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Mental Health Therapist Career Info and Requirements

Mental health therapists provide a variety of services depending on their sub-specialty. They work with individuals who have mental disorders, addictions and barriers to employment. Formal education is required; read on for more information.

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Educational Requirements for a Mental Health Therapist

Mental health therapists often begin a career by earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, although other fields of study are also acceptable. Coursework in a 4-year baccalaureate psychology degree program may focus on introductory psychology, developmental psychology, applied psychology, research methods, statistics and intervention methods. Graduates may then go on to earn a relevant master's degree.

Master's Degree in Counseling

A master's degree is required to sit for the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) certification exam. Coursework at this level may cover human development, group counseling, research methods, life planning, career development, psychodiagnostics, marriage counseling, family counseling and addiction disorders. Clinical experience is typically built into the curriculum, which may take 2-3 years to complete. Specialties may include behavioral development, school counseling, community mental health or family therapy. Programs must be accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Career Information

Employment opportunities for mental health therapists are expected to increase by 21% during the decade 2008-2018. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), growth will be driven by increased knowledge of addictions and mental illnesses (www.bls.gov). Median annual salaries for mental health therapists ranged from $40,124-$54,331 depending on years of experience according to Payscale.com. This resource also demonstrates that salary varies greatly by employer. For example, mental health therapists working for non-profit organizations earn a median salary of $40,826 per year, while therapists that are self-employed earn an annual sum of $60,967.

Certification and Licensure

Although certification may not be required in some states, earning this voluntary award proves skills and development in counseling and may enhance employability. Certification may also be a requirement for licensure in some states, according to the NBCC. Therapists working in a public school are required to have a state school counseling certificate according to the BLS.

Licensure requirements vary by state, but generally require earning a graduate-level degree, completing a fixed amount of training hours and then pursuing continued education. A license is required of therapists working in a non-school clinical setting in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Licensure is required by all 50 states and the District of Columbia for marriage counselors and family therapists.

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  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Undergraduate applicants must be a high school graduate or have completed GED; Graduate program applicants must have a master's degree or higher
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    • Must be a high school graduate or have completed GED
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    • Must complete an application online and submit transcripts for their highest degree earned.
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        • BA in Applied Psychology - Clinical Psychology
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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics