Career Guide: Examining the Role of a Therapist

Career Guide: Examining the Role of a Therapist

The stigma surrounding mental health is slowly but surely being shattered, with more individuals beginning to recognize the need to prioritize mental health care and well-being. Across all age groups and demographics, there is a growing demand for therapists who provide individuals with an outlet, tools to help them cope, and an ability to better manage their mental health care needs.

According to the Health Resources & Services Administration’s Behavioral Health Workforce Projections, the demand for behavioral health care professionals will rise in the coming decade. By 2030, HRSA predicts that there will be a 13 percent increase in the demand for mental health counselors and therapists.

The growing need for experienced and thoughtful therapists combined with continued advocacy for improved mental health care services makes this an exciting time to consider your career opportunities as a therapist.

Understanding the Therapist’s Role

Before you enroll in a degree program that will prepare you for a career in the behavioral health field, you will want to fully understand the role of a therapist. A therapist is a professional who works with clients in need of counseling or mental health care. Their primary goal is to help their clients overcome the challenges they are facing in their lives. They spend time getting to know their clients on a personal basis and often offer advice or coping mechanisms to help clients better manage their feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, or depression. However, a therapist cannot prescribe medications.

There are several types of therapists, such as:

  • Cognitive Therapists
  • Marriage Counselors
  • Divorce Therapists
  • Family Therapists
  • Pediatric Therapists
  • Behavioral Therapists
  • Substance Abuse and Addiction Therapists
  • Trauma Therapists
  • Nutritional Therapists

Regardless of specialty, therapist responsibilities may include:

  • Developing trust with patients.
  • Diagnosing mental health disorders or conditions.
  • Providing regular counseling sessions.
  • Providing regular assessments about patient progress.
  • Referring patients to specialists when necessary or appropriate.
  • Maintaining strict confidentiality at all times.

To practice as a therapist, there are several therapist education requirements to consider. You will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field as well as a master’s degree in a behavioral health care program. Most states require therapists to be licensed professionals, which typically involves completing supervised clinical hours, as well as taking and passing an exam.

Exploring Specializations in Therapy

There are many ways to specialize as a therapist, allowing prospective students to combine their interests and passions with this growing career field.

The most common specializations in therapy include:


Anxiety disorders are on the rise, and therapists who specialize in this area can provide their patients with specialized care that treats not only the symptoms of anxiety but also the root cause.


Relationship therapy can focus on helping couples through difficult seasons in their relationships, or it can help families improve a bond. Relationship therapists may work with multiple clients concurrently to work toward a common goal.


Grief counselors work with clients experiencing loss in their lives. Some grief therapists work to help people through the initial stages of grief, while others work with clients processing a loss that happened a long time ago.


Trauma therapists help patients and their families understand the impact of trauma on their lives and work to improve the quality of their lives in the aftermath of trauma.


Pediatric therapists specialize in working with patients under the age of 18. Some child therapists work with young children who are experiencing trauma, loss, anxiety, or personality disorders, while others prefer to work with teens and adolescents who are working through those transitional periods of their lives.


Holistic therapists often use alternative treatments to help their patients overcome their struggles, such as art-based therapy or equine therapy.

You should consider several factors before you decide on your specialization. First and foremost, choose a specialty that aligns with your personal interests and passions. You also should evaluate any additional continuing education requirements that may be involved, and compare them with your long-term career goals.

Steps to Becoming a Therapist

These are the steps you will need to take before you begin practicing as a therapist:

Step 1: Complete the Necessary Educational Requirements

All practicing therapists will need to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree. The most common bachelor’s degree program for aspiring therapists is a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, as this degree program provides the foundational knowledge necessary for a dynamic career in therapy. However, a degree guide can provide you with more information about possible bachelor’s degree programs that align with your career goals.

The master’s degree or doctoral degree program that you complete will depend on your long-term career goal as a therapist. If you are hoping to specialize, you may choose a degree program that allows you to practice in that area. For instance, if you want to become a marriage and family counselor, you will likely have to complete a master’s degree program in marriage and family therapy. This degree program often takes about two years to complete.

Positive Psychology notes that graduates with a bachelor’s degree are likely four to ten years away from practicing as a therapist.

Step 2: Gain Practical Experience

After completing your graduate degree program, you will then need to gain practical experience in the field. This is usually done through internships, where you can work with patients under supervision and begin to develop the practical skills you’ll need in your role as a therapist.

Step 3: Complete Licensing and Certification Requirements

Licensing and certification requirements vary based on the state in which you intend to practice, but all therapists must be licensed before they can begin working with patients. The specific requirements for licensure will differ based on the type you are pursuing, but the process typically involves a background check, licensing exam, the purchase of liability insurance, obtaining certifications required for specializations, and committing to ongoing professional development.

Step 4: Focus on Continuing Education and Professional Development

When you take on the role of a therapist, you are also making a commitment to lifelong learning. Professional development and continuing education courses are required in order to maintain your license to practice, and they can help you further your career while keeping your professional skills sharp.

Skills and Personal Qualities of Successful Therapists

The skills and personal qualities that therapists need include:

  • Empathy
  • Active listening skills
  • Strong communication skills
  • Self-awareness
  • Patience
  • A non-judgmental attitude
  • Open-mindedness
  • Strong sense of ethics
  • Trustworthiness
  • A professional demeanor

Career Opportunities for Therapists

As a therapist, you may find employment in a variety of workplace settings. While many therapists work in an office as part of a private practice, there also are those who work in hospitals, clinical settings, schools, and even in other corporate settings as part of an on-site therapy program for workers.

The demand for therapists of all specialties is expected to increase in the coming years, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 6 percent growth in employment in the field between 2021 and 2031. While your salary will vary based on your position, the BLS notes that the annual median salary for a therapist in 2021 was about $81,000.

Tips for Building a Successful Career as a Therapist

You could build a successful career as a therapist by:

  • Networking while you are in school and developing professional relationships through your courses and internship programs.
  • Developing a specialization and learning how to build your brand as a therapist. Cater your services to appeal to the unique needs of your prospective clients.
  • Prioritizing continuing education. This will allow you to stay up to date about the latest industry trends, best practices, and advancements in therapy.
  • Taking care of yourself. You need to find time to do the things you love and enjoy to help avoid burnout, which can be common among those who care for others professionally.

Are You an Aspiring Therapist? Learn About Our Programs Today

The need for qualified, caring and empathetic therapists has never been greater. People of all ages are finding it difficult to cope with the complex and challenging world in which we live. If you are feeling called to this field, then Carson-Newman University can provide you with the support you need.

At Carson-Newman, you’ll develop and expand the skills needed to stand out in the job market. If you’re interested in learning more, connect with Carson-Newman today. We’ll help you prepare for a rewarding and dynamic career.

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