People who want to work in the mental health field may be unsure of the similarities and differences between psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists. While psychiatrists are medical doctors able to issue prescriptions and psychologists often work in tandem with these professionals to ensure patients receive both psychotherapy and medical treatment, “therapist” is an overarching term for individuals who work with patients to clarify their feelings, mediate tense situations, and provide guidance for life’s decisions. Therapists covered in this guide include individuals who work in mental health or marriage and family therapy. Keep reading to learn about educational requirements as well as what to expect in terms of salary and job growth in the coming years.
Therapists are classified as mental health professionals; as such, they must complete significant education and training to receive a license to practice. At minimum, most therapists hold a master’s degree and have completed a substantial amount of supervised clinical hours before ever independently seeing a client. Their time in school equips them with the skills and tools needed to assess clients, listen to their troubles, and apply relevant and appropriate treatment methods to a variety of emotional and mental problems.
Therapists may elect to work with many different parts of the population throughout their careers, and specialization areas for them abound. Whether serving military families going through the emotions of another deployment or a couple grieving the loss of a child, therapists are empathetic yet highly professional individuals who help their clients deal with mental and emotional issues arising from a variety of life events. They may choose to go into private practice or serve on a team of other therapists and mental health professionals. Regardless of their setting, those in the field are characterized by their ability to provide thoughtful, constructive therapeutic services.
The median salary for mental health counselors and marriage and family counselors is $48,600, with those in the top brackets of the profession commanding salaries of nearly $82,000 annually. Depending on the state where a therapist plans to practice, these numbers can be higher or lower. The map below shows salary figures for the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentiles in each state.
Roles for therapists are growing much faster than the overall national average for jobs, with 31,400 roles – or a 19 percent increase in the field – expected to be added between 2014 and 2024. Use the graph below to see how your state stacks up against these national figures.
Complete a Bachelor’s Degree
While students applying to master’s level programs are encouraged to have certain prerequisites completed before applying, students at the baccalaureate level may elect to study numerous different disciplines. Regardless of the major they choose, courses in areas of introductory psychology, behavioral disorders, and human development should be incorporated when feasible. Otherwise, they’ll need to take additional classes before applying to advanced programs.
Grades are also important for master’s level programs, so baccalaureate students should be vigilant about maintaining high GPAs – particularly in classes relevant to future studies.
“In 2014 the median earnings of young adults with a bachelor’s degree ($49,900) were 66 percent higher than the medan earnings of young adult hig school completers ($30,000).” – National Center of Education Statistics
Undertake Relevant Training Program
Options for study at the master’s level tend to be concentrated in programs related to mental health or family and marriage therapy. As discussed in the previous section, these degrees tend to have some prerequisites but they are not as extensive as those required for clinical psychology or psychiatry programs.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, individuals aspiring to work in this field have three paths to choose from to become qualified:
Complete Supervised Clinical Work
Either as part of a degree program or a post-degree fellowship, completing supervised clinical experience is a requirement for future licensure. These opportunities – typically called residencies or internships – allow graduates to apply the theoretical knowledge gained from coursework to real-world scenarios requiring a competent and professional therapist. Depending on the state where a therapist-in-training hopes to be licensed, mandated supervised experience typically totals between 2,000 and 4,000 hours.
Apply for Therapist Licensure
Once supervised hours are completed, the only thing standing between an individual and their ability to see clients is being licensed. Those who want to work as mental health counselors should contact the National Board for Certified Counselors to learn about requirements in their state, while future marriage and family therapists can find more information through the Association of Marital and Family Regulatory Boards. While requirements vary based on an individual state’s requirements, some of steps students commonly must take include:
Whether seeking a masters or doctoral degree, or a postsecondary certification, this powerful search tool can help narrow options by aggregating programs based on cost, location, and available specializations.
If you’re interested in how to become a police officer, you might also be interested in related professions. Working as a correctional officer, EMT or paramedic, firefighter, probation officer, security guard, gaming surveillance officer, game warden or firefighter might be on your radar. If that’s the case, you can peruse the list of related occupations below, which includes average salaries:
Police Officer and Related Job Salaries
What you earn depends on where you live, including the region, state or city. To help determine what you can expect to make in your particular area, our handy salary comparison tool can help.
Police Officer Salary Comparison Tool
AAMFT currently represents more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists and provides them with a wide range of services. These include opportunities for continuing education, webinars, conferences, job support, licensing information, and fellowships.
Since 1967, AASECT has worked with sexual educators, counselors, and therapists to help them build their practice through certification, education, community initiatives, and opportunities to join together and learn.
Since 1982, APT has encouraged mental health professionals to use the power of play when communicating with their patients – particularly children. Benefits of membership include access to publications within the field, education and training opportunities, and an annual conference.
IACT seeks to connect professionals specializing in the healing arts both to one another and to valuable resources in the field. Benefits of membership include a virtual library, an annual conference, and multiple opportunities for training.
For close to 30 years, IFTA has worked with family therapists throughout the world to help them develop competencies and connect with others in the field. Members enjoy a range of helpful services, including access to publications, details on accreditation services, and an annual conference.