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The Business of Practice

What is a Behavioral Health Therapist?

Behavioral health therapists assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, phobias, and addiction. They work in both public and private sector settings, including hospitals, clinics, schools, and private practices. Their clientele typically span all age ranges, from children, to adolescents, to adults.



Behavioral therapists use different techniques to help their clients modify their problematic behaviors and develop new, healthy ones. In this article, we’ll discuss the role of a behavioral therapist, job descriptions for different types of behavioral therapy, and the career paths available to behavioral therapists.

What is a Behavioral Health Therapist?

What is Behavioral Therapy?

First things first–let’s define behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing problematic behaviors and beliefs using different techniques and strategies. It is distinct from other therapy modalities in several ways:

  1. Emphasis on Observable Behaviors: With an emphasis on observable behaviors rather than underlying thoughts or emotions, strict behavior therapy focuses on identifying and modifying problematic behaviors. Behavioral assessments are generally used to identify these behaviors and track change.
  2. Use of Evidence-Based Techniques: Behavioral therapy leverages evidence-based techniques. In addition to behavioral change, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) also address an individual’s maladaptive thoughts and dysregulated emotions. CBT and DBT help clients develop new coping skills, challenge negative thoughts, and improve their functioning.
  3. Collaborative Approach: Behavioral therapy involves active participation from both the therapist and the client, with the therapist identifying and developing strategies for problematic behaviors and implementing them. Clients are also encouraged to practice new skills outside of therapy sessions.
  4. Time-Limited Treatment: Behavioral therapy is often time-limited, involving several sessions rather than continuing perpetually. This restraint helps drive focus on specific goals, encouraging quick progress. The number of prescribed sessions varies depending on the severity of the symptoms.
  5. Emphasis on Concrete Goals: Concrete, measurable goals are always enlisted to help clients stay motivated as they track progress over time, such as reducing the frequency of panic attacks, increasing social engagement, or improving sleep habits.

Job Descriptions for Different Types of Behavioral Therapy

Below are examples of job descriptions for types of behavioral therapy, with each representing a different type of modality:

  1. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapist: ABA therapists help clients (usually with developmental disabilities) to modify problematic behaviors and develop adaptive behavior. This change is commonly brought about using interventions with reinforcement. ABA therapy does not target problematic thoughts or emotions. And, ABA therapists use discrete trial training, naturalistic teaching, and functional communication training.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Therapist: CBT therapists work with clients to identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors, leveraging techniques such as exposure therapy, behavioral activation, and cognitive restructuring.
  3. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Therapist: DBT therapists treat clients with emotional dysregulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal issues, helping them regulate their emotions and develop healthy coping skills through mindfulness, tolerating distress, and emotion regulation.

Career Paths & Salaries for Behavioral Therapists

Below are some general career paths for behavioral therapists:
  1. Private Practice: Behavioral therapists can establish a private practice if they want to work independently, setting their schedules and rates. To establish a private practice in the United States, behavioral therapists must be licensed to practice independently in their state. Starting a private practice requires significant business acumen and entrepreneurial skills: to be successful, you need to have a solid understanding of accounting, marketing, and client retention strategies. You must also be able to manage your finances and comply with the legal and ethical standards of the profession.

    The salary for behavioral therapists in private practice can vary widely depending on reputation, location, clientele, credentials, and experience level. Salary.com says the average Behavioral Health Therapist salary is $63,791 as of February 27, 2023, ranging between $57,393 and $79,025. 

  2. Clinical Director: Behavioral therapists can rise to become clinical directors, overseeing the operations of mental health clinics. Clinical directors are responsible for managing the clinical staff, ensuring that the clinic's policies and procedures comply with state and federal regulations, and overseeing the clinic's budget.

    To become a clinical director, behavioral therapists must have several years of clinical experience and a graduate degree in a related field, such as clinical psychology or social work. They also need excellent leadership skills and the ability to juggle multiple tasks and priorities.

    Salary.com shares that the average Behavioral Health Director salary in the United States is $133,925 as of February 27, 2023, with the range typically falling between $112,836 and $153,980. The pay scale varies depending on the size of the clinic and the region.

  3. University Professor: Behavioral therapists can become university professors and teach psychology, counseling, or behavioral health courses. University professors typically have significant research experience on top of their Ph.D. or Psy.D.

    To become a university professor, behavioral therapists must have a solid academic record, a passion for research, excellent communication skills, and the ability to engage students in the learning process.

    The salary for university professors can also vary widely depending on their level of education, the type of institution they work for, and their field of expertise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for postsecondary psychology teachers was $85,050 in May 2020. However, professors with advanced degrees and research experience can earn significantly more.

  4. Researcher: Behavioral therapists can also pursue careers as researchers and conduct studies. They may work for government agencies, universities, or private research organizations.

    To become a researcher, behavioral therapists typically have a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in a related field and a strong research background. They must also have excellent analytical skills and the ability to design and execute research studies.

    The salary for researchers in the field of mental health can vary widely depending on their level of education, location, the type of research they conduct, and the institution they work for. According to ZipRecruiter, as of March 22, 2023, the average annual pay for a Behavioral Scientist in California is $83,418 a year. However, researchers with advanced degrees and significant research experience can earn more.
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  5. School Counselor: Behavioral therapists can also work as school counselors and provide counseling services to students in primary and secondary schools. School counselors help students with various mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems. They also work with teachers and parents to support the student's academic and emotional needs.

    To become a school counselor, behavioral therapists must have a graduate degree in counseling or a related field. They must also have a license to practice as a counselor in their state and have experience working with children and adolescents.

    The salary for school counselors can also vary widely depending on their level of education, the type of school they work for, and their location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for school and career counselors was $58,120 in May 2020. 

As the demand for mental health services continues to grow, so does the need for trained and qualified behavioral therapists. Pursuing a career in behavioral therapy can be rewarding for those interested in helping others improve their mental health and well-being.

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