How to Become a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist – CBT Therapist Degrees [2024]

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?

Society needs CBT therapists because 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

How Do I Become a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Qualification Requirements

To become a cognitive behavioral therapist, one usually pursues training as a psychologist, which often involves obtaining a doctoral degree. However, individuals with careers as marriage and family counselors, substance abuse counselors, and social workers can also utilize CBT techniques, typically necessitating a master’s degree in a relevant field.

Undergraduate Education

The first step in building a career in this area is to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Although any bachelor’s degree can be a starting point, securing one in psychology, behavioral health, or counseling can potentially enhance your prospects for graduate school admission. It’s advisable to opt for an accredited school and program to lay a strong foundation for your career.

Though specialized undergraduate programs in CBT are uncommon, psychology degree programs frequently cover aspects of cognitive behavior therapy. You can further deepen your knowledge by taking certificate courses or attending workshops on CBT offered by various organizations. Furthermore, seeking internships in the field can provide hands-on experience.

Undergraduate 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 you with a strong foundation and a basic understanding about how the mind works. You should consider taking coursework in behavioral and cognitive psychology. This may include courses on learning, memory, and other forms of interpersonal psychology.

As a student, you may explore membership options in organizations such as the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) or the American Psychological Association, which could offer networking opportunities and more insights into the CBT field.

Graduate Education

After earning a bachelor’s degree, entry-level counselor positions may become accessible, but you will need to qualify for a license. The norm in the field is to hold a master’s degree, with programs encompassing fields such as psychology, clinical psychology, and behavioral psychology offering courses on CBT. These programs, available both on-campus and online, typically span two years, including opportunities for clinical practice through practicums or internships to meet licensing prerequisites.

Holding a master’s degree and obtaining the appropriate licensure opens avenues to work in varied settings such as schools, hospitals, and mental health clinics. To further elevate your career prospects, pursuing a doctorate in a relevant field can be advantageous, offering opportunities in private practice among other options.

Next step is to request more information from the accredited schools listed below:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Licensure and Certification

Licensing remains a fundamental requisite to practice in the field. Each state prescribes distinct licensing criteria, with specific licenses for different counseling professions who frequently employ CBT in their practice. To apply for a license, you will have to provide transcripts of your degrees and complete a minimum number of supervised service hours.

For psychologists specifically, licensure is governed by state boards, mandating a doctoral degree from an accredited institution and documented supervised work hours. The licensing process often encompasses background verification and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Beyond licensure, you have the option to seek specialty credentials in CBT through organizations such as the American Board of Professional Psychology and the National Board of Certified Counselors, enhancing your qualifications and potentially broadening your career prospects in cognitive behavioral therapy.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Qualified CBT Therapist?

Generally, it takes 6-8 years to become a qualified CBT therapist, including the time spent completing your bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, supervised experience, and obtaining licensure.

However, the exact time frame can vary depending on individual circumstances or any specific requirements in your state. Additionally, you may choose to obtain non-mandatory certification, which can take additional time.

Is It Hard to Become a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist?

Becoming a cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) can be challenging and require dedication, however, it can also be very rewarding, both personally and financially. The exact level of difficulty will mostly depend on factors like your educational and professional background, your motivation and dedication, and the specific requirements of the college program you are pursuing.

Typically, becoming a CBT requires a significant investment of your time and effort. You will be required to complete a number of academic and clinical experience requirements. You may also need to pass licensure exams or other assessments to demonstrate your practical knowledge and skills.

However, many people find the entire process of becoming a CBT to be worth it because they are passionate about helping others and making a positive impact in the world.

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 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.

As of January 2024, the average salary for cognitive behavioral therapists is $60,772 per year. More experienced therapists earn well over $90,000 per year.

CBTs working in Nebraska, California, Wyoming and Texas earn the highest average salary of $77,268, $76,482, $71,171 and $70,971 respectively.

That’s it! Now its time to request more information from the following accredited schools.

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