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Learn how to become an educational therapist

woman educational therapist works with young boy on reading

An educational therapist helps children who have learning challenges or are having trouble succeeding in school. These professionals work with kids who have learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD, reading or math problems, self-confidence and other cognitive or emotional issues.

Should you become an educational therapist?

“You can change a child’s complete experience in life,” says Bibinaz Pirayesh, an educational therapist for more than 15 years. “There’s no moment that can replace the joy a kid has when they realize they’re able to read.” As an educational therapist, you will usually work one-on-one with children in an office setting or in their homes.

Some therapists specialize in working with children with specific diagnoses or in certain age groups. Others become experts in helping kids with reading, math or other subject areas. Since each child’s needs are unique, you will develop an individualized therapy plan for each child.


“There’s no moment that can replace the joy a kid has when they’re realize they’re able to read.”

The demand for educational therapists is increasing as more children are being identified with learning disabilities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Schools can’t always provide the individualized services that kids with learning problems need, Pirayesh says, and that’s where educational therapists step in.

Educational therapist vs. educational psychologist

The careers of educational therapists and educational psychologists are often confused. While their roles do overlap in some areas, there are significant differences. Both educational therapists and psychologists may work with children who have learning disabilities and other challenges, but their jobs differ in the details.

Educational psychologists assess the child’s cognitive processes and identify learning disabilities. “They look at the student’s cognition and how they’re perceiving the world around them in ways that may impact their educational achievement,” explains Kristin Barbour, executive director of the National Institute of Learning Development (NILD).

The educational therapist is more concerned with helping the child resolve the difficulties through mediated learning, Barbour states. Here’s a quick comparison of the roles of educational therapist vs. educational psychologist.

Educational therapistEducational psychologist
Usually works in private practice or for private schoolsUsually works for schools or universities
Works with children after diagnosis of learning issuesAdministers tests to diagnose learning problems
Designs therapy plan based on child’s individualized needsMay design curricula and contribute to a child’s individualized education program (IEP)
Works intensively with childMay conduct research
No license neededNeeds license

5 steps to become an educational therapist

To become an educational therapist, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree plus additional training. The majority of educational therapists have master’s degrees, and some hold doctorates.

Many educational therapists begin their careers as special education teachers or reading specialists. However, while teaching experience can help prepare you, it’s not required. Educational therapists don’t need teacher training or state certification like teachers do.

Since educational therapy is a broad field, the process of entering the career can vary widely. You can become an educational therapist by following this general path.

Get some experience.

male therapist helps young student with sounds

Even before you begin your formal education, look for opportunities to gain experience working with children. You may be able to volunteer at a park or library program, or find a summer job as a camp counselor. Working as an aide at a daycare center or preschool may also be helpful.

Earn a bachelor’s degree.

college graduates leaning on balcony and holding diplomas and mortarboards

Bachelor’s degree programs in educational therapy are not common, but you may be able to find one at a college or university near you. Online programs are also available. If you can’t major in educational therapy, don’t worry; a degree in elementary education, special education, school psychology or a related field can get you started.

Join a professional organization.

professional therapist group clapping after listening to speaker

While studying for your degree, you can join a student chapter of a professional organization such as the Association of Educational Therapists (AET) or the National Association of Special Education Teachers. These groups offer publications and other resources that can help you keep up with the latest research in educational therapy. They also hold meetings and conferences, and you may find career advice on their websites.

Start working in the field.

woman therapist educates young student on signing

Although it’s not required, it’s common to spend several years teaching special education before specializing in educational therapy. For a position in a public and most private schools, you’ll need a state-issued teacher’s license in addition to your bachelor’s degree. You may want to continue teaching while you earn your master’s or certificate in educational therapy.

If you don’t wish to teach school, you may also be able to find an entry-level position as an educational therapist or assistant with an organization or private practice, if you have sufficient training and experience.

Earn a master’s degree and/or a certification.

woman therapist working with teenage student

Not every university with an education department will have a master’s program specifically for educational therapy. If you can’t find an on-campus program near you, you may be able to study online. You will need to meet admissions requirements, which generally include a bachelor’s degree, a minimum GPA, and letters of reference. Some master’s programs are affiliated with the National Institute for Learning Development (NILD) and will lead toward certification.

The NILD offers certification in Professionally Certified Educational Therapist  (PCET). To qualify, you need NILD training levels and experience with students. The AET also operates a board certification program that is quite rigorous.

You can usually earn a related master’s degree in about two years, but certification may take longer. For AET certification, for example, you must work your way through three levels, each with its own requirement for supervised work hours.

A license is not required to become an educational therapist. In fact, none of the 50 states has a licensing program for educational therapists. While this may seem like an advantage, it’s also a disadvantage, Pirayesh says, because unqualified people can pose as educational therapists. To demonstrate your qualifications, it’s important to have relevant education and certification.

How much does an educational therapist make?

Almost all educational therapists work in private practice, either on their own or part of a larger organization. A few private schools hire educational therapists, but it is rare, Pirayesh says. As a result, your potential earnings as an educational therapist can vary widely.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t collect wage information specifically for educational therapists. The closest career tracked by the BLS is psychologist. According to the BLS, the annual median salary of a school psychologist is $81,500. Those working as clinical and counseling psychologists make a median salary of $90,130 per year, while educational counselors earn $60,140 annually.

Where do educational therapists earn the most money?

In general, you can expect to make higher earnings in urban or metropolitan areas compared to rural areas. According to the latest BLS figures, psychologists and counselors working in schools made the highest mean wages in cities along the West Coast and Eastern Seaboard.

Here are salaries by national median and by state for school psychologists:

School Psychologists

National data

Median Salary: $81,500

Projected job growth: 1.3%

10th Percentile: $53,040

25th Percentile: $64,880

75th Percentile: $103,890

90th Percentile: $128,800

Projected job growth: 1.3%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $62,690 $58,410 $78,170
Alaska $81,660 $63,110 $109,100
Arizona $79,610 $61,630 $104,000
Arkansas $62,600 $47,630 $83,780
California $104,440 $64,880 $150,600
Colorado $102,380 $79,240 $132,050
Connecticut $92,300 $61,550 $130,170
Delaware $77,500 $59,650 $98,900
District of Columbia $109,670 $67,590 $132,120
Florida $77,980 $45,690 $102,090
Georgia $80,110 $61,660 $105,140
Idaho $54,030 $38,040 $109,540
Illinois $73,930 $48,340 $106,040
Indiana $63,750 $39,280 $101,900
Iowa $66,650 $50,130 $83,660
Kansas $66,190 $52,270 $85,830
Kentucky $64,610 $51,630 $86,210
Louisiana $60,610 $57,690 $73,960
Maine $88,540 $75,870 $108,960
Maryland $94,940 $60,760 $109,670
Massachusetts $99,100 $62,530 $128,650
Michigan $78,650 $54,150 $105,210
Minnesota $81,230 $57,980 $104,510
Mississippi $60,220 $39,420 $80,280
Missouri $55,200 $42,600 $79,970
Montana $70,020 $48,730 $86,520
Nebraska $75,950 $48,320 $106,270
Nevada $80,340 $49,430 $102,200
New Hampshire $77,440 $54,440 $95,830
New Jersey $85,880 $63,740 $132,960
New Mexico $86,030 $67,880 $136,280
New York $92,660 $58,940 $140,950
North Carolina $63,330 $46,760 $80,610
North Dakota $64,850 $50,420 $79,970
Ohio $83,650 $46,530 $128,590
Oklahoma $61,800 $23,290 $99,130
Oregon $94,940 $68,640 $130,750
Pennsylvania $82,370 $59,820 $118,480
Rhode Island $85,830 $61,680 $103,830
South Carolina $62,500 $27,670 $94,430
South Dakota $67,030 $63,820 $81,910
Tennessee $63,590 $48,140 $84,870
Texas $73,100 $57,990 $101,330
Utah $68,660 $30,550 $98,600
Vermont $79,520 $50,350 $109,270
Virginia $81,790 $54,460 $134,100
Washington $101,170 $77,580 $124,130
West Virginia $66,370 $49,550 $81,050
Wisconsin $73,260 $52,130 $96,550
Wyoming $81,350 $65,370 $96,510

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

The top five metropolitan areas with the highest median pay for school psychologists are:

Metro Area Median Annual Salary
Trenton, NJ $141,030
Modesto, CA $124,950
Santa Rosa, CA $123,400
Fresno, CA $122,180
El Centro, CA $120,810

How education and experience affect your pay

Educational therapists typically need a minimum of a master’s degree. People with advanced degrees tend to make more money than those without college degrees or with a bachelor’s degree only. If you have a doctorate, you may also have more choices in employment and could earn a higher salary. Other qualifications, such as certification, could also lead to a pay increase.

As with any career, your level of experience may also influence your pay.

Where are educational therapists most in-demand?

Children with learning difficulties live in every state, city and town across the nation. However, educational services are not evenly distributed, Pirayesh states.

Since neither public schools nor private health insurance typically pay for educational therapy, it’s up to the parents to pay privately. “The kids who really need it the most are often not getting the resources,” Pirayesh observes.

Unfortunately, that means educational therapists will probably not be in high demand in areas with significant populations of low-income households. As a result, most jobs will be found in metropolitan areas where family incomes are higher.

The BLS reports that the states with the highest employment of school psychologists are California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida. Here are the metro areas that have the highest employment for school psychologists in the U.S. according to the BLS.

Metropolitan Areas Employment
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 6,210
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 3,320
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 3,000
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 1,840
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 1,610
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 1,490
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 1,230
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH 1,230
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 910
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA 900

Does your work setting make a difference in pay?

If you work as an independent educational therapist, your pay will depend on how much you charge for individual sessions, how many clients you have and how much you wish to work. These factors can give you an advantage, but keep in mind you will also have business expenses such as office space, taxes, travel and insurance.

How does an educational therapist’s pay compare to similar occupations?

In becoming an educational therapist, you will acquire knowledge and skill that can also be useful in similar careers. While it’s difficult to pin down the expected earnings for an educational therapist, the BLS has collected data on the pay of similar careers.

Career Median Annual Salary
School Psychologists $81,500
Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors $60,140
Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School $62,390
Occupational Therapists $93,180
Marriage and Family Therapists $56,570

Educational psychologist job description

As an educational therapist, you’ll spend most of your day interacting with children, but in planning your therapy sessions, you may also consult with parents, teachers and other professionals. Before you can begin working with a child, you will need to understand how the child thinks and learns. Then, you’ll identify your goals and make a plan to achieve them.

An individualized form of therapy

“It’s very individualized,” says Barbour, adding that the NILD has identified 26 different educational therapy techniques. The educational therapist will select the most relevant techniques for each child’s therapy plan.

Take time to understand

Barbour also emphasizes that the educational therapist must take time to understand how the child thinks and how their emotions affect their learning. “We want to get to the underlying cognitive and perceptual processes,” she explains.

“The educational therapist will help the learner form new learning pathways that change the way they function in the classroom.” As children learn cognitive processes, they also build confidence and competence, Barbour says.

Home visitations

Many educational therapists meet with children in an office setting, but you could have other options. Bibinaz Pirayesh often travels to the child’s home, where some kids feel more comfortable. Children with certain physical or emotional needs may require at-home visits, she says. She also conducts sessions with video conferencing.

A unique career

While most educational therapists begin their careers as educators, Pirayesh started out as a neuroscientist doing research. She discovered she loved applying her knowledge of how the brain works while helping children overcome their learning problems. She especially enjoyed seeing the kids succeed in their goals.

“It’s rare in any kind of job to see almost immediate results,” she says. “But I can do that with educational therapy.”

Since the majority of educational therapists are in private practice, Pirayesh advises that you learn how to run a business. “You need to do the business components to succeed,” Pirayesh says. “You have to be a good business owner as well as a good educational therapist.”

Pirayesh enjoys the flexibility of private practice and setting her own hours. However, she must work around a child’s school schedule, which means much of her work is done after the school day ends.

How to stand out as a candidate for a job in educational therapy

Like most professionals, educational therapists must build their careers on experience, credentials and reputation. You can begin building your resume even before you begin your formal education.

“Look for ways to find opportunities to work with the vulnerable learner,” Barbour advises. You might volunteer at a school with a school counselor, an after-school program or a community center. Paid positions are also available.


“Look for ways to find opportunities to work with the vulnerable learner,” Barbour advises.

As you work with children, you will begin to connect the theories you’ve learned to real-life situations. “When you’re ready to enter the field, it’s important to stress communication between the student, the teacher and the parent,” Barbour says. These relationships, along with your successes, will help build your reputation as a therapist.

Frequently asked questions

Are educational therapists employed by schools?

Public schools almost always have special education programs to help children with disabilities, though in a few instances they will hire an educational therapist, Barbour states. The majority of educational therapists who work in schools are in private schools.

Can I become an educational therapist if I’m not a teacher?

Yes. While the majority of educational therapists start their careers as classroom teachers, it is not a requirement. Some educational therapists start out as social workers or psychologists. As long as you have the education, training and interest, you can become an educational therapist.

What personality traits are most helpful for educational therapists?

First and foremost, you must love working with children. You should be curious about how people think and learn and excited about how you can help them. You should also be a good communicator.

Getting started

Becoming an educational therapist can be a rewarding and fulfilling career choice that can make a positive impact on children’s lives. Researching educational therapist degree programs is your first step in getting ready to fulfill your goals and begin making a difference in young lives.

Published: April 10, 2023

karen hanson

Written and reported by:

Karen S. Hanson

Contributing Writer

pirayesh bibinaz

With professional insight from:

Bibinaz Pirayesh Educational Therapist

Adjunct Professor, Pepperdine University

kristin barbour

Kristin Barbour, Executive Director

National Institute of Learning Development