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Therapists salary & career outlook

As we all know, life isn't always easy. In fact, the ups and downs of modern living can be a tough pill for some to swallow. As a result, some people need to talk to a professional in order to gain some insight on the problems that they're dealing with. Fortunately, professional therapists have the ability to listen to problems, create viable solutions, and arrange treatment for mental and emotional disorders like anxiety or depression. As a therapist, you'll encourage your clients to be open and honest about the life experiences they may be struggling through and help them learn to cope with the issues that they're facing.

What therapists do

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, therapists actively listen to their clients' life situations and use their experience and expertise to help clients improve their lives (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). Although job duties can vary widely with each individual client, therapists typically perform the following job functions:

  • Encourage clients to share their emotions
  • Help clients cope with big life changes, such as job loss or divorce
  • Advise clients to make decisions that can improve their lives
  • Provide clients with the skills to cope with difficult situations
  • Diagnose and treat a variety of mental and emotional disorders

According to the BLS, therapists need to have compassion and strong listening skills in order to work with clients who are sometimes dealing with stressful and difficult situations (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). Therapists also need to be able to communicate effectively, since they often need to accurately describe their point of view in a way that their clients will understand.

How to become a therapist

In order to become a therapist, you'll need to earn a master's degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy. Students typically earn a bachelor's degree in a related field before entering a master's degree program in therapist schools.

According to the BLS, counselors and marriage and family therapists must also become licensed to practice. In addition to earning a master's degree, counselors are required to complete at least 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and pass a state-recognized exam in order to gain licensure. Individuals can contact the National Board of Certified Counselors for more information on licensing requirements in their state.

Licensing requirements for marriage and family therapists are similar, requiring a master's degree, two years of supervised clinical experience, and a passing grade on a state-recognized exam. Students interested in specific licensing requirements in their state should contact the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards for more information.

Therapist salary trends

The BLS reports that the national median wage for therapists was $46,670 in 2012 (BLS.gov/oes, 2013). BLS data also shows that the highest 10 percent of earners brought in an annual wage of $75,120 and the lowest 10 percent earned $25,540 nationally in the same year. The three industries reporting the highest annual mean wage for therapists in 2012 are as follows:

  • State government: $64,830
  • Local government: $57,090
  • Home health care services: $56,520

Where you decide to live can also impact your potential earnings. According to BLS data, the follow states reported the highest annual mean wage for therapists in 2012:

  • New Jersey: $67,870
  • Wyoming: $63,830
  • Hawaii: $62,630

Career outlook for therapists

According to the BLS, insurance carriers have been increasingly providing reimbursement to marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors as a cost efficient alternative to psychologists or psychiatrists. Therefore, the growth for this industry is skyrocketing, with employment of marriage and family therapists projected to grow by 37 percent from 2010 to 2020 (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). Employment of mental health counselors is also expected to grow at an exceptional rate, with employment projected to increase by 36 percent from 2010 to 2020.

However, just like with wages, employment opportunities can vary widely due to where you decide to live. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop (careerinfonet.org, 2012), the following states report the highest projected employment growth for marriage and family therapists between 2010 and 2020:

  • Georgia: 55.3 percent
  • Minnesota: 50.3 percent
  • Oklahoma: 48.5 percent

The following states report the highest projected employment growth for mental health counselors between 2010 and 2020:

  • Utah: 51.5 percent
  • Kentucky: 42.9 percent
  • Georgia: 41.3 percent

According to the BLS, marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors work in a wide range of industries and workplace settings, including individual and family services, outpatient mental health services, hospitals, state and local governments, and residential mental health facilities (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). It's important to conduct an appropriate amount of research before choosing a school where you can complete your therapist education online.