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Therapy Degrees

The PhD, PsyD and Other Alternatives

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An image of a therapist at work.

There are a number of different degree options that can lead to careers in therapy and mental health.

Image by Marcin Balcerzak/iStockPhoto

Have you always dreamed of being a psychotherapist or working in the field of mental health? If you are pursuing your undergraduate degree in psychology then you have probably at least considered the possibility of a career in therapy. While clinical psychology is the largest area of employment within psychology, it is important to understand that this is just one of the many options that are available. The Ph.D. in clinical psychology is a great option for some students, but it is definitely not the only choice out there.

The following are some of the degree paths that will allow you to work in the field of mental health and psychotherapy. Some require a doctorate degree, while others offer options at the master's level.

Clinical and Counseling Psychologist

The traditional Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. is the Psy.D., a newer doctoral degree option has a greater focus on professional practice than the more research-focused Ph.D.

Students pursuing this path often begin by earning a bachelor's degree in psychology before moving directly into a doctoral training program, although some students do opt to first earn a master's degree prior to pursuing a Ph.D. or Psy.D.. Professionals in the field sometimes opt to specialize in a particular area such as geriatrics, learning disabilities, substance abuse, or adult mental health. CNN Money reports that the median salary for clinical psychologists in 2009 was $81,000.

Licensed Social Worker

Licensed social workers typically hold at least a master's degree in social work. People who work in this field often perform psychotherapy with a wide range of clients, although many choose to specialize in a particular area. For example, some choose to work with children while others opt to specialize in working with adult populations.

In addition to psychotherapy, social workers often act as advocates for their clients and help connect them with other resources in the community. Most master's programs can be completed in two years, but there are some programs that allow students to earn their degree with one year of post-undergraduate study. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary for social workers was $42,480 in 2010.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists treat mental disorders and psychological issues within the context of families and relationships. Most marriage and family therapy programs require two-years of graduate study focused on a variety of topics including marriage counseling, family therapy, child psychotherapy, and professional ethics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that individual and family services as well as outpatient services are the two largest areas of employment for marriage and family therapists. The median annual salary in May 2010 was $45,720.

Licensed Professional Counselor

Licensed professional counselors are professionals who work in a variety of areas in mental health. Requirements vary by state, but most require at least a master's degree in counseling in addition to supervised experience in the field and the passage 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 techniques. Licensed professional counselors often assess people experiencing mental distress, perform individual and group therapy, and assist clients who are facing crisis situations. The median annual salary for mental health counselors was $38,150 in May of 2010.

Licensed School Psychologist

School psychologists apply their knowledge of psychological principles to education-related issues and problems. The professionals often work with students who are struggling with academic, psychological, or social issues. They also collaborate with other educational professionals as well as parents to manage classroom behavior, help students coping with crisis, or counsel those struggling with substance abuse issues. While the vast majority of school psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools, state agencies, private clinics, and hospitals also sometimes employ these professionals.

Requirements vary by state, but most necessitate a minimum a master's or specialist degree in school psychology, which typically take two to three years to complete. Many states also require the completion of a supervised internship before licensure. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, starting salaries for school psychologists employed in school settings range between $47,880 to $67,070.

Creative Arts Therapists

Creative arts therapists are mental health clinicians who utilize creativity and arts to treat psychological disorders and mental distress. These professionals include art therapists, dance therapists, music therapists, and drama therapists. Using these creative methods, therapists are able to help clients by promoting self-awareness, aiding in communication, and improving overall well-being among other things.

Training and requirements can vary depending upon the area of specialization. For example, dance/movement therapists must hold a master's degree and complete a supervised internship of 3640 clinical hours in order to work in private practice. The American Art Therapy Association suggests that the minimum requirements to become an art therapist are a master's degree in art therapy or or a master's in counseling or a related field with additional coursework in art therapy.

Professionals in the creative arts therapies often work in a variety of settings including hospitals, mental health clinics, private practice, and schools. Salaries can vary depending upon a factors such as experience, training, location, and specialty areas. For example, Payscale.com suggests that art therapists can earn anywhere from $29,000 to $63,000 per year.

Advanced Psychiatric Nurse

Advanced psychiatric nurses are professionals trained to assess, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses. If you are interested in working in this field, you need to start by earning a bachelor's degree in nursing. According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, many nurses then choose to earn a graduate degree in psychiatric and mental health nursing.

Most training programs last for a minimum of 16 to 24 months and professionals are expected to take ongoing continuing education to ensure that their knowledge and skills are up-to-date. Payscale.com reports that salaries for psychiatric nurse practitioners range between $62,622 and $117,584 per year.

References:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm

CNN Money. (2009). Clinical Psychologist: Best Jobs in America. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bestjobs/2009/snapshots/23.html

Payscale.com. (2012, May 30). Nurse Practioner (NP) Salary. Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Nurse_Practitioner_(NP)/Salary

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