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Behavior/ Occupational/ Physical/ Speech Therapist: What does it take to be one?

Have you thought about what is required for your child’s behavior, physical, occupational or speech therapist to practice in their field? They all need to earn graduate degrees at minimum and many others go on to acquire a doctoral degree in a specialty of choice. This arduous process not only develops clinical expertise but also helps build critical thinking skills and professional behaviors.

If perhaps you have aspired to become a therapist or have considered it as a second career, you will find detailed application requirements in the website of each professional association.

For a quick overview, we compared some important points across each therapist specialty in the table below. Whether this information helps you decide on this career path or simply increases your understanding of the profession, it aims to underscore the value of therapists as an expert and skilled resource.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

Occupational Therapist (OT)

Physical Therapist (PT)

Speech-Language Pathologist


Professional association

Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB)

American Occupation Therapy Association (AOTA)

American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)


Master’s, Graduate or Doctoral (from 1 of 4 pathways)

Master’s or Doctorate (OTD)

Doctor of PT (DPT)

Master’s (MA/MS)

Program duration

Variable (with behavior-analytic content and fieldwork)

2-3 years

3 years

2 years

Entry requirement

- Degree from ABAI-accredited program

- or degree + behavior-analytic coursework

- or degree + faculty appointment

- or doctoral degree + postdoctoral experience

- Bachelor’s degree

- or OT assistant (OTA) accreditation via OTA to OT bridge program

- Bachelor’s degree

- or 3+3 (3 years undergrad + 3 DPT)

- or freshman entry (high school to guaranteed admissions)

- Bachelor’s degree (undergrad in communication sciences and disorders may be required)

Certification exam

BCBA Certification Examination

National Board of Certification in OT

National PT Examination

Certificate of Clinical Competence in SLP

State licensure required?

Yes (limited)




Residency/ fellowship in pediatrics?





Median salary*

$80,155 (current, Glassdoor)

$86,280 (2020, Bureau of Labor and Statistics)

$85,000 (current, APTA)

$80,000 (2021, ASHA)

ABAI – Association for Behavior Analysis International

* Salaries vary on based years of experience, practice setting, geographic location


1. Behavioral Analyst Certification Board

2. American Occupational Therapy Association

3. American Physical Therapy Association

4. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

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