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What Level of Education Do You Need to Be Considered a Therapist?

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Therapist is a broad term for a variety of physical and mental health occupations. Physical and respiratory therapists help people recover from injuries or diseases, and mental health therapists help people with psychological issues. Therapists of all types are licensed on the state level, and licensing typically includes both educational and experience requirements. A graduate level education is required to practice as a school therapist or a clinical therapist such as mental health counselor or family therapist, and you must be licensed to practice psychology or call yourself a psychologist or psychotherapist.

Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field is a prerequisite for any type of therapist position. Most psychology undergraduate programs include core courses in social, behavioral and clinical psychology, as well as other social science courses, statistics and other electives.

Master's Degree

Those with a master’s degree in psychology can find employment as industrial psychologists, school psychologists, mental health counselors or family therapists. Master’s holders can also be employed as psychological assistants in clinical or research settings if supervised by a licensed doctoral-level psychologist. Typical courses in a psychology master's degree program include industrial-organizational psychology, advanced statistics, clinical practice and research design.


Counseling/clinical and research psychologists are generally required to have a doctoral degree. You can undertake a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology -- Psy.D. -- doctoral program. A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree that typically requires a qualifying exam and an original, research-based dissertation. Clinical and counseling Ph.D. programs often include a one-year internship after graduation. The Doctor of Psychology degree, on the other hand, is a clinical degree and usually involves practical work with clients and examinations rather than a dissertation.


You must have a state license to practice as a psychotherapist or psychologist. Licensing laws vary by state, but in most cases licensing as a mental health counselor or family therapist requires a master's degree, at least 2,000 hours of supervised practice and passing a state-approved exam. Clinical and counseling psychologist licensing typically requires a doctorate in psychology, an internship and/or a year or two of professional experience and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. School psychologists also have to be licensed.

Occupational, Physical and Respiratory Therapists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapists need at least a master's degree in occupational therapy to qualify for state licensing. Physical therapists must also have a master's or doctorate in physical therapy to earn a license to practice. Respiratory therapists usually have an associate's or a bachelor's degree, and some states require a national certification for licensing.