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The hard part is over: You’ve taken the plunge and decided that you want to pursue a profession that helps people with the problems life throws at them. Now that you’ve made the choice to become a therapist or a counselor, however, you’ll need to learn more about the process of following this career path. In this guide, we’ll tell you all about the education you’ll need to receive to become a therapist and provide some insight into your potential salary and job prospects.

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What Skills Do You Need to Have?

Being a therapist or a counselor can be complicated, but the purpose of this line of work is simple: To listen to people talk about their problems and provide advice. Some therapists use highly complex diagnostic and treatment models in their practices, but the basics of what it means to be a therapist aren’t hard to understand.

You can start cultivating the skills you’ll need as a therapist as early as high school. Once you start your undergraduate degree, here are a few of the skills you’ll need to focus heavily on honing:

1. Psychology

A thorough grasp of psychology is the most important skill you can have as a therapist. Whatever type of therapy you pursue, understanding why people do what they do is absolutely essential in your chosen line of work. Depending on your chosen specialty, you might want to start researching a wide variety of different psychological theories and disciplines.

2. Biochemistry

To be an effective therapist, you’ll need to understand the ways that human body chemistry can affect behavior. While biochemistry plays a much more important role in the work of a psychiatrist than it does in the work of a therapist, a good therapist has a deep understanding of how both the body and the mind work.

3. Sociology

It’s also important for therapists to understand how the problems their patients experience fit into the wider world. Learning more about how society is set up and the common problems that can arise in contemporary communities will help prepare you for your career as a therapist.

What Degree Do You Need?

To be a licensed therapist, you’ll need to have at least a master’s degree in psychology. Examples of popular master’s degrees for aspiring therapists include a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling or a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling, and there are a variety of other options out there as well.

To be accepted into a psychology master’s degree program, you’ll need to start by getting an undergraduate degree in psychology. Some therapist positions may require even more education, but in most cases, a master’s degree in psychology is enough to secure a position as a professional therapist.

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Do You Need Any Certifications or Licenses?

You’ll need a license to be a therapist. Every state in the USA has its own requirements for therapist licensing, so you should consult with your local statutes to determine the exact type of certification you’ll need to pursue.

Therapist certifications are only handed out to aspiring therapists who successfully complete M.A. or M.S. degrees in psychology. You’ll also have to pass a test to receive certification. In some cases, you may be able to take your licensing test online, or you may have to take your test in person.

How Long Does Therapist Training Take?

From start to finish, training for therapists takes around six years since undergraduate degrees take four years and master’s programs take two years. In some cases, it might be possible to start your master’s program early, but there’s no way around the fact that you’ll need a master’s degree to become a licensed therapist.

Your training to become a therapist will involve studies that take place both in-class and in the field. By the time you’re done with your master’s degree, you will have spent plenty of time helping people with their problems in the real world, which will prepare you for your duties as a licensed therapist.

How Much Will You Make as a Therapist?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is the United States governmental organization that compiles statistical information on employment in the USA, separates the occupation “therapist” into three distinct categories:

1. Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

In 2018, the average substance abuse, behavioral order, or mental health counselor in the United States made $44,630. The lowest 10 percent of these therapists made an average of $28,240, and the highest 10 percent made more than $72,990.

2. Marriage and Family Therapists

According to the BLS, marriage and family therapists made an average of $50,090 in 2018. The highest 10 percent of earners made $31,850, and the lowest 10 percent of earners made $82,240.

3. Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists make significantly more than other types of therapists. In 2018, these professionals made an average of $84,270. The most successful 10 percent of occupational therapists made $55,490, and the least successful 10 percent made $120,750.

NOTE: The BLS counts psychologists as separate from therapists because you generally need a Ph.D. to become a psychologist. For your reference, however, the median pay for psychologists in 2018 was $79,010.

What Are Your Job Prospects as a Therapist?

According to the BLS, the therapist field will grow between 23 and 24 percent between 2016 and 2026. Since the average growth in job openings in the United States during this period is projected to be seven percent, you have a good chance of finding a job if you start your therapy career path today.

How Do You Find Work as a Therapist?

During your undergraduate and master’s programs, you’ll make a variety of contacts who may be able to provide you with work after you graduate. Plus, there are tons of governmental and private organizations out there that employ large numbers of therapists.

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