How Can I Become a Therapist?

Educational and Career Guide

Therapist leading a group therapy session
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Are you looking for a rewarding career in which you can genuinely help people and enrich their lives? Then becoming a therapist just might be an excellent choice for you. While people often assume that becoming a therapist requires earning a Ph.D. in psychology, there are a different training and educational paths you can take toward this fulfilling career.

What Do Therapists Do?

The term therapist is often a generic term used to describe a number of health care professionals who provide mental health services to clients.

The following are just a few specific job titles:

  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Substance Abuse Therapist
  • Rehabilitation Therapist
  • Licensed Professional Counselor
  • Licensed School Psychologist
  • Licensed Social Worker
  • Marriage and Family Therapist

Start by Assessing Your Interests and Goals

While becoming a therapist might be your goal, the steps that you take to achieve that goal depend largely on the type of therapist you want to become. Therapists work in a wide range of settings and with diverse populations, so start your planning process by considering where you would like to work eventually.

  • Do you want to work with children? Becoming a clinical psychologist or licensed social worker are good options for reaching this goal.
  • Are you interested in working with families or couples? Consider becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist or mental health counselor.
  • Do you want to help people overcome substance abuse problems? A degree in clinical psychology or mental health counseling might be a good option.

    As you might quickly realize, there are nearly as many degree options as there are job descriptions for different types of therapists. By getting a general idea of what you would like to achieve as a therapist, you will be in a better position to select a school and choose a degree option.

    Learn About Degree Options for Becoming a Therapist

    If your goal is to become a therapist, your first step will probably be to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology.

    However, people with undergraduate degrees in other fields are often accepted into graduate training programs provided they make up some of the prerequisite coursework.

    Sociology, education, and health sciences are also good choices for students interested in becoming therapists.

    While an advanced degree in psychology can open up a wide variety of career options, there are several other program choices that you may also want to consider. The amount of time and training required to complete each degree varies.

    • Ph.D. or Psy.D. in Psychology: Earning a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology offers perhaps the widest range of career options. Professionals who have earned a doctorate and become licensed psychologists can work with clients in a wide range of settings, including private practice. Earning a doctorate often takes between four to eight years of study beyond an undergraduate degree.
    • Master's in Psychology: In some states, individuals with a master's degree can become licensed psychologists. Master's degree holders can also work in a number of different mental health care settings, but it is important to check the guidelines in your state to determine what type of services you can provide with this degree.
    • Master's Degree in Counseling: If you are interested in working with children, adults, families, or couples, becoming a licensed professional counselor can be a great choice. The 60-credits required to complete the degree can take between two to three years, depending upon your schedule and the individual program in which you are enrolled. In many cases, you may also have to complete additional 12-16 credit hours of training to become licensed in your state.
    • Master's Degree in Social Work: Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) usually complete two years of coursework beyond the undergraduate degree, as well an internship and supervised experience directly in the field. Individuals with a master's in social work are often able to provide therapy to clients in a wide variety of setting and situations.
    • Master's Degree in Advanced Psychiatric Nursing: This often overlooked degree option is a great choice for nurses who have an interest in mental health. Advanced psychiatric nurses are required to have a master's degree or higher in psychiatric-mental health nursing, which can take anywhere from two to three years to complete beyond the bachelor's degree.

    Learn More About Degree and State Licensing Requirements for Therapists

    After you have chosen the educational path that is right for your unique needs and interests, it is important to discuss your options with an academic counselor at the school of your choice. In many cases, your best bet is to talk about your goals with an advisor from within the program you plan to attend. Prepare a list of questions about the specific degree requirements, state licensing guidelines for therapists, and demographic information about students who have graduated from the program.

    More Psychology Education FAQ

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