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How to Become a
Behavioral Therapist

Dasha Castillo
By Dasha Castillo - Content Writer
Last Updated: April 20, 2023
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This guide provides valuable insight into what it takes to become a behavioral therapist. We outline how to pursue this profession, the salary and the overall job outlook for a behavioral therapist. We also feature the best tools to jumpstart your career with our Resume Builder, professional resume templates and customizable resume examples.

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What Does a Behavioral Therapist Do?

Behavioral therapists work with individuals and groups to diagnose and treat mental disorders. They assist patients with the skills and techniques they need to overcome problematic behaviors.

The goal is to help individuals identify unhealthy behaviors and strategies to correct them. This approach differs from other types of therapy that focus on unresolved trauma. Instead, behavioral therapy teaches patients to change their actions and improve their lives.

Everyday behavioral therapist duties and responsibilities include

  • Identifying destructive feelings, thoughts and behaviors in patients.

  • Monitoring patient progress.

  • Working with patients to discover the roots of their destructive or disordered tendencies.

  • Teaching healthy coping and healing techniques to patients.

  • Analyzing behavioral patterns to provide a diagnosis.

  • Creating personalized treatment programs based on patients' diagnoses.

How to Become a Behavioral Therapist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for mental health counselors, including behavioral therapists, is rising by an impressive 22%, much faster than average. This is expected to result in the opening of 77,500 new positions through 2031. Check out our breakdown of how to become a behavioral therapist.


Get a bachelor’s degree:

Start your career as a behavioral therapist with a bachelor’s degree. You can specialize in social work, counseling or a related field, such as psychology.


Go for your master’s:

Most behavioral therapist positions require applicants to hold a master’s in social work or behavioral psychology degrees. You can consider online programs, but need at least some in-person clinical experience.


Gain experience:

The quickest way to gain practical experience is through an internship during your bachelor's or master's degree program. Register online with institutions or places like the Health Care Apprenticeship Consortium, which offers behavioral health apprenticeships.


Get licensed:

Behavioral therapists are legally required to be licensed by state as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LLPCC), Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP), Licensed Psychologist (LP) or equivalent.


Create a job-winning resume:

Now that you are ready to seek employment as a behavioral therapist, you will need a compelling resume to set you apart from competing candidates. Use our Resume Builder to quickly generate an industry-specific resume that you can save and use to apply.

You can also compare your resume to other behavioral therapist resume examples written by our team of certified resume writers. Match a cover letter with your resume; this allows the employer to learn more about your qualifications. Read a few cover letter examples to learn how job seekers describe themselves to potential employers.

Behavioral Therapist Skills

While having a comprehensive knowledge of human disorders and behaviors is a necessary behavioral therapist skill, many other factors are involved in successfully treating a patient. For example, as behavioral therapists, you must also be excellent communicators to thoroughly explore and examine a patient’s thoughts while keeping the patient as comfortable as possible. They must also stay up-to-date with the latest studies and findings to provide their patients with the best treatments.

Other key behavioral therapist skills include:

  • Strong organizational skills.

  • Ability to listen carefully to several patients daily.

  • Warm and compassionate demeanor.

  • Excellent understanding of the dynamics of human relationships.


Hard skills:

1Instrumental support skills refer to services and aid, like shelter and food, that are recommended according to unmet needs.
2Crisis counseling helps the therapist thoroughly assess and understand the patient’s capabilities.
3Action-oriented strategizing is a skill to help therapists identify the situation, anticipate its effects and help the patient create a plan.
4Case management skills help you prioritize and create a crisis intervention plan while ensuring safety.

Behavioral therapist soft skills:

1Active listening is essential to “read between the lines” and identify behavioral patterns and triggers.
2Emotional support skills are a therapist’s main tools to inspire trust and care.
3Empathy is a critical skill needed to understand patients' perceptions.
4Networking is vital to helping you develop your resources and team.
5Critical thinking skills are valuable in designing a personalized treatment course for each patient's evolving needs.
6Crisis intervention skills allow you to identify issues that affect the problems that are affecting mental health and enact steps to bring the patient back to a healthier lifestyle.
7Interpersonal skills empower you to work well with people, add credibility and help you be seen as trustworthy.

Insights From a Behavioral Therapist

In order to get an insider’s perspective on how to become a Behavioral Therapist, we talked to Dr. Harold Jonas, PhD, LMHC, CAP, a Behavioral Therapist as well as the CEO and founder of Recovery Coaches.

What is the common career path for Behavioral Therapists?

A Behavioral Therapist is not one specific job but rather a position where a person works in solo or group practices, hospitals, schools or social services centers applying the theory and principles of behavioral therapy in one of the following areas: substance abuse and behavior disorders, mental health or clinical and counseling psychology jobs. The level of education varies depending on the sector chosen, but all require at least a Bachelor’s degree, and many require a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate. Each state also has a licensing board. If you are just starting out and want to explore being a Behavioral Therapist – before spending tens of thousands of dollars on advanced degrees beyond a Bachelor’s – becoming a Recovery Coach for those recovering for alcohol and substance abuse is a great way to dip your toe in the water to see if you like it [and] to get experience without spending a lot of money.

What should someone consider before becoming a Behavioral Therapist?

Before becoming a Behavioral Therapist, ask yourself why you are doing it. If you want to do it to help people and for the common good of society, then move forward. If you want to make a lot of money, this is not the place to traditionally do it. If you want to move into human services you will be working for much less money. However, if you have a sense of idealism – and you are willing to sacrifice income potential to help others and for the greater good – this will be a very rewarding career choice for you.

What type of person excels in this job?

The person who excels as a Behavioral Therapist must have both empathy and sympathy, be attentive, a good listener, express compassion, often take the side of the underdog, be introspective, have good reasoning skills, be highly observant, and enjoy verbalizing ideas into action. They are good solution providers.

What are some of the most important skills for Behavioral Therapists to have?

The most important hard skills: If you want to make a living you can support yourself on and also be a decent service provider, you must have a sense of business acumen. This includes managing money, scheduling, handling complex insurance provider information, billing, budgeting and marketing. This is especially true for the solo behavioral therapist. [As far as] the soft skills: The type of person you are is important. Anyone can get multiple college degrees, but are you kind, empathetic, sympathetic, intuitive, logical and a good listener? The type of person you naturally are is very important. You must have high moral standards.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Behavioral Therapist?

The most rewarding aspect of being a Behavioral Therapist is having the opportunity to be a part of someone’s path to positive change in their life. There is no better feeling. For example, when a person comes back to me to make a follow-up appointment after a few months or a year away, and I see how they are healthy and doing very well in life, that feels good. It’s also great when your patients trust and have confidence in you as a therapist, enough to recommend you to others they know who may need help to make a behavior change in their life. When you start receiving referrals, this is a good feeling because you know you are truly helping others and they believe you can help bring about positive change in other people’s lives too.

How Much Do Behavioral Therapists Get Paid?

Depending on whether Behavioral Therapists work in a private practice, a health clinic, a hospital or another setting, they can be paid on either an hourly wage basis or an annual wage basis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Behavioral Therapists earn a median hourly wage of about $20 per hour, with the lowest-paid earning about $13 per hour and the highest-paid earning $33 per hour.

Top Ten States for Behavioral Therapist Salary

Behavioral Therapists in the following ten states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.













    New Jersey








    Behavioral Therapist Resources

    Professional Groups

    Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapists
    The ABCT was founded in 1966. It provides its members with professional and student resources, several journals, continuing education, an annual convention, webinars and an annual awards program.

    National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists
    The NACBT was founded in 1995. It provides its members with an online bookstore, a national conference, a Behavioral Therapist directory, certification programs, workshops, insurance discounts and a monthly newsletter.

    Behavioral Therapists on LinkedIn

    CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Networking for Therapists
    This group of over 32,000 members is designed to allow Behavioral Therapists to locate other practitioners, share resources, exchange advice and discuss current events.

    Beginning Counselor
    This group of more than 4,000 members is specifically geared towards new Counselors and Therapists who are looking for community, guidance and networking opportunities.

    Behavioral Therapist Books

    Core Competencies in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
    This guide for both new and experienced Behavioral Therapists goes over evidence-based practices, memorable treatment techniques, self-reflective skills, problem solving and more.

    The Making of a Therapist
    This book steps away from the technical and educational side of Behavioral Therapist training and instead focuses on emotional maturity, personal growth and self-insight. It includes practical advice on how to embark on your own inner journey as well as how to best help your patients.