How Much Do Therapists Make in California?

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By Jacob Maslow

In California, therapists are crucial in providing mental health care to individuals facing various challenges. Therefore, understanding the earning potential of these professionals is essential for those considering this career path and for current therapists assessing their income relative to the market.

The average income for therapists in California varies based on factors such as education, experience, and practice location. For instance, newly licensed therapists can expect to earn a lower salary than their more experienced colleagues. Additionally, therapists in urban areas may earn higher salaries than those in rural regions.

Numerous types of therapists operate in California, including marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, and psychologists. Each profession has a different salary range, reflecting the varying degrees of education and licensure requirements. Accurate comparisons of income across these fields necessitate an awareness of these nuances.

Average Salary for Therapists in California

Base Salary

The average base salary for therapists in California is approximately $80,000 annually. The base salary is the foundation for the overall compensation package and typically does not include benefits, bonuses, or other supplementary income sources.

Salaries Reported

The range of salaries reported varies for therapists in California based on factors such as experience, location, and specialization. Here is a breakdown of the reported salaries:

  • Entry-level therapists: $50,000 – $60,000 per year
  • Mid-level therapists: $65,000 – $85,000 per year
  • Senior therapists: $90,000 – $110,000 per year
  • Specialists (such as neuropsychologists, marriage, and family therapists, etc.): $100,000 – $130,000 per year

Salary Satisfaction

While salary satisfaction may be subjective, it is worth considering when assessing the average income for therapists in California. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, the average salary satisfaction rating among therapists in California is 3.8. Factors contributing to salary satisfaction can include work-life balance, benefits, and opportunities for professional growth.

In conclusion, therapists in California can expect to earn an average base salary of around $80,000, with reported salaries that vary depending on experience, specialization, and location. Salary satisfaction among these professionals is generally positive, with a rating of 3.8 out of 5.

Factors Influencing Therapist Salaries


The level of education a therapist acquires directly impacts their salary potential. Typically, therapists with higher degrees earn more than those with lower degrees. A bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field is a common starting point, while a master’s degree is required for most therapist positions. Pursuing a doctorate or specialized certifications can further increase earning potential.


Experience plays a significant role in determining therapist salaries. As professionals gain experience, their salaries increase, reflecting their growing expertise and skills. Entry-level therapists tend to earn less than experienced therapists. Those in the field for several years can expect to earn a higher salary than newcomers.


The industry a therapist works in can influence their salary. Therapists in private practices, healthcare centers, and hospitals typically have different salary expectations. Those employed in industries such as government, educational institutions, and research facilities might also experience differences in pay. Salaries can also vary vastly across specializations, such as marriage and family therapy, clinical psychology, or industrial-organizational psychology.


The location of a therapist’s practice affects their salary as well. For example, salaries for therapists in California cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Irvine, and Long Beach can differ substantially due to factors such as the cost of living, local demand for services, and competition within the industry. Therapists working in larger cities earn higher salaries than those in rural areas, as demand for their services is often higher, and the cost of living is more expensive in urban centers.

Top Companies and Highest-Paying Cities

Top Companies

In California, several companies are known for offering competitive salaries to therapists. Some of the top companies employing therapists are:

  • Kaiser Permanente: This healthcare organization is known for offering excellent pay packages for therapists.
  • Sutter Health: As a large healthcare provider, Sutter Health employs many therapists and offers attractive salaries.
  • Dignity Health: This network of healthcare facilities usually provides therapists with competitive pay, depending on their experience.
  • Cedars-Sinai: This reputable medical center is known to offer competitive salaries to therapists and provide attractive benefits packages.

Highest Paying Cities

Salaries for therapists can vary greatly depending on the city where they practice. Some cities in California with higher-than-average pay include:

City Average Annual Salary
San Francisco $92,000
San Jose $89,000
Los Angeles $84,000
San Diego $80,000
Fresno $78,000

These figures represent average salaries for therapists working in each city, but individual experiences may vary. Factors such as experience, specialization, and workplace can all play a role in determining a therapist’s salary. The cost of living should also be considered, as some cities may offer higher salaries but also have a higher cost of living.

Benefits and Perks

Insurance and Retirement Plans

Therapists in California receive a competitive benefits package that includes health, dental, and vision insurance. In addition, many employers also offer life insurance, disability insurance, and accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) insurance. These comprehensive insurance plans provide therapists with financial security and peace of mind.

In addition to insurance benefits, therapists are often eligible for retirement plans such as 401(k) or 403(b) accounts. Some employers may also offer a pension plan or a flexible spending account (FSA) as part of their benefits package.

Paid Time Off and Family Benefits

Paid time off (PTO) is another significant benefit for therapists in California. This may include vacation days, sick days, and personal days. Employers may also offer parental leave options for new parents, allowing therapists to effectively balance their work and family life. In some cases, employees can use an employee assistance program (EAP) to manage their work-life balance and mental health.

Professional Development and Education Programs

Continuing education and professional development are essential for therapists to stay updated and at the top of their field. Employers in California often support therapists in this aspect by offering tuition reimbursement or professional development assistance programs. These can help cover the costs of obtaining continuing education credits, attending workshops, seminars, or conferences.

Furthermore, some employers may provide a loan repayment program or loan forgiveness options for therapists pursuing higher education. This can be an attractive benefit for professionals who have incurred student loan debt while earning their degrees.

Additionally, incentives such as paid training, travel reimbursement, and mileage reimbursement may be available for therapists attending professional development events or providing services outside their regular work location. Some employers might also offer employee discounts, internet reimbursement, and referral programs as part of their comprehensive benefits package.

Comparing Therapist Salaries in California to Other Locations

Salaries in Different Locations

California’s Therapist salaries are among the highest in the United States. In major cities such as San FranciscoSan Diego, and Sacramento, therapists can expect to earn competitive salaries compared to other locations. For instance, here’s a quick comparison of average therapist salaries in these cities and New York:

Location Average Salary
San Francisco $74,000
San Diego $67,000
Sacramento $66,000
New York $69,000

It’s worth noting that the cost of living in California, particularly in areas such as San Francisco, can be significantly higher than in other locations. Therapists should consider this when comparing salaries across different locations.

Matching 401(k) and 403(b)

One aspect of therapist compensation that should not be overlooked is the matching contributions for retirement accounts, typically in the form of 401(k) matching for private-sector employees and 403(b) matching for public-sector employees. These matching programs provide an additional financial incentive for therapists working in California.

In many cases, employers in California offer competitive matching rates for their employees’ retirement accounts. While these rates can vary greatly depending on the employer and the specific retirement plan, it’s not uncommon for therapists in the state to receive matching rates between 3% and 6% of their contributed salary. This added benefit can make the overall compensation package for therapists in California even more attractive compared to other locations.

In summary, therapists in California can expect to earn competitive salaries compared to their counterparts in other states, with the added advantage of retirement account matching offered by many employers. However, considering the high cost of living in certain areas, those considering a career in therapy in California should weigh these factors when evaluating potential job opportunities.

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Similar Professions

In California, mental health therapists have various career opportunities and room for advancement. Apart from working as a licensed clinical social workers, they can explore roles such as marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. These fields can be rewarding and offer a chance for therapists to make a difference in patients’ lives.

Certifications and Specializations

Therapists can advance their careers by obtaining certifications in specific therapy techniques or focusing on particular patient groups. For example, they might specialize in cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or addiction counseling. In addition, such specializations can lead to a higher income and more diverse professional opportunities.

Gaining experience and ongoing professional development play crucial roles in the therapist’s career advancement. They are better equipped to help patients and further develop their therapy practices by continuously updating their skills and knowledge.

Salary Overview: Therapists’ income in California is influenced by their experience, education, and specialization. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health therapists in California earned an annual mean wage of $77,610 as of May 2020. However, individual salaries can vary widely depending on their specific profession within the field.

Profession Median Salary (May 2020)
Mental Health Therapist $54,040
Licensed Clinical Social Worker $64,210
Marriage and Family Therapist $54,150
Psychologist $82,880
Psychiatrist $220,380

With hard work, dedication, and continuous professional growth, mental health therapists in California have a bright future and can seize diverse opportunities to advance and flourish in their careers.

How to Get Paid as a Therapist in California

Office and Healthcare Settings

In California, therapists working in office and healthcare settings can typically expect to earn a competitive salary. Hospitals, clinics, or private practices often employ these professionals, providing individual counseling, group therapy, and psychological assessments. They may be paid on a salary basis, hourly wages, or as independent contractors.

Average Salaries for Therapists in Office and Healthcare Settings:

  • Psychiatrist: $230,000
  • Psychologist: $108,000
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker: $75,000
  • Marriage and Family Therapist: $56,000

Commission and Energy Work

Some therapists opt to work in alternative health fields, such as energy work, where they may be compensated through commission-based pay structures. These practitioners typically offer unique services such as Reiki, acupuncture, or holistic health counseling. They usually work independently or as part of a team in wellness centers, spas, or private practices.

Average Commissions for Alternative Health Therapists in California:

  • Reiki Practitioner: 40-60% of session fees
  • Acupuncturist: 30-50% of session fees
  • Holistic Health Counselor: 35-55% of session fees

In summary, therapists in California can earn a range of incomes depending on their specialty, credentials, and work setting. Experience, location, and service demand can also influence compensation rates. In addition, therapists must maintain professional licenses and adhere to state regulations to ensure their clients receive high-quality care regardless of the specific field.


How much do therapists make in California?

In California, the average annual salary for therapists varies depending on their specialization and experience. Generally, therapists can expect to earn between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.

Are salaries for therapists in California higher than in other states?

Yes, therapists in California typically earn higher salaries compared to other states. The higher cost of living and competitive job market contributes to the increased pay rates.

What factors influence a therapist’s salary in California?

Several factors influence a therapist’s salary in California, including:

  • Education level
  • Years of experience
  • Geographic location
  • Specialty area
  • Type of employer

Which cities in California offer the highest salaries for therapists?

Some of the cities in California with the highest salaries for therapists include:

  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Oakland
  • Los Angeles

Do therapists in private practice earn more than those in public or non-profit settings?

Therapists in private practice often have the potential to earn more due to setting their fees and having more control over their schedule. However, more financial risk is associated with running a private practice, and it may take time to establish a steady client base. Therapists in public or non-profit settings may have more stability but earn less overall.

Do supervisory or management roles for therapists typically pay more?

Yes, therapists in supervisory or management roles generally earn higher salaries due to increased responsibilities and oversight. However, these positions may require more time commitment and additional training or certifications.

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