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Therapy Degree Programs – Information and Resources

Overview of Therapy Degree Programs

Therapy is a practice in which professionals try to alleviate or improve a patient’s problem using a variety of techniques. Problems that may be addressed by therapy include medical conditions, physical injuries and mental health issues. If you decide to become a therapist, you can choose from many different specialties, including physical therapy, recreational therapy, respiratory therapy, massage therapy and marriage and family therapy. All of these careers vary according to their salary, work environment and other characteristics.

Salaries Information for Therapists

The exact salary you can expect to earn as a therapist depends on a number of factors, including the nature of your position, level of education, years of experience and location. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, various types of therapists can expect to earn the following approximate annual salaries.

Massage Therapist – $35,970
Respiratory Therapist – $55,870
Physical Therapist Assistant – $39,430
Recreational Therapist – $42,280
Marriage and Family Therapist – $41,500
Physical Therapist – $79,860

Work Environment for Therapists

The work environment you can expect as a therapist differs considerably based on the specialty you choose. For example, physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, recreational therapists and respiratory therapists typically work in hospitals, nursing care facilities and physician offices. Marriage and family therapists work in outpatient care centers, nursing facilities and individual and family services facilities. Finally, massage therapists usually work in spas, private offices and fitness centers.

With the exception of massage therapists, all of these professionals usually work full-time. Massage therapists often work by appointment, so they have a more flexible schedule than other types of therapists. Professionals working in the hospital can sometimes expect long or irregular hours, but many therapists work during business hours only.

Job Outlook for Therapists

The demand for new therapists in all of these specialties is growing at a faster-than-average rate. According to data published by the BLS, the number of job openings in the average United States profession will increase by 11 percent from 2012 to 2022. However, the rate of expected increase for job openings in therapy is as follows.

Massage Therapist – 23 percent
Respiratory Therapist – 19 percent
Physical Therapist Assistant – 41 percent
Recreational Therapist – 13 percent
Marriage and Family Therapist – 29 percent
Physical Therapist – 36 percent

Therapy Degrees by Level

Postsecondary Certificate – Massage Therapist

A massage therapist is a professional who provides therapy by manipulating the body’s soft tissues with hands or instruments. Massage therapy can relieve stress, alleviate pain and improve mobility.

To become a massage therapist, you must complete a postsecondary certificate program in massage therapy. In order to qualify for a massage therapy program, you must typically have a high school diploma or equivalent degree.

Massage therapy programs vary, but most require at least 500 hours of study and experience. Common topics covered in massage therapy certificate programs include:

•Kinesiology
•Anatomy
•Physiology
•Massage Techniques
•Business Management

Most massage therapy certificate programs include a combination of classroom study and clinical experience. According to the BLS, 44 states and the District of Columbia currently require massage therapists to be licensed before they can practice. To become licensed, you must typically complete an approved massage therapy program and pass an examination.

Associate’s Degree – Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists are professionals who provide care to patients who have trouble breathing. Typical responsibilities include examining patients, conducting diagnostic tests, developing treatment plans and administering treatment.

To become a respiratory therapist, you must obtain an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy. However, some employers may prefer applicants who have a bachelor’s degree, so you can further your education, if you want a more competitive resume.

You can typically complete an associate’s degree program in this field with two years of full-time study. If you decide to complete a bachelor’s degree, however, you will need to dedicate at least four years to obtaining your degree.

Curricula vary by program. However, most respiratory therapy programs will include the following courses:

•Medical Terminology
•Therapeutics
•Airway Management
•Pharmacology
•Cardiac Physiology
•Respiratory Disease
•Life Support
•Cardiac Diagnostics
•Pediatric Care

All of the courses above will be taught in the context of respiratory therapy, as opposed to general medicine. Bachelor degree programs typically cover the same topics as associate degree programs, but they cover each topic more thoroughly. Depending on the program, you may also need to complete general education requirements in order to graduate.

Associate’s Degree – Physical Therapist Assistant

A physical therapist assistant works under the direction of a physical therapist to help patients manage pain as they recovery from injuries or medical conditions. Responsibilities include observing patients, helping patients perform exercises and administering various treatments.

To become a physical therapist assistant, you must obtain an associate’s degree in physical therapy assisting. Physical therapy assisting programs can usually be completed with two years of full-time study. To qualify for entrance into a physical therapy assisting program, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent degree.

Programs vary, but most physical therapy assisting programs will include the following courses:

•Intro to Patient Care
•Anatomy
•Kinesiology
•Therapeutic Exercise
•Orthopedic Disabilities and Rehabilitation
•Principles of Disease
•Principles of Therapy
•Trends in Therapy
•Neurological Disabilities and Treatment

Depending on the specifics of the program, you may also need to complete certain general education requirements. Most states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed before they can work. To qualify for licensure, you must complete an approved physical therapy assisting program and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam.

Bachelor’s Degree – Recreational Therapist

Recreational therapists spend their days working with patients who are recovering from illness or injury using a number of recreation-based modalities, including dance, sports, arts and crafts and many others.

To become a recreational therapist, you must typically earn a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy. In most cases, you can complete a bachelor’s degree in this field with four years of full-time study. To qualify for entry into a bachelor’s degree program, you must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent degree.

As with all other programs, curricula can vary. However, typical courses included in a recreational therapy program are:

•Anatomy and Physiology
•Processes and Techniques
•Therapy with Physically Disabled Patients
•Trends in Therapy
•Interpersonal Assessment
•Human Development
•Therapy for Patients with Mental Illness
•Multicultural Studies
•Case Management
•Ethics
•Program Planning

General education requirements are also included in most recreational therapy curricula. Only a few states require recreational therapists to hold a license. However, some employers may prefer recreational therapists who are certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. To become certified, you must complete an approved program, complete a supervised internship and pass an exam.

Master’s Degree – Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists are counselors who work with couples and families in order to help them overcome relationship problems, as well as certain mental disorders.

To become a marriage and family therapist, you must typically earn a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. To qualify for entry into a master’s degree program, you must have already earned a bachelor’s degree, which requires four years of full-time study. To earn your master’s degree, you will need to spend another two years in school on a full-time schedule.

Master’s degree programs in marriage and family therapy typically include the following courses:

•Abnormal Psychology
•Group Dynamics
•Ethics
•Diversity
•Psychological Testing
•Fundamentals of Addiction
•Therapeutic Techniques
•Psychopharmacology
•Human Sexuality

Most programs will require you to complete some electives and clinical experience, in addition to classroom instruction. To begin working as a marriage and family therapist, you must typically apply for licensure in your state. To become licensed, you must complete a state-approved program and complete 2,000 to 4,000 of supervised clinical work after obtaining your degree.

Doctorate – Physical Therapist

Physical therapists are professionals who help patients overcome illness or injury using various therapeutic techniques. Their typical responsibilities include evaluating patients, developing treatment protocols, administering treatment and monitoring progress.

To become a physical therapist, you must typically earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. In order to enter a doctoral program in physical therapy, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree. You can usually complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy program with three years of full-time study. Although programs vary, typical courses found in these programs include:

•Anatomy
•Physiology
•Clinical Imaging
•Patient Management
•Principles of Disease
•Therapeutic Exercise
•Clinical Biomechanics
•Disorders of the Musculoskeletal System
•Pathology
•Neuroanatomy
•Pharmacology
•Clinical Exercise Physiology
•Neuropathology
•Differential Diagnosis

Programs for physical therapists include a combination of classroom study and hands-on experiences. All states require physical therapists to be licensed. In order to qualify for licensure, you must complete an approved doctoral program in physical therapy and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Choosing a Program

Regardless of the specialty you choose, selecting the right therapy degree program is one of the most important decisions you will make for your career. Before you make your decision, be sure to consider the characteristics below:

Approval

If the specialty you choose requires you to become licensed, you must make sure that you select a program that is approved by your state. Likewise, if you hope to obtain certification, make sure your program is accepted by the certifying agency.

Accreditation

Another important characteristic you should consider when choosing a program is accreditation. Professional organizations grant accreditations to therapy degree programs that meet certain standards for quality. Programs that earn accreditation may offer more effective education than those that do not. However, keep in mind that a program that is accredited may not be approved by a licensing or certifying agency and vice versa.

Graduation Rate

A program’s graduation rate is a good indicator of how much support the program provides to its students. Try to choose a program with a higher graduation rate, if possible.

Examination Pass Rate

Many professions in therapy will require you to pass an examination for licensure or certification. If this is the case for you, make sure that the program you choose prepares students well for this examination by inquiring about the pass rate among previous graduates of the program.

Employment Rate

Some programs earn more respect from employers than others. Before you choose a therapy degree program, ask about the employment rate among graduates from each program you are considering.

Faculty-to-Student Ratios

One-on-one attention from faculty members can be helpful to students in therapy degree programs. If possible, choose a program with a low faculty-to-student ratio in order to raise your chances of receiving individualized instruction.

Program Flexibility

If you already have a job, family or other responsibilities that may make scheduling difficult, finding a flexible program can be very helpful. For example, while some programs may allow students to enroll only part-time, others may not. Likewise, some programs offer online classes, while others require students to attend all classes on campus.

Tuition and Fees

The expenses you must pay in order to enroll in various therapy degree programs will differ. Before you select a program, make sure you can afford to pay these costs. If you cannot afford to pay everything on your own, financial aid may be available in the form of grants, scholarships and/or loans. Some programs may also offer payment plans to students who cannot afford to pay tuition and fees upfront.

Other Considerations

When choosing any career path in the field of therapy, it’s wise to look ahead. For example, if your ultimate goal is certification or licensure, make sure you meet all of the other requirements for obtaining a license or certification before you spend time and money attending school. Likewise, it’s also important to learn about the prerequisites your program requires before you spend time and money on an application.

Therapy Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants

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