How to Become a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT)

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy that is designed to help patients correct thought patterns that are causing them distress, or thoughts that are impeding their ability to function in everyday society. Negative thought patterns could contribute to low self-esteem, relationship issues, and more serious mental health disorders like anxiety or depression. A cognitive behavioral therapist is someone who works with patients in a one-on-one setting (generally). They can essentially “re-wire” a person’s thought patterns through various therapeutic techniques.

Cognitive behavioral therapists spend a large portion of their time researching cognitive. More times than not, they choose a particular thought process to focus on. For instance, one cognitive behavioral therapist might focus on learning disability while another might focus on memory.

They generally focus on one of there things: teaching, treatment, or research. More specifically, they will treat patients suffering from chronic mental conditions, teach other aspiring cognitive behavioral therapists (usually at universities), or participate in cutting edge research to figure out how the mind works.

What Does a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Do?

Cognitive behavioral therapists take a strategic, practical and solution-focused approach to helping clients. Much of the therapist’s work involves teaching clients to solve problems by modifying negative or faulty thinking, feelings and behaviors. Unlike other approaches, the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and client is one of ongoing collaboration. Through this process of collaboration the therapist and client will discover patterns of thinking that can impact feelings and behavior.

Cognitive behavioral therapists use techniques such as homework, behavior experiments, thought records and exposure. Homework is an essential activity that the therapist chooses for the client to do between sessions. Homework allows the client to engage in an activity on his/her own that encourages the use of a skill or exploration of feelings, thought patterns or actions. Homework also serves as a bridge to the next session and builds autonomy.

Behavioral experiments (BE) are planned experiential learning activities that give the client an opportunity to try a specific activity in a controlled manner. BE’s are designed to test beliefs. They are powerful tools that help the client process information on both a cognitive and emotional level. These are not just “go home and try it out” activities. The cognitive behavioral therapist has to have sufficient training in developing and implementing these experiments.

Thought Records are a common and often used technique. Thought records serve as a way to document and test the validity of thoughts. They allow the client to examine evidence from a logical perspective.

Exposure activities are used to address problems such as anxiety and avoidance coping. They can take a variety of forms but the goal is to reduce the unwanted response through a series of defined steps. Some exposure activities are done in the office. Others can be done as homework.

Regardless of the specific strategy, the most important tools for the cognitive behavioral therapist are training and good empathic listening skills. CBT is a dynamic modality requiring active engagement by both the client and the therapist.

Why Does Society Need Cognitive Behavioral Therapists?

In short, they allow individuals to overcome mental obstacles. Use memories as an example. The majority of people don’t think twice about memories- they’re simply there, and have always been there. Think about how upset you might be if you lost your memory. Fortunately, cognitive behavioral therapists are equipped with the skills needed to help an individual suffering from memory loss reclaim their memories. Individuals who suffer from phobias often rely on cognitive behavioral therapists to overcome extreme fears.

Related: Becoming a Behavioral Psychologist

Where Do Cognitive Behavioral Therapists Work?

Cognitive behavioral therapists can secure employment at a wide range of facilities. But this really depends on their specialty. Those who work on treating patients will generally find work at a mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapists who teach can find work at universities and while therapists who focus on research can acquire work at research facilities. Depending on the entrepreneurial spirit of the cognitive behavioral therapist, they may choose to start their own private practice. In doing so, they’ll work on analyzing and treating patients and may even serve as consultants during court cases.

What are the Requirements to Become a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist?

Education

Earning a standard four-year degree, or a bachelor’s degree, is the primary step associated with becoming a behavioral therapist. This degree doesn’t necessarily need to relate to the mental health field, but studying fields that relate to social work and/or psychology can definitely provide students with a strong foundation and a basic understanding about how the mind works. Individuals who are interested in becoming a cognitive behavioral therapist should consider taking coursework in behavioral and cognitive psychology. This may include courses on learning, memory, and other forms of interpersonal psychology. While having a bachelor’s degree in mental health might increase your chances of getting into the graduate program of your choosing, there are plenty of graduate schools that will admit students (for behavioral therapy) who only have a general bachelor’s degree.

For students aspiring to become a cognitive behavioral therapist, you must have a minimum of a master’s degree in mental health (or at the very least, a master’s degree in a medical-related field). Students are encouraged to obtain a doctoral or master’s degree in fields such as psychiatry, counseling, psychology, or social work from a school that has regional accreditation. The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, or the NACBT, endorses these strategies.

It’s important to note that only a handful of therapists discontinue their education after earning a master’s degree. To further increase their status, knowledge, and opportunities, most continue their education and receive a Doctorate degree. For individuals who are serious about making a career out of cognitive behavioral therapy, a Doctorate degree is highly recommended.

Training

CBT training is specialized training for aspiring cognitive behavioral therapists. This training is required before the individual is permitted to apply for their certification. There are many established training courses that have been approved by the NACBT. One of the more notable ones is a certificate in rational-emotive therapy as well as cognitive behavioral therapy. The Albert Ellis Institute provides this certification.

Related: Becoming a Behavioral Counselor

The Academy of Cognitive Therapy requires that candidates have a minimum of 40 hours of specific education in their specialized field (cognitive therapy). Training programs offered by recognized and reputable cognitive behavioral institutes are generally very intensive, and focus on advanced training for treating a variety of mental health disorders.

Before applying for a training course in cognitive behavioral therapy, the majority of institutes will require that you have a pre-specified amount of supervised cognitive therapy time under your belt. The exact experience requirement will vary from institution to institution. For instance, the NACBT requires that students have at least six years of post-mater’s experience in cognitive therapy. Practitioners who have a minimum of 10 years of experience might qualify for the Diplomate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Another institute, the Academy of Cognitive Therapy (or “ACT” for short) requires candidates to have at least a single year of clinical experience with a minimum of 10 patients.

Licensing

After obtaining a minimum of a master’s degree, students should apply for a state license. While there is no licensing body specifically for cognitive behavioral therapists, the majority if certifying institutes will require that the student hold a license in their field of practice.

What is the Salary for a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist?

The salaries associated with cognitive behavioral therapy, like most career paths, will range depending on experience, geographic location, and educational background. In general, the average cognitive behavioral therapist should expect to earn around $75,000 to $80,000 per year (assuming that you’re situated in a busy metropolitan city and have a Doctorate’s degree. In 2010, the average mean salary for individuals in this career path was about $86,510. For therapists with only a Master’s degree, and who reside in rural areas, the average income dips to about $50,000 per year (simplyhired.com).

Those who took on teaching positions after their careers earned an annual salary of about $74,320. Finally, those who worked in scientific research centers earned, on average, between $100,000 and $110,000 annually. This goes to show that pay structure can very dramatically depending on where you are employed as a cognitive behavioral therapist.

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