well as can focus on specific areas of therapy, such as marriage and family counseling. They often work with other mental health professionals, such as social workers and psychiatrists, as well as commonly refer their clients to community services, such as substance abuse treatment facilities or local support groups.

Undergraduate Degree

In order to qualify as a therapist, candidates must complete an undergraduate degree program. Finishing this degree is required before you can gain entrance into a graduate-level therapy program. While any bachelor’s degree can qualify you for most graduate degree programs, it’s recommended that you pursue a degree related to the mental health field, such as psychology or sociology. Counseling-related degrees also increase your chances of acceptance into more prestigious graduate programs.

Graduate Program

In order to practice as a therapist, most states require that you hold at least a graduate degree. Graduate programs include a masters degree in psychology, counseling, marriage and family therapy or social works. Degree titles may vary by college, and other mental health related degrees may also qualify you for licensing, depending on the state you plan to practice in. Different graduate programs have different requirements for entrance as far as prerequisites and graduate examinations. Check with your desired college to ensure you complete the necessary requirements before applying.

Certification

Therapist require a license from the state they work in order to practice. Each state has different requirements to get a license, as well as requires periodic renewal of the license to continue practicing. In general, each state requires a graduate degree, 2,000 to 4,000 of supervised clinical work after graduation, and a passing grade on a state-approved licensing examination. Mental health counselors can find additional information on certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors, while marriage and family therapist candidates can find state-specific information through the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.

Continuing Education

Continuing education requirements vary depending on what state you hold a license in. In general, approximately 15 to 20 hours of continuing education credits are required each year in order to renew your license. Check with your state office to see which organizations offer approved continuing education courses for your specific license.

Once certified, therapists have the potential to make an average of $41,500 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. With the job outlook expected to rise by 29 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations, therapist can rest comfortably knowing that job demand will remain high, providing a secure career path.

National Board for Certified Counselors

Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards

United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics – Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists