You may have already decided that you want a career with a purpose, and you're hoping to make the best use of your abilities to be patient and compassionate. A career in therapy is an excellent way to capitalise on those skills and to truly make a difference in people's lives.
If you're wondering how to start your career in this field, be aware that most therapist jobs require an undergraduate degree. Many also require postgraduate work, internships, and licensing. It can be an intense commitment, but the good news is that there are many kinds of therapy careers to follow. You can combine your desire to help others with your expertise in subjects like music, philosophy, and exercise to find the perfect job.
Read on to learn more about the different types of therapist careers and see which one suits you the best.
Average salary: $82,510
Probably the most common form of therapy falls under the job of a psychotherapist. Day-to-day duties usually involve regularly scheduled and strategically directed discussions with patients who have emotional problems or barriers. To succeed in this position, psychotherapists must be patient and attentive listeners who help clients continually examine their feelings and actions, cope with mental illness or past trauma, and repair damaged or difficult relationships.
There are different types of psychotherapists, but most require a postgraduate degree in the field and experience in some form of counselling. Psychiatrists, who can prescribe psychotropic medication, need a medical degree.
2. Play therapist
Average salary: $47,940
If you enjoy working with children and are skilled at communicating in a way they understand, then a career as a play therapist may be for you. These therapists engage in different types of creative play to give children a familiar medium to express and work through difficult emotions and situations. Play therapists use specific activities like drawing, storytelling and puppet shows to help children improve communication, problem-solve and constructively adapt their behaviour.
Play therapists typically have a master's and are credentialed by national organisations like The Association for Play Therapy and the British Association of Play Therapists. A PhD will allow you to progress into an academic research role.
3. High-intensity therapist
Average salary: $48,520
High-intensity therapists use rigorously tested methods to help those with complex issues related to anxiety and depression. This can include conditions like obsessive-compulsiveness, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress (PTSD). CBT therapists typically use cognitive behaviour therapy, a solution-oriented method that helps patients identify, challenge, and change irrational or unhelpful thought patterns.
Like many therapist careers, you'll need a relevant bachelor's degree to apply to postgraduate training. While experience in social care and psychology is also advantageous.
4. Speech therapist
Average salary: $79,060
Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists, help treat and prevent speech and swallowing disorders in both children and adults. These conditions may be the result of a wide range of causes, including stroke, brain injury, cleft palate, or developmental delay. Speech therapists help patients to strengthen necessary muscles, to improve their voices and fluency, and expand their vocabulary and grammar knowledge.
Speech therapists often work with an entire treatment group that includes physicians, surgeons, physical therapists and social workers. You may prefer to specialise in an age group or particular speech problem.
5. Physical therapist
Average salary: $79,060
While several therapist careers focus on helping with mental health, there are other forms of therapy. Patients who have suffered an injury, illness, or chronic condition often require physical therapy to regain function and mobility. Physical therapists (PTs) use exercises, stretching, and hands-on manipulation of limbs, joints, and muscles to help rehabilitate patients and mitigate their pain. They also guide patients in the temporary or permanent use of assistive devices like crutches and wheelchairs.
Education requirements can vary by country, with some requiring postgraduate degrees. To be successful in this role, you’ll also need good communication, interpersonal, and teamwork skills to pursue a career as a physical therapist.
6. Massage therapist
Average salary: $46,910
Massage therapists use repetitive motions to manipulate a client's muscles and other soft tissue to relieve pain and stress, improve circulation, and help heal injuries. They may work independently or as an employee of a spa or health provider. Massage therapists often combine their treatment with chiropractors and physical therapists.
Like many jobs in beauty, the calm, soothing, safe environment that massage therapists create for clients often leads to a secondary role as confidante and counsellor.
7. Drama therapist
Average salary: $47,940
Do you have a drama degree and love interacting creatively with others, but never quite caught the acting bug? If the answer is ‘yes’, then this could be the perfect time for a career change. Earn a masters in drama therapy, and you'll be able to use your empathic, improvisational and collaborative skills to help patients work through emotional and social problems.
As a drama therapist, you'll use role play, puppetry, storytelling and other dramatic techniques to foster communication, emotional release and empathy. These methods help improve the psychological health of clients with learning and physical disabilities, emotional disorders and behavioural issues.
8. Occupational therapist
Average salary: $85,570
Occupational therapists help injured, ill or disabled patients improve or recover the skills they need for mobility and completing everyday tasks and activities. They assign stretching and exercise activities to improve movement and relieve pain and assist patients with modifying their environment to accommodate their ability level.
As an occupational therapist you can focus on helping patients overcome or adapt to physical limitations. Alternatively, emphasis can be placed on teaching coping mechanisms and life skills to patients with mental health issues. Whatever speciality you choose, you'll need a master's in occupational therapy for this challenging role.
9. Art therapist
Average salary: $64,063
Viewing works of art can inspire an emotional reaction, which has been highly regarded as a great healing method. As an art therapist, you'll get to delve deeply into those thoughts and meanings, helping people use artistic activities to express difficult emotions and work through their problems.
If you want to use your creative abilities to become an art therapist, you'll also need some advanced study in psychology. Even if your country of employment doesn't require a postgraduate degree (as the US and UK do), it's important to get training and experience by incorporating proven psychological techniques within your therapies.
10. Music therapist
Average salary: $47,940
When you're trying to find the right career, it's important to choose a job that combines your natural abilities and personal fulfilment. A love of music could lead you to a song-writing or performance-based endeavour, but if your joy comes from affecting and enriching others' lives, a career in music therapy could be for you.
Most people can think of times when music inspired, soothed, or gave them confidence. University-educated, credentialed music therapists help troubled, disabled, and mentally ill patients achieve those desired effects with carefully selected songs and activities. As a music therapist, you can help hospitalised patients reduce pain, assist autistic children with communicating and lessen dementia effects in older adults.
Average salary: Variable
Putting a patient into an alternate state of consciousness to bypass their usual defences and reprogram ingrained habits, can seem as much magic as medicine. The practice does have proven effects and is used to help patients with pain management, anxiety disorders, phobias, addiction, and even medical issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
Despite the large number of practising hypnotherapists, trained and certified by professional organisations like the National Council for Hypnotherapy and the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis, the field is still considered one of the more experimental types of therapy. Many hypnotherapists are self-employed, so income can vary widely depending on the area, number of clients, and affiliations with other health providers.
12. Exercise therapist
Average salary: $53,037
Along with improving health and fitness, exercise has added benefits like reducing stress and honing analytical thinking skills. This makes it a perfect activity for both types of therapy, physical and mental, though regimens must be precisely tailored to suit a patient's needs. To ensure that the process is effective, exercise therapists typically earn a degree in counselling as well as a master's in exercise or movement therapy.
Exercise therapists often work in hospitals or physical therapy clinics, where they'll closely collaborate with a patient and their doctor to find an exercise plan that aligns with their physical and emotional limits. Alternatively, they work at a gym, assisting clients with stress and self-esteem issues, or from private practices.
13. Existential therapist
Average salary: $59,500
If you're looking for therapist careers with a more unique perspective, this could be the job for you. Existential therapists combine psychology and philosophy to assist patients who suffer from emotional problems. With a focus on personal fulfilment, they try to help patients see past societal pressures and accept distressing but unchangeable truths like unfairness, human failings, and death.
Rather than treating issues like depression as an illness or disorder, existential therapy encourages personal responsibility. As an existential therapist, your goal is to teach your patient how to confront the fear, helplessness and negative motivations that led to their current emotional predicament and make better choices in the future.
14. Marriage and family therapist
Average salary: $49,880
Many types of therapy focus on the individual, but a marriage and family therapist focuses on couples and the family unit even when treating an individual. These therapists may counsel couples through major life changes, job loss, relationship problems, or divorce. They address dysfunctional family relationships that can cause stress or other emotional issues for individual members.
Like many types of therapy careers, marriage and family therapists typically earn a master's in the field or a related subject like psychology or psychotherapy. You'll also need extensive training through an apprenticeship or internship. Volunteering at hospitals, charities, or counselling services is also useful preparation.
15. Sex therapist
Average salary: $56,010
Despite the sometimes-extreme portrayals on TV and in film, sex therapy is not that different from other forms of therapy. Sex therapists use psychoanalysis and other forms of talk therapy with both individuals and couples to resolve relationships and intimacy issues. They may deal with sexual problems related to previous abuse, cultural differences, hormonal disorders or low sexual desire.
Sex therapists can also operate in an educational role, providing workshops and seminars on topics like healthy sexual expression, sexual harassment, and LGBTQ issues. They often work out of a private practice, but can offer their educational and counselling services at corporations, schools, community events, and various health centres.
16. Behavioral therapist
Average salary: $48,520
Behavioral therapists help individuals who are struggling with specific patterns of behavior. Their role includes diagnosing specific behavioral issues and working with their patients to change those behaviors or patterns by working through past, present, and future situations and scenarios to help them overcome or step forward to a new way of thinking and behaving.
These therapists may focus specifically on cognitive-behavioral therapy in order to achieve desired results, taking the time to evaluate how the thoughts and beliefs of their patient influence their actions and behaviors.
17. Radiation therapist
Average salary: $82,790
This therapist treats patients through radiation therapy; they use their skills to shrink or eliminate non-cancerous or cancerous tumors. Usually, to receive this type of treatment, you have to be referred to it by an oncologist. While radiation therapists are not doctors themselves, they are part of oncology teams administering treatments and monitoring patients’ conditions.
18. Respiratory therapist
Average salary: $61,830
People with lung conditions or respiratory issues will typically see a respiratory therapist. The respiratory therapist will assess and examine the patient in order to come up with a medical plan for them to address their condition. Respiratory therapists work alongside doctors and nurses, treating patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly.
19. School therapist
Average salary: $60,510
A school therapist does exactly what the title would suggest; they work on a school campus providing assistance to students. These therapists spend their time ensuring students’ emotional and educational needs are met. Sometimes, this includes connecting students with resources outside of school. Working with students at this level can be an extremely challenging, but endlessly rewarding career.
20. Addiction therapist
Average salary: $48,520
Addiction therapists spend their time examining the mental health and physical wellbeing of their patients while helping them overcome substance abuse issues. They have knowledge in various kinds of addictions, including alcohol, drug dependency and gambling and they work with patients to create an appropriate treatment plan for them and offer them support through counselling and therapy sessions.
As you can see, there are many different types of therapist careers to choose from. Whether you are more interested in helping with physical or mental issues, prefer to work with individuals or want to heal others through a shared experience in the arts, there is a therapy job out there for you.
Have you discovered a different therapist career not mentioned here that you'd love to know more about? Join the discussion below and let us know!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 12 September 2019 and contains contributions by staff writer Shalie Reich.