Child (Pediatric) Behavioral Therapist – Career, Salary & State Licensure

Before the pandemic, an estimated one in five children in the US struggled with mental health or a learning disorder. While research is just starting on the outcome of kids’ mental health post-pandemic, it is clear that for lots of kids there has been a significant negative impact. The 2021 addition of the Child Mind Institute’s “Children’s Mental Health Report,” found that 37 percent of teen respondents said the pandemic made their mental health worse. However, research also shows that kids are resilient, adaptable and able to cope with stress and changes in health ways. 

Regardless of the cause, millions of children need pediatric mental or behavioral support. The most prevalent illnesses are anxiety, depression, behavior disorders, ADHD, and eating disorders. Child behavior therapists are essential to catching these illnesses early on and providing effective treatment that can go a long way in helping kids and teens grow to be well-adjusted adults.  

Child behavior therapists are mental health counselors or marriage and family therapists who specialize in treating children and adolescents. They have earned master’s degrees in their field and have specific education and training on how to help young clients. 

Professionals in this field can diagnose mental illnesses, write treatment plans, provide therapy, and collaborate with family members and other professionals. While there is no certification or license specifically for child behavior therapists, many may choose to pursue certification in child-centric treatment methods such as play therapy through the Association for Play Therapy (APT).   

Between 2020 to 2030, there is an anticipated 23 percent growth in jobs for all mental health counselors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This demand for counselors is driven by new laws that have mandated coverage for mental health treatment and an overall increased emphasis placed on the importance of mental health. On average, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn $53,490 per year (BLS May 2021). 

It takes time and dedication to become a child behavior therapist, but this field is growing rapidly, and according to the CDC, there are not enough providers to help all the kids who need it. 

Continue reading to learn the steps it takes to enter this rewarding profession, as well as state licensing requirements.

How to Become a Child (Pediatric) Behavioral Therapist

There is not a standard certification or license for child behavior therapists. To practice in this field, most professionals become licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs). Becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist can also be an option. If pursuing this career via licensure as a mental health counselor, this is one possible pathway:

There is no standard certification or license for child behavior therapists. To practice in this field, most professionals become licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs). Becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist can also be an option. If pursuing this career via licensure as a mental health counselor, this is one possible pathway: 

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or completing a GED is the first step towards becoming a child behavioral therapist. Students who wish to pursue this career should focus on classes such as social sciences, psychology, English, and child development. Volunteering or working with kids can help provide early experience and training as well. 

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Earning a bachelor’s is an essential step as the majority of master’s programs require applicants to have already completed an undergraduate degree. There are not very many counseling master’s programs that are specific to children, so undergraduate studies are an excellent time to gain the experience and education needed. 

Prospective child behavior therapists can major in child-centric programs such as child development or education, although this career can be pursued with most social science degrees including counseling, psychology, sociology, and social work.  

Step 3: Obtain an Advanced Degree (Two to Eight Years)

A master’s degree in counseling or a related field is required for licensure in all 50 states. There are very few master’s in child and adolescent counseling, so students should look for programs that offer elective courses or practicums and internships focused on children. 

Programs should be at least 48 semester-credits long, although many states require counselors to complete 60-credit programs. Most states have specific coursework requirements, as well as a stipulation that the program be accredited. Accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) typically meets all the coursework, internship, and practicum requirements set by states, as well as being a stamp of approval of a high-quality program.

Step 4: Apply for Initial State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

While not required in every state, it may be necessary to obtain provisional, intern, or associate licenses. These licenses are issued post-education, but before completing the required supervised work experience. To apply, candidates will need to submit official transcripts, an application, an application fee, and often pass a background check. 

Step 5: Complete Supervised Practice (Two to Three Years)

Supervised work experience is required to become a child behavior therapist in every state. The number of hours can range from 1,500 on the low end to 4,000 on the high end. Often, these hours must be earned while holding a provisional, intern, or associate license at a licensing board-approved workplace. Child behavior therapists can complete these hours working with children and adolescents to gain the necessary specialized work experience. 

The hours earned must meet specific requirements such as supervision and direct client contact. Counselors are required to maintain careful documentation. Advanced degrees such as a doctorate or additional post-graduate education can reduce the required hours. 

Step 6: Pass State Licensing Exam (Timeline Varies)

Passing a licensing exam is a required step in every state. The exam required varies by state, with some states even allowing applicants to choose which exam they complete. The most common exams required are:

  • National Counselor Examination (NCE) from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
  • National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
  • Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC)

Jurisprudence exams, ones that test an applicant’s knowledge of laws and regulations related to mental health counseling, are required in many states as well. 

Step 7: Apply for State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

A license as a mental health counselor (or marriage and family therapist) is required in all states. Candidates must meet education, testing, and work experience requirements. Applications often must include official transcripts, notarized forms, application fees, letters of recommendation, verification of work experience, and test scores. As requirements vary by state, candidates should familiarize themselves with their local board standards.

What Do Child (Pediatric) Behavioral Therapists Do?

Child behavioral therapists work in private clinics, government agencies, social services, hospitals, and outpatient or residential clinics. Job duties vary based on experience and place of employment, but typical daily duties include:

  • Meeting one-on-one with young clients
  • Evaluating the mental health of clients
  • Providing mental health diagnoses
  • Developing treatment plans to address clients’ concerns and issues
  • Educating family members, teachers, or caregivers about a client’s issues and providing them with tools to help the client succeed at home and at school
  • Referring clients to other service providers such as doctors, psychiatrists, behavior analysts, or social workers
  • Maintaining client records
  • Assisting with insurance billings

How Much Do Child Behavioral Therapists Make?

Child therapists fall under the category of mental health counselors or marriage and family therapists. Wages vary based on job title, license or certification held, and place of employment. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021), child therapists working as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn $53,490 per year on average. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $30,870
  • 25th percentile: $38,520
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,520
  • 75th percentile: $61,660
  • 90th percentile: $77,980

Child Behavioral Therapist Professional Associations & Resources

  • Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling (ACAC)
  • Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology 
  • Association for Play Therapy
  • Child Mind Institute
  • National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
  • American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)

Licensing & Certification Requirements By State for Child (Pediatric) Behavioral Therapists

State Licensing Authority Eligibility & Details Renewal Requirements
Alabama Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling (ABEC)

Child therapists in Alabama must fulfill the requirements to become Associate Licensed Counselors (ALCs) or Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC).

To be licensed as an ALC, candidates must:

  • Have completed a master’s degree from a CACREP or CORE accredited school of at least 60 semester-hours or 90 quarter-hours. The program must include a 100-hour practicum, 40 of those hours must be direct client contact as well as one hour of direct supervision and 1.5 hours of group supervision per week, and a 600-hour internship with 240 hours of direct client contact along with 2.5 hours of supervision a week and at least one hour of individual supervision per week.
  • Submit three letters of recommendation, two of which must be from supervisors.
  • Provide official school transcripts to the ABEC board.
  • Submit a proposed plan of supervision for work experience including names of supervising counselors, goals for the supervision, and strategies to meet those goals.
  • Complete an application for an ALC license.
  • Pay the $200 application fee.

In order to progress from an ALC to LPC, candidates must:

  • Complete 3,000 hours of supervised work experience, Of those 3,000 hours, 2,250 hours must be direct service hours and 750 of indirect service hours. All hours must be under the supervision of a supervising counselor.
  • Pass a national counselor exam such as the NCE.
  • Submit three recommendations, two from supervisors from the work experience.
  • Complete and submit an application to the ABEC board.
  • Pay $200 application fee

If graduate coursework beyond the master’s is completed, candidates may subtract 1,000 hours of supervised work experience for every 15 graduate semester-hours or 22.5 quarter-hours of coursework directly related to counseling. (A minimum of 1,000 hours of work experience is required, regardless of the number of credits earned.)

In Alabama, ALC or LPC licenses expire every two years. To renew a license, counselors must:

  • Complete continuing education units through approved providers such as the NBCC or CRCC. ALCs must complete 10 hours, two of which must be in ethics, and LPCs must complete 40, six of which must be in ethics.
  • Pay a $300 renewal fee
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about counseling careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.