Clinical Therapist Careers

The Basics

None of us are immune to negative feelings from time to time. Experiences such as not wanting to go to work as a result of feeling sad or tired are both understandable and universal. However, there are some of us that are affected by negative feelings to a much greater degree. So much so that they begin to infringe on our daily lives. In addition, some of us are affected by mental conditions that thoroughly affect the way we think. In all these cases, a clinical therapist could help those in question cope with or even overcome their difficulties.

What Does a Clinical Therapist Do?

Clinical therapists come in two varieties – they may either be clinical counselors or clinical psychologists. Although these two jobs have many areas of overlap, they differ primarily in that clinical psychologists may work with a greater variety of patients and with patients dealing with more severe issues. For instance, clinical counselors often work with patients dealing with people who suffer from anxiety or depression. In contrast, clinical psychologists may work with schizophrenics and suicidal patients. The main duties of clinical therapists are to assess, diagnose, and treat patients. Assessment of patients typically consists of gauging what type of problems, if any, are affecting the patient. From there, clinical therapists carry out risk assessment and try to determine the severity of the situation.

Once they have a handle on the situation, clinical psychologists will attempt to diagnose the conditions that the patient presents based off of their behavior and other evidence, such as the behavior and symptoms described by the patient, the relatives, or other qualified individuals such as physicians. All this is done in accordance with the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Then, if needed, the clinical therapist will determine what plans of action are most appropriate for the patient and create a treatment plan for the patient. For example, a clinical therapist who has a humanistic approach might create a treatment plan that focuses on convincing a recent victim of a crime that the beliefs that they hold are false. A person that has gone through an ordeal like that might be convinced that they caused the crime to happen and that the event was their fault.

In the same vein, a clinical therapist with a background in mindfulness might create a treatment plan for someone afflicted by chronic stress that helps them calm down by focusing on the present or by using meditation techniques. Clinical therapists also create follow-up appointments. The frequency and number of these appointments varies heavily based on the effectiveness of the therapy being administered and the severity of the case. During these appointments, the clinical therapists continually assess the situation to see if further assistance is required.

Clinical therapists often work with age groups other than adults. For example, a child might need the services of a clinical therapist when he continually feels depressed, has been abused, or witnessed a crime. The methods employed when working with children are somewhat different. For instance, a clinical therapist might chose to use play-therapy to coax a child to begin sharing information. In addition, clinical therapists might work with elderly people. For instance, old men who have recently lost their spouses have a significantly higher risk of committing suicide than the average individual. Older people also often struggle with the prospect of dying and becoming unable to take care of their basic functions.

Why Do We Need Clinical Therapists?

Even if we ourselves aren’t affected by severe mental illnesses, our lives are influenced by those not equally fortunate. The effects of mental illness are not something that are limited to only those directly touched by mental problems. Even among less severe illnesses, such as anxiety, countless people regularly miss work as a consequence of their mental problems. As a result, the overall productivity of the nation is affected.

A husband stressed out by the demands of his job who does not have an established support system or a way to relax after work could turn to alcohol in search of respite. Over time, this habit could become destructive and thoroughly affect his entire family. All of these instances are examples of situations that are largely preventable by clinical therapists. Their work helps people to be more functional members of society and gives them relief from their problems.

Where Does a Clinical Therapist Work?

Clinical therapists have a wide range of career options to choose from. For instance, they could work for the government in places like social services, veteran’s affairs, schools, child services, and so on. Clinical therapists may also work for non-profit organizations, hospital, private practices, and corporations.

Although the field of clinical therapy may be wide, all of these positions have interacting with clients and partaking in psychotherapy at their core.

What are the Requirements to Become a Clinical Therapist?

Educational Requirements

As mentioned before, clinical therapists may be either clinical counselors or clinical psychologists. In addition, it is possible for clinical therapists to possess either a Ph.D. or a master’s level education. As clinical therapy is so diverse, so too are the programs that prepare students for this field of work. In general, however, no specific bachelor’s educations are required for entry into these programs though having a degree in a related field, such as counseling psychology, may provide students with benefits while they work towards their degrees.

Clinical therapy programs often place emphasis on teaching their students about the ethical and legal matters related to work in the field, various counseling theories and schools of thought, counseling techniques, the nuances of working with different subsets of the population, social and diversity issues, addition, mental health problems, how to conduct assessment, proper ways of diagnosing patients, and so forth. The foundational courses of these programs tend to be shaped around these topics. The length of these programs varies based on the level of degree being pursued. For instance, a master’s level education requires roughly 1-3 years to complete while a Ph.D. can take roughly 5-8 years to complete.

A Master’s Thesis introduces the student to research. The student chooses a mentor and graduate committee to guide him or her along, picks a topic, and finds an unanswered question in the literature. He or she designs and carries out a study to answer the question, writes a thesis reporting his or her findings, and reports the results to the graduate committee. When the required number of courses are complete and the thesis is accepted, the candidate is granted a Master of Science degree. A Master of Arts degree will provide much of the same knowledge, but will not necessarily require research and a thesis. A Master of Science is a good degree for students considering careers in research or academia, and a Master of Arts is more geared toward those headed for clinical work, but both indicate mastery of the subject.

There are two basic kinds of doctoral degree in psychology. The Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated Ph.D., is often the choice of those planning on careers in academia and research, although PhD’s can become excellent counselors as well. Doctor of Psychology, or PsyD, is frequently the choice of those planning on careers in health care. To obtain the Ph.D., students select a graduate advisor and graduate committee and carry out a research study, much like the Master’s Thesis, but generally in more depth. Once the graduate committee approves the thesis, the Ph.D. degree is awarded. PsyD programs are more clinically oriented and can include courses such as foundation clinical skills, ethics, and practicum, in which students have the opportunity to see patients in clinical settings. A thesis is also required but is not the main focus of the program.

Training Requirements

In order for a prospective clinical therapist to get licensed, they must make sure that the clinic where they’re being trained is approved by either the American Counselor Association or the American Psychological Association depending on whether that person wants to become a counselor or a psychologist. Typically, this year-long training is completed after the completion of theoretical training. During this period, the student therapists are working under the supervision of a licensed therapist.

Licensing Requirements

After their training period is over, future clinical therapists with a Ph.D. in Psychology must complete a national exam called the EPPP that tests their knowledge in every area of psychology, ranging from clinical psychology to developmental psychology and psychopharmacology to abnormal psychology. Only after all this training can they become licensed clinical therapists.

This process is much simpler for those who have just completed a master’s level education (i.e. counselor). The process of obtaining counseling licensure varies drastically from state to state for both levels of education. The specific tests and the amount of supervised work hours needed to have before applying are examples of things which frequently change from state to state. Before enrolling in a clinical therapy program, it is wise to investigate the requirements imposed by state boards for counselor licensure.

What is a Licensed Clinical Therapist?

Mental health professionals, such as clinical therapist, need to be licensed in order to practice their profession without the supervision of another therapist. A licensing number is a guarantee that a professional has received the proper theoretical and practical training to take care of people with mental health issues.

All of the strict licensing rules exist to protect both clients and therapists from potential harm. Poorly trained counselors can worsen the symptoms in people affected by many mental health problems. They may not, for example, be able to recognize that a patient has a high risk of suicide. It is important to make sure that clinical therapist have licenses before beginning any kind of treatment with them.

If a clinical therapist has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, it is possible for potential clients to make sure that the therapist is licensed by contacting the board of psychology in their respective state.

Licensed psychologists can counsel patients in hospitals, clinics, school settings, prisons, parole boards, physician’s offices, and private practice. They can teach and perform research in Universities. Some psychologists work as consultants or managers in industries and large organizations.

What Does it Take to Become a Clinical Therapist?

Therapists need to have excellent interpersonal and communications skills, and be able to interact with a wide variety of individuals from various cultures. Knowing a second language is valuable in many settings. Writing skills are important for documenting clinical work and writing grant proposals and journal articles. Therapists in private practice need business and accounting skills. Organizational skills are essential for keeping records accurate and up to date, and for time management.

There are many qualities that a good clinical therapist must poses. To name a few:

Accepting Towards Many Different Types of People

A clinical therapist must accept many different lifestyles that may be quite different from his or her own way of living. If a person would have a problem treating, for instance, a transgender individual, a drug addict, or someone from a certain ethnic background than becoming a clinical therapist is not a good career choice for him.

Ability to Tolerate Stress

Taking care of suicidal or deeply depressed patients can be highly stressful. The same is true for people that are dealing with eating disorders and schizophrenia. Many people can’t cope with the constant stress related to this line of work and start experiencing burn-out symptoms. This can accumulate to such a high degree that it causes counselors to abandon the profession entirely. A good clinical therapist knows how to take care of herself. For some, this means practicing meditation. For others, it might include seeing a counselor herself. Different methods work for different people but all good clinical therapist have learned how to cope with their stress.

Willingness to Never Stop Learning

Not only is constant education a requirement for the renewal of a clinical therapist license, but in order to remain competitive with other mental health professionals, therapists must constantly study about new ways of treating and diagnosing people. The base of knowledge for therapist is constantly evolving and professionals in this line of duty have an obligation toward their patients to remain current on new information. This can become a burden if a clinical therapist doesn’t genuinely enjoy studying.

Mentally Healthy

Many people who suffer from various mental problems themselves may feel tempted to study psychology in order to gain greater understanding of their problems and help direct them towards possible solutions. This is a mistake. In order to be able to help their patients, a clinical therapist needs to be as mentally healthy as possible. Everyone suffers from occasional blues or minor anxieties, but having major mental health issues makes it tremendously more difficult for clinical therapists to help other people.

Good Listener

Many clinical therapist students do not know the difference between being a good listener and giving advice. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is simply to listen without judgement, advice, or interruption. For some people, this ability comes naturally, while many students of clinical therapy struggle for a long time in order to truly master how to listen to others. Sometimes, ignoring your own urges can a considerable challenge. Although not necessary since the skill can be learned over time, a person who possesses the natural ability to listen to others is likely to succeed as a clinical therapist.

What are the Disadvantages of Being a Clinical Therapist?

The work of a clinical psychologist can be extremely stressful. Dealing with the problems of patients can become overwhelming, especially if the patients aren’t making notable progress or act in dysfunctional ways. In addition to being a rather stressful career, the training to become a clinical therapist is both long and expensive. Even after completing the arduous process of becoming a counselor, the salaries offered within this field are often rather mediocre considering other careers with similarly difficult and long educations.

How Much Does a Clinical Therapist Make?

There is no easy answer to the question of how much a clinical therapist makes because the answer depends a lot on the training of a clinical therapist, the amount of experience he has, and the setting he works in. In general, however, clinical therapists with a Ph.D. in Psychology tend to make more than those who hold a masters in counseling make the least amount of money. Also, clinical therapists working in the private section typically earn more than those who work in public settings such as hospitals.

As of May 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with a masters in counseling on average make about $54,590 per year, whereas those with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology on average make about $87,450 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that the incomes of clinical therapist varies significantly depending on the state they’re working in. Therapist working in Florida, New York, and Canada tend to earn the largest salaries while those working in Utah, Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina hold the smallest salaries.

What is the Job Outlook for Clinical Therapists?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a clinical therapist with a Ph.D. in Psychology can expect to see a growth of about 14 percent from 2018 to 2028 in the amount of jobs available in his field.

What Careers are Similar to Clinical Therapy?

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse

A person who enjoys both nursing and mental health issues might want to look into a career as a psychiatric-mental health nurse. These mental health professionals can diagnose and assess the mental health needs of various patients. They don’t typically treat more severe mental health issues, such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar disorder, but they can offer therapy to patients with less severe mental health problems such as depression or stress related issues.

Those looking to become psychiatric-mental health nurses need to get a nursing diploma, associate of science in nursing, and a bachelor of science in nursing. Then they must specialize in psychiatric nursing. It is also possible to get a master’s and a PhD. in this field.


It is also possible to aim for a better salary and become a medical doctor specialized in taking care of mentally ill patients. This kind of training gives you the right to give prescription drugs, such as antidepressants, to your patients and also offers a significantly better salary.

As of May 2014, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychiatrists make about $180,000 per year. However, many psychiatrist don’t give therapy to their patients and mainly focus on the psychopharmacological treatment of mental problems. Also, the road to become a psychiatrist is long. First, after pre-medical studies, someone looking to become a psychiatrist must spent years in medical school. After that, they must spend roughly four years in residency to specialize in psychiatry.

Related Reading

Campus Type:
Matching School Ads
Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved. Program outcomes can vary according to each institution's curriculum and job opportunities are not guaranteed. This site is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional help.