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How to Become a Clinical Therapist

Clinical therapists have master’s degrees, 2000+ clinical hours and take an exam to receive their license, which requires continuing education to renew.

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There are many different types of clinical therapists, each specializing in certain approaches to mental health care treatment. A therapist may help individuals address struggles with mental health issues, relationship problems, substance abuse and more. Regardless of specialty, therapists should have good interpersonal skills and a passion for helping others.

Table of Contents

At a base level, the path to becoming a clinical therapist requires at least a master’s degree, with some positions needing a doctorate’s degree. Additionally, each state has its own licensing requirements for practicing therapists. 

The demand for clinical therapists remains high, as many communities throughout the United States still lack mental health treatment options. If you are interested in becoming a clinical therapist, the following information provides an overview of education, experience and licensure requirements.

What Does a Clinical Therapist Do?

A clinical therapist can work in many different areas — hospitals, mental health treatment facilities, schools, private practices and more. With advances in online technology, therapists can even treat patients remotely through telehealth services. 

A clinical therapist’s primary role is to provide mental health treatment. This may include:

  • Treating mental health conditions like depression, anxiety or schizophrenia
  • Holding group and individual therapy sessions using cognitive behavioral therapy and similar approaches
  • Holding interventions
  • Providing support for addiction recovery and relationship and family issues
  • Creating strategies for improving mental wellbeing
  • Teaching communication skills and coping strategies
  • Helping patients achieve a higher quality of life

and social workers, but there are some differences regarding certification, experience and education.

How a Clinical Therapist Differs from a Psychologist

Psychologists fall under the broad umbrella of “clinical therapists,” but psychologists require an advanced degree in psychology. Many other therapist roles require degrees in counseling. Psychologists are also able to diagnose mental health disorders. They can provide clinical therapy and conduct research. 

Clinical therapists have a bit more freedom when deciding which specialty to pursue, as a counseling degree can be used in many roles. For example, a clinical therapist could be a marriage and family therapist, substance abuse counselor or mental health counselor.

Clinical therapists made a median salary of $46,240 per year in 2019, while psychologists made a median salary of $80,370 per year.

How to Become a Clinical Therapist

To become a clinical therapist, a person must acquire at least a bachelor’s or master’s degree, gain clinical experience and receive state licensure.

Educational and Degree Requirements

A bachelor’s degree is needed to enroll in a graduate program, but the degree does not have to be related to health care. The graduate program should be CACREP-accredited and include supervised clinical experience, such as an internship or practicum.

Depending on the specialty, a person can attend a program for the following:

  • Master’s, PhD or PsyD in psychology
  • Master’s in social work
  • Master’s in counseling
  • Master’s in marriage and family therapy

Therapists can specialize further by taking advanced certification exams, such as those for substance abuse treatment.

Training and Clinical Experience

In most states, master’s candidates must complete a certain number of clinical experience hours to graduate. In states where our facilities are located, the requirements are as follows:

  • Florida: 1,000 hours of university-sponsored experience and an internship or practicum
  • Ohio: 100 hours of practicum or 600 hours of internship
  • Washington: An internship or practicum is required, but there is no state-mandated number of required hours
  • Colorado: No specific requirements, but supervised post-degree experience is required for licensure
  • New Jersey: No specific requirements, but supervised post-degree experience is required for licensure

Examination and Licensing

Each state has its own requirements for licensure. When these requirements are reached, individuals can then take an exam to become licensed. For states where our treatment facilities are located, licensed clinical therapists have at least:

  • Florida: Two years of supervised experience, which includes 1,500 hours with clients
  • Ohio: Two years of supervised clinical experience, including 3,000 clinical hours
  • Washington: Two to three years of supervised clinical experience
  • Colorado: 2,000 hours of post-graduate experience within two years
  • New Jersey: 4,500 clinical hours with a master’s degree, 3,000 clinical hours if you’ve completed 30 additional coursework credits after the master’s degree

Renewing Clinical Therapist Licensure

Licenses must be renewed regularly. In states where our facilities are located, renewal schedules are as follows:

  • Florida: Every two years
  • Ohio: Every two years
  • Washington: Every year
  • Colorado: Every four years
  • New Jersey: Every two years

Continuing Education

As part of the renewal process, therapists also need to take a certain number of continuing education courses. For states where our facilities are located, these requirements include:

  • Florida: 30 hours of continuing education every two years
  • Ohio: 30 hours of continuing education every two years, with at least 3 hours in ethics
  • Washington: 36 hours of continuing education every two years, and six hours of suicide training every six years
  • Colorado: 40 hours of continuing education every two years
  • New Jersey: 40 hours of continuing education every two years, with at least 5 hours in ethics and 3 in social and cultural competency

Available Mental Health Counseling Jobs at The Recovery Village

The Recovery Village has a number of open positions for clinical therapists, mental health counselors, psychologists and other roles in mental health care. Our highly experienced staff holds over 3,000 professional credentials. Visit our job portal website to see which positions are currently available.

Other FAQs about Clinical Therapists

Clinical therapists made a median salary of $46,240 per year in 2019.

Counselors can treat patients online without further credentials. However, many states require the counselor to be licensed in their patient’s state. 

No, clinical therapy roles require a master’s degree. 

Yes, psychologists are a type of therapist. They can provide therapy and mental health treatment.

Psychology School Guide. “Clinical Therapist Careers.” Accessed June 11, 2020.

All Psychology Schools. “Differences Between a Therapist and Psychologist.” Accessed June 11, 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors.” April 10, 2020. Accessed June 11, 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Psychologists.” April 10, 2020. Accessed June 11, 2020.

Terry, Christa. “How to Become a Clinical Therapist.” Noodle, February 5, 2020. Accessed June 11, 2020.

Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in New Jersey.” Accessed June 11, 2020. 

Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in Florida.” Accessed June 11, 2020. 

Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in Ohio.” Accessed June 11, 2020. 

Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in Washington.” Accessed June 11, 2020. 

Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in Colorado.” Accessed June 11, 2020. 

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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