Career Profile: Cognitive Behavioral Therapist

Skills and Education Requirements

Hispanic woman at therapy session
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A cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) practices a form of therapy for mental health or psychotherapy that helps patients identify and correct negative or destructive thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors. Cognitive behavior therapists help treat many different problems including:

Cognitive and behavioral therapists often use short-term therapies that teach clients the techniques and skills they need to heal successfully. They often focus on the thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors that a client engages in and the ways in which these are connected to one another, allowing the therapist to work on various levels in a client's life.

Educational Requirements

A master degree in social work or psychology is required to become a cognitive behavioral therapist. A bachelor degree is a prerequisite to enter a master program in clinical or mental health counseling. Most counseling programs prepare students to specialize in clinical counseling, marriage, and family counseling or CBT counseling.

Mental health counselors must be licensed in the state where they plan on providing counseling services. Most states require 2,000 to 4,000 supervised hours of clinical experience and passing a state or national examination before licensing is approved. You can find additional information on licensing from the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Qualities of Mental Health Counselors

CBT counselors have certain characteristics and key strengths that they use in their practice including:

  • Empathy and Compassion. Counselor and therapists work with people who have complex emotional problems which can be stressful and difficult. Having empathy for your clients is a critical part of building a successful therapeutic relationship.
  • Excellent Listening Skills. Counselors spend most of their time listening to their clients and helping them understand their goals and values while solving problems. Active listening is essential.
  • Strong Organizational Skills. Good organizational skills are necessary particularly if you plan to start your own therapy practice. You'll need to keep track of payments, schedules and insurance companies.
  • Communication Skills. Working with people from many different backgrounds, cultures and belief systems, you'll need to be able to effectively develop a rapport with diverse groups of clients and be sensitive to their various needs and styles of communication.
  • Good Relationship-Building Skills. Not only do you need to develop a trusting relationship with your patients, but you also may be helping them repair broken relationships of their own. The ability to successfully navigate the complexities of relationships is essential.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for cognitive behavioral therapists with a master's degree is expected to grow faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Projected growth for cognitive behavior therapists is expected to increase by 37 percent through 2020. Marriage and family therapists may use CBT as part of their treatment, and growth in that field is anticipated at 41 percent.


The BLS reported the median average wage of mental health counselors was $ $45,080 as of May 2015. Those in the lower 10 percent made $26,300 while those in the top 90 percent made $68,790.

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