Types of Degrees for Different Therapy Careers

Man talking with therapist in therapy
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Have you always dreamed of becoming a therapist or working in the field of mental health? If you are pursuing your undergraduate degree in psychology, you've probably considered the possibility of a career in therapy.

While clinical psychology is the largest area of employment within the psychology field, it's important to understand that this is just one of the many options that are available. A doctoral degree (PhD) in clinical psychology is an excellent career path for some students, but it's not the only choice.

There are other degree paths that can help prepare you to work in the field of mental health and psychotherapy. Some require a doctorate while others offer options at the master's level.

Clinical and Counseling Psychologist

The traditional PhD in clinical or counseling psychology is one of the most common options for people interested in a career in mental health therapy. An alternative to the PhD is the PsyD.

The PsyD is a newer doctoral degree option with a greater focus on professional practice than the more research-focused PhD. Alternatively, psychiatrists are doctors who work with clients using a more medical or clinical approach. A psychiatrist has a medical degree (MD or DO).

Students pursuing this career path often begin by earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, then moving directly into a doctoral training program. Some further their education by completing a master's degree, then pursuing a Ph.D. or Psy.D.

Professionals in this type of role sometimes specialize in a particular area. Options include geriatrics, learning disabilities, substance abuse, and adult mental health.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median salary for clinical psychologists as of May 2021 was $79,510.

Licensed Social Worker

People who work in this role often perform psychotherapy with a wide range of clients, although many choose to specialize in a particular area. For example, some prefer to work mainly with children while others work primarily with adult populations.

In addition to psychotherapy, social workers often act as advocates for their clients. They also help connect the clients with available resources within the local community or get them in touch with programs offered on a state or national level.

Licensed social workers typically hold at least a master's degree in social work. Most master's programs can be completed in two years, but some allow students to earn their degree with one year of post-undergraduate study.

The BLS reports that, as of May 2021, the median annual salary for social workers was $50,390 per year.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists treat mental disorders and psychological issues. But instead of working with just the individual, they work within the context of families and relationships.

Most marriage and family therapy educational programs require two years of graduate study. This study is focused on a variety of topics, including marriage counseling, family therapy, child psychotherapy, and professional ethics.

The BLS reports that this profession has a "much faster than average" growth rate of 16%. This would equate to the addition of 12,000 new positions in this role before 2030.

The median annual salary for marriage and family therapists as of May 2021 was $49,880 per year, according to the BLS.

Licensed Professional Counselor

Licensed professional counselors often assess people experiencing mental distress, perform individual and group therapy, and assist clients who are facing crisis situations. Thus, these professionals can work in a variety of areas and settings within mental health.

Educational requirements vary by state. However, most states require at least a master's degree in counseling in addition to supervised experience in the field and the passing of a state licensing exam.

Graduate programs for counselors usually include coursework in human development, counseling theories, counseling techniques, cultural and social issues, professional ethics, and assessment methods.

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for mental health counselors was $48,520 per year in May 2021.

Licensed School Psychologist

School psychologists apply their knowledge of psychological principles to education-related issues and problems. They often work with students who have academic, psychological, or social problems.

School psychologists also collaborate with other educational professionals as well as parents. They work together to manage the student's classroom behavior, help students cope with crises, or counsel those experiencing substance use issues.

While the vast majority of school psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools, other options exist. State agencies, private clinics, and hospitals also sometimes employ these professionals.

Requirements vary by state but most necessitate a doctoral or specialist degree in school psychology. Doctoral degrees often take five to six years to finish, while specialist degrees like the EdD often take around three years to complete. Many states also require a supervised internship as part of the licensing process.

According to BLS data, the mean annual salary for school psychologists as of May 2021 is $82,770 per year.

Creative Arts Therapist

Creative arts therapists are mental health clinicians who use creativity and art to treat psychological disorders and mental distress. These professionals include art therapistsdance therapists, music therapists, and drama therapists—all of whom help clients by promoting self-awareness, aiding in communication, and improving overall well-being, among other goals.

Training and requirements can vary depending upon the area of specialization. For example, dance/movement therapists must hold a master's degree and document 2,400 hours of clinical employment (at least 1,800 of these hours need to be paid, while 600 can be volunteer) to become board certified.

The minimum requirement to become an art therapist is a master's degree in art therapy or a master's in counseling or a related field, along with additional coursework in art therapy.

Professionals in creative arts therapies often work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, private practices, and schools. Salaries can vary depending on factors, such as experience, training, location, and specialty areas.

The BLS does not provide salary information for creative therapists specifically. However, it does provide a mean annual wage for "other" therapists—which is where this type of role would fall—and it is $65,030 per year as of May 2021.

Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse

Advanced practice psychiatric nurses (APRNs) are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses. In many states, APRNs can also prescribe medications, similar to a nurse practitioner.

If you are interested in working in this role, you can start by earning an associate's or bachelor's degree. You may also choose to earn a graduate degree in psychiatric and mental health nursing.

Most training programs require 2000 hours of clinical practice. Professionals are also expected to take ongoing continuing education to ensure that their knowledge and skills are up to date.

The BLS reports that nurse practitioners working in psychiatric facilities earn an annual mean wage of $131,830 as of May 2021.

15 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Psychological Association. What is the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers?.

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

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  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Social workers. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Marriage and family therapists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

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  8. National Association of School Psychologists. School psychology: A career that makes a difference.

  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational employment and wages, May 2021: 19-3034 school psychologists. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.

  10. Dance/Movement Therapy Certification Board. Board Certified Dance Movement Therapist (BC-DMT) Applicant Handbook.

  11. American Art Therapy Association. I want to become an art therapist! How do I know what education I need?.

  12. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational employment and wages, May 2021: 29-1129 therapists, all other. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.

  13. American Psychiatric Nurses Association. Common questions about advanced practice psychiatric nurses.

  14. American Psychiatric Nurses Association. Frequently asked questions about psychiatric-mental health nurses.

  15. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational employment and wages, May 2021: 29-1171 nurse practitioners. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."