How to Become a
Behavioral Therapist

Female therapist holding a therapy ball and talking to a child

If you’ve been thinking about pursuing a career as a Behavioral Therapist, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide contains essential information such as educational requirements, necessary skills, average salaries and more.

What Does a Behavioral Therapist Do?

Behavioral Therapists work with both individuals and groups of people to diagnose and treat mental disorders and problematic behaviors. Behavioral Therapists can work in a variety of settings, including private practices, schools, mental health clinics and hospitals.

In addition to being able to identify and diagnose a wide range of disorders and unhealthy thought patterns, Behavioral Therapists must also constantly tweak and customize their approach in order to best meet the needs of each patient. Common Behavioral Therapist duties and responsibilities include:

  • Correctly identifying destructive feelings, thoughts and behaviors in patients

  • Monitoring patient progres

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

  • Teaching healthy coping and healing techniques to patients

Behavioral Therapist Skills

While having a comprehensive knowledge of human disorders and behaviors is a necessary Behavioral Therapist skill, there are many other factors involved in successfully treating a patient. For example, Behavioral Therapists must also be excellent communicators so that they can thoroughly explore and examine a patient’s thoughts while simultaneously keeping the patient as comfortable as possible, and they must also stay up-to-date with the latest studies and findings in order to provide their patients with the best treatments available.

Other key Behavioral Therapist skills include:

  • Strong organizational skills

  • Ability to carefully listen to several different patients every day

  • Warm and compassionate demeanor

  • Great understanding of the dynamics of human relationships

How Do You Become a Behavioral Therapist?

Education and Training

According to our analysis of online job postings, most employers are looking for Behavioral Therapists with a master’s degree in mental health, psychology, behavioral science or a related field. A small amount of employers accept candidates with only a bachelor’s degree, usually when seeking Behavioral Therapists to work with autistic or developmentally disabled children. So, unless you are exclusively interested in working with special needs children, earning a master’s degree as well as a bachelor’s degree will significantly widen your job options.

Additionally, potential Behavioral Therapists are legally required to be licensed by the state as an LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor), LMHP (Licensed Mental Health Professional), LP (Licensed Psychologist) or equivalent. For more information on obtaining licensure, click here.

Finding a Job

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for Mental Health Counselors, which includes Behavioral Therapists, is rising by an impressive 19 percent. This is expected to result in the opening of 31,400 new positions through 2024. A portion of this rapid rise in demand can be attributed to more people having mental health services covered by their insurance companies.

Before starting your job search, you’ll need to have an excellent resume on hand. Check out JobHero’s library of Behavioral Therapist resume samples for fresh ideas.

Once your resume is completed, conduct an online job search to find open positions in your area. However, before you start sending out applications, consider preparing a cover letter to include with your resume. A good cover letter will convey your personality, work ethic, reasons for applying and special areas of expertise to prospective employers. Take a look at our cover letter samples for help crafting yours.

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.

    Alaska

    $28.92

    Idaho

    $24.96

    Wyoming

    $24.73

    Maine

    $24.25

    Utah

    $23.76

    Arkansas

    $23.61

    New Jersey

    $23.46

    Oregon

    $22.97

    Arizona

    $22.60

    Nevada

    $22.24

    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.