Counseling

How Much Do High School Therapists Earn?

How Much Do High School Therapists Earn?
High school therapists have great employment prospects—the BLS projects that there will be 45,000 new jobs for child, family, and school social workers by 2026. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella March 19, 2020

Do you want to work in education and also be able to afford guac at Chipotle? Earn more than a teacher by becoming a high school therapist. You'll help kids develop coping mechanisms to adjust to school and to life.

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Nearly 4.4 million children in the US (ages 3 to 17) suffer from anxiety, according to the Center for Disease Control. Of those, 37.9 percent also have behavioral problems, and 32.3 percent have depression.

It’s not all bad news. Almost 80 percent of kids with depression receive treatment, and nearly 60 percent of those with anxiety do as well. Many receive their treatment from high school therapists, who help students address their mental health issues to perform better in school and ease the transition to adulthood.

People say not to get into education for the money, but school therapists can be well-paid. They may not earn as much as therapists in private practice—who can make six figures—or even physical therapists, but a school therapist can earn comfortable salary.

This is also (unfortunately for the kids) a growth field. Even though many children receive mental health treatment, the number of students suffering from major depressive episodes is increasing. Nearly 100,000 more students suffered from an episode this year than last. Based on trends, demand for high school therapists should grow.

Interested in learning how to maximize your high school therapist salary? In this article, we will discuss:

  • Types of high school therapists
  • How much does a school social worker earn as a high school therapist?
  • How much does a school psychologist earn as a high school therapist?
  • Education and licensure requirements for high school therapists

Types of high school therapists

Before discussing the formal training to become a school therapist, it is important to note that high school therapists and elementary school therapists have similar education requirements. In fact, you might find yourself answering to more than one school principal, since many therapists split time between primary and secondary schools.

There are two types of professionals that can be high school therapists: social workers and psychologists. Each of these vocations has different education requirements, salary potential, and even job descriptions.

School social worker

School social work is one of the 16 practice areas of social work. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), “School social workers are often the first to spot difficulties a child may be confronting at home or in the community and first to intervene and find services to stop more serious problems from developing.” With the proper clinical licensure, a school social worker can provide psychotherapy.

School social workers are in charge of:

  • Assessment
  • Intervention
  • Measurement
  • Recordkeeping

Assessment is a huge part of a school social worker’s career. If they determine that a student is at risk, the social worker might intervene to “enhance positive educational experiences,” according to the National Association of Social Workers. Additionally, these professionals must record, collect, evaluate, and share program data with other social workers. This process is vital not only for legal reasons but also to drive future improvement to school processes.

School Psychologist

According to Julie Richardson, a school psychologist writing for the US Department of Education blog, school psychologists are in charge of addressing both the emotional and academic needs of students. “If you are looking for a school psychologist, you may find them crouched in a corner calmly practicing coping strategies with a child in distress, celebrating with a student that overcame a fear, consoling a parent when they learn their child has a significant difficulty to overcome, or actively advocating for their students’ rights at a meeting,” said Richardson.

Some of the duties school psychologists are tasked with include:

  • Communicating with parents, teachers, and other professionals
  • Promoting good mental health practices throughout the school
  • Counseling and other direct intervention methods
  • Evaluating a school’s mental health and intervention policies
  • Helping special needs and at-risk students
  • Teaching healthy coping skills
  • Educating students and parents about healthy behaviors

Over 80 percent of school psychologists are employed by public schools. Alternatively, they might work in private schools, hospitals, clinics, post-secondary schools, and community agencies, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Though it is possible to find a job as a high school psychologist, many in this profession work with multiple grade levels—from addressing behavioral issues in elementary schools to substance abuse in high schools.

A note about school counselors

Laypeople tend to group high school guidance counselors and high school therapists together, assuming they perform identical roles. While counselors can be certified therapists, they don’t usually practice at school. They do work as career counselors and do help to address some behavioral issues that students have. However, for more severe programs, school counselors usually refer troubled kids to outside help such as family therapists or the school psychologist, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Some schools provide mental health counseling services through staff counselors. These counselors have a master’s degree in counseling, and may even be teachers themselves. Since they earn around the same as school social workers, we will not discuss counselors at length here. You can learn more about what school social workers and guidance counselors earn from this Noodle article.

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How much does a school social worker earn as a high school therapist?

If you are looking for a high-paying career, you might want to search somewhere other than social work. According to PayScale, school social workers earn an average yearly salary of $48,975, though those in the 90th percentile make just under $70,000. The 10th percentile earns just under $40,000.

Being a social work therapist does not necessarily mean that you’ll earn more. Social work therapists earn an average of $44,713, according to PayScale. This is similar to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s projections for child, family, and school social workers, who have median earnings of $44,380, with those in the 90th percentile earning $75,940, and the 10th percentile pulling in $28,520.

The only salaried social workers who average earnings over $90,000 are professors of social work ($96,638) and social work managers ($90,659). If you become a licensed clinical social worker, it is possible to start a private practice in which you can make as much as $223,000, according to ZipRecruiter, though the national average is $85,755.

How much does a school psychologist earn as a high school therapist?

On average, school psychologists earn $76,990 per year, according to US News and World Report. Those in the 75th percentile earn just over $100,000 per year, and the bottom 25 percent earn just under $60,000 per year. These numbers are slightly below the BLS’s salary estimate for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists, which lists median earnings at around $85,000.

PayScale lists the average school psychologist salary at about $60,000, with the 90th percentile earning roughly $90,000. If you are a clinical psychologist with a private practice, you can expect to earn $123,391 per year, on average. You wouldn’t technically be a school psychologist anymore if you decide to go this route, though you could still have high-school-age patients.

Where you live can greatly impact how much money you earn. Cities almost always pay more than rural areas. For instance, psychologists with a New York-based private practice earn an average of $134,948. The large salary might be partly to compensate for the higher cost of living. According to the BLS, the top-paying states for school psychologists are:
California ($94,910)
New York ($91,180)
Texas ($70,060)
Pennsylvania ($79,280)
Illinois ($76,150)

Education and licensure requirements for high school therapists

Education requirements for high school therapists depend on where you practice. Most states require school psychologists to earn a master’s degree (usually in psychology or educational psychology), but some places, such as Oklahoma, offer certification to those with just a bachelor’s in school psychology. Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology is not usually a requirement for entry into a graduate program, however. Your undergraduate GPA and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores are more important than your undergraduate field of study.

On top of general licensure, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) offers psychologists the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential. This is a potentially important step in your quest to become a high school therapist since, according to the website, “Many states and school districts accept or align their credentialing requirements with the NCSP, and some offer additional employment benefits for achieving highly qualified professional status.”

Though you can obtain NCSP certification without graduating from an approved school psychology program, it will be more challenging. Applications are only accepted twice per year. Endorsed programs include:

A master’s program generally takes one or two years of full-time study to complete—longer if you attend part-time. Some schools, such as the University of Alabama, offer an online master’s program for those who are trying to juggle their work and personal lives with school.

To maintain a NASP certification, all school psychologists must complete at least 75 hours of professional development every three years, though individual states might have additional requirements for license renewal. The highest level of education a psychologist can have is a doctoral degree, but this is certainly not a requirement to practice.

Social work

Per NASW guidelines, school social workers must hold at least a Master of Social Work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-approved master’s degree program in order to qualify for licensure, though each state sets its own qualifications for licensure. Some states might set their own field work requirements, for instance. The NASW provides a list of state requirements for anybody who is struggling to figure out what they need to do.

There are two licenses that a social worker can earn:

  • Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

The LMSW is considered social work’s initial license; it allows you to work under the supervision of an LCSW. Becoming an LCSW involves completing between two and three years of supervised work experience. Again, these requirements are set by your state. New York State requires “at least 3 years of post MSW supervised experience in diagnosis, psychotherapy and assessment-based treatment.” Having an LCSW allows social workers to open a private practice and also practice psychotherapy with a patient. You can certainly begin a career in school therapy as an LMSW, but being an LCSW is how you can reach your full potential.

In order to become a school therapist, your master’s degree should include a concentration in school social work. Approved programs with this concentration include:

Is a high school therapist career worth it?

High school therapists have great employment prospects. The BLS projects that there will be 45,000 new jobs for child, family, and school social workers by 2026. The same is true for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists, who are expected to have 23,800 more jobs by 2028. These numbers underscore not only an opportunity for jobs but also the need for mental health professionals that treat children. You can earn good money as a high school therapist if you play your cards right, but more importantly, you will be able to help meet a growing social need. In that respect, becoming a high school therapist is one of the most worthwhile vocations you can pursue.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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