How to Become a Child Therapist

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A child therapist’s important work is distinctly different from therapy for adults. It addresses issues unique to the child relative to their developmental stage in life, creating strategies that can lead to an improved sense of well-being. This means that becoming a child therapist often requires more specialized training. To underline the role’s importance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “treating a child’s mental health problems as soon as possible can help children reduce problems at home, in school, and in forming friendships.”

Child therapist working with a client and sitting at a table.

Individuals considering this line of work should first understand how to become a child therapist. Before embarking on this journey, they should also have a full context of what child therapists do, how they do it and the credentials necessary to determine if they will be a good fit.

While aspiring child therapists have many milestones to achieve before working in this field, an advanced degree is integral to ensure an understanding of the full context of child therapy.

What Does a Child Therapist Do?

Typically, child therapists treat school-age children, ranging from 5 to 18 years old. Child therapists offer support and treatment for clients, addressing behavioral issues that range in severity, either through a voluntary process or a requirement due to a precipitating event at school, for example. The role can also vary depending on the setting, as child therapists may work in a school district or in private practice, each of which offers unique workplace dynamics.

A child therapist’s responsibilities may include:

  • Assessing their client to see what they will focus on treating, such as anxiety, behavior disorders or depression
  • Utilizing a combination of strategies that include training with the parent to support the child at home
  • Holding sessions with both the child and their parent or guardian, as well as doing individual sessions with the child
  • Equipping children with coping strategies for going through school more independently while also ensuring they have support if needed

Depending on a client’s age and developmental level, child therapists may utilize a variety of methods or tools to address their mental health needs. For example, they might use play, storybooks or drawing for younger children. Adolescents, however, are often more able to articulate their problems and work directly with their therapists on skills to address them.

Steps to Become a Child Therapist

While regulations for how to become a child therapist vary by state, there are some fundamental requirements that must be met, including advanced education, licensure and internships.

Meet Educational Requirements

Students should complete a bachelor’s degree and a relevant master’s degree to qualify to become a counselor. While an undergraduate program can provide foundational knowledge in psychology or counseling, a graduate program such as a Master of Arts in Counseling can give students the advanced knowledge needed for success as child therapists. Graduate coursework will likely cover client assessment, diagnostic skills and supporting multicultural clients, among other relevant topics.

Complete an Internship

An internship is a critical requirement for becoming a child therapist. Internships usually take place during an advanced degree program and can last several months or a few years, depending on the number of hours required by the licensing state. These opportunities provide students with supervised hands-on experience to practice what they have learned and work to improve in a controlled environment before setting off on their own.

Gain Licensure and Certification

The final step in the process is to gain licensure. Expectations here will vary depending on the state, and prospective therapists should research their state’s requirements before applying. However, states often have reciprocity agreements, wherein a licensed therapist can gain licensure in a second state without having to take an exam again unless the original license has lapsed. Graduates can also complete certificate programs to gain more specialized knowledge in certain treatment methods.

Child Therapist Salary

The median salary for a child and family therapist was approximately $45,000 per year as of February 2022, according to PayScale. This can fluctuate depending on location, education level, amount of relevant professional experience and the organization in which the therapist works.

Make a Difference in the Lives of Others

A child therapist’s work is unique and crucial to the well-being and development of their patients. Those interested in becoming child therapists are required to obtain specialized education and credentials to pursue this career path.

The University of North Dakota’s online Master of Arts in Counseling with an emphasis in K-12 School Counseling, as well as the Post-Graduate Certificate in K-12 School Counseling, can help prospective child therapists prepare for the role. With courses such as Assessment in Counseling and School Counseling and Program Management, the University of North Dakota’s counseling programs can give students the specialized training to support children through different life phases. Explore the Master of Arts in Counseling and become part of this fulfilling field.

Recommended Readings:

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Counseling?

How to Become a School Counselor

What Is Community Mental Health?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Mental Health: Behavior Therapy

Houston Chronicle, “Requirements for a Child Therapist”

Indeed, “How to Become a Child Therapist”

PayScale, Average Child and Family Therapist Salary

VeryWell Family, “Understanding the Major Types of Therapy Used with Kids”