If you want to become a therapist but are not sure where to start, you have come to the right place. While there are several different types of therapists, psychologists, and counselors (distinctions which we will address in this piece), the path to each profession is fairly similar.
Every one of these positions requires a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, and in a few cases (particularly counseling positions) that alone is even enough to start practicing.
Most of these positions, however, require prospective therapists to also go on to earn their master’s degree in psychology or a related field, at which point they can become licensed and start practicing if they have accrued enough supervised clinical experience.
Earning a Ph.D. or Psy.D. will also make prospective therapists more desirable candidates, but it is not necessary for most positions. Read on to see more specific information about becoming therapist, as well as the qualities that make a good therapist.
This article contains:
- Do You Need To Be A Psychologist as a Therapist?
- Education Required to be a Psychologist
- Counseling Degree Requirements
- What Kinds Of Therapists Are There?
- How Long Does it Take to Become a Therapist?
- What Does a Therapist Do?
- What Makes a Good Therapist?
- How To Become a Psychotherapist
- How To Become a Behavioral Therapist
- How To Become a CBT Therapist
- How To Become a Recreational Therapist
- How To Become a Child Therapist
- How To Become a Family Therapist
- How To Become an Occupational Therapist
- A Take Home Message
Do You Need To Be A Psychologist as a Therapist?
The difference between a psychologist and a therapist (and the difference between those two and a counselor) is an important one to define, as some people think the two careers are identical. This is understandable, since we often think of both therapists and psychologists as professionals who help people with their problems.
While psychologists can also be therapists, the two careers are not interchangeable. This is because non-psychologists can also be therapists. Then, to answer the question posed by the subheading, no, one does not need to be a psychologist to be a therapist.
In general, psychologists have the highest educational requirements and are held to the highest ethical standards, followed by therapists, then counselors (Human Services Edu, 2017). Since therapists are regulated at the regional level while psychologists have more standardized career paths, some therapists might be as qualified as psychologists while others might not be. It might also be easier to find a therapist suited to your needs (for example, marriage and family therapists) than it is to find a psychologist specifically suited to your needs.
As for counselors, there is a wide range of educational requirements and ethical standards for counselors. Some might be licensed and just as qualified as a psychologist or therapist, while others might be unlicensed or less educated. This does not necessarily mean that counselors are worse than therapists or psychologists, however, as it all comes down to the individual case.
For more information on these distinctions click here.
Education Required to be a Psychologist
To put it simply, most psychologists have either a Ph.D. in psychology or a Psy.D., otherwise known as a Doctor of Psychology degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). To distinguish between the two, a Ph.D. is completed with research towards a dissertation, while a Psy.D. is based more on clinical work. Some psychologist jobs can be obtained with a master’s degree as well without needing a higher degree.
Whether one is planning to earn a master’s degree or a Ph.D. or Psy.D., one first needs to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. Prospective psychologists can also major in a non-psychology field, but should complete at least some psychology-related coursework while earning their degree. Once these educational requirements are complete it is only a matter of acquiring the necessary licensing.
Some types of psychologists require extra levels of education. For example, school psychologists might require an education specialist degree (Ed.S.) before they can start working in certain schools (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). This degree includes a supervised internship consisting of over 1,000 hours of work. Some other psychologists might also require supervised experience in an internship or other clinical setting, depending on the jobs they are seeking out.
For more information on psychologists, visit this website.
Counseling Degree Requirements
Degree requirements for prospective counselors depend on what type of counseling one wants to do. To be a school or career counselor, one usually needs a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field, or a master’s degree in counseling with a focus on career counseling or a related field, respectively (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Many regions also prefer school counselors to have teaching experience before getting licensed.
To become a rehabilitation counselor, one needs a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Some schools offer five-year programs where prospective counselors can earn a both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. Bachelor’s degrees are also necessary for anyone looking to enter a master’s degree program.
To become a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor, one usually only needs a bachelor’s degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). A master’s degree, however, can help a prospective counselor find work more easily. A mental health counselor should have a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling or a related field (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
Regardless of the type of counselor one wants to be, most regions require additional licensing. This licensing is made up of hours (around 2,000 to 4,000 in some cases) of supervised counseling experience along with passing a test.
What Kinds Of Therapists Are There?
Since therapists can help a wide variety of people, there are several specializations within the profession of a therapist. Some of these types of therapists that we will cover in this article include psychotherapists, behavioral therapists, CBT therapists, recreational therapists, child therapists, marriage and family therapists, and occupational therapists.
Many of these therapist positions have similar educational and career paths, but some have specific requirements as well.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Therapist?
In most cases, becoming a therapist will take at least around seven to fifteen years following graduation from high school. Most therapists need a bachelor’s degree (which takes four years to earn on average), some work experience or volunteering experience, and then a master’s degree (which takes about two to three years on average to earn) or a doctoral degree (which takes about five to seven years on average to earn).
This means that if one already has a bachelor’s degree, it is a matter of two to ten years before they can be licensed as a therapist. Before one can become a licensed therapist they also need hours of supervised clinical work, but most master’s programs include this experience.
What Does a Therapist Do?
Fundamentally, therapists help people overcome their problems. These problems can come in a wide variety of forms and can include substance abuse problems, interpersonal problems with family members or coworkers, or behavioral disorders. What a therapist does depends largely on the type of therapist they are. For example:
- An occupational therapist helps people with temporary disabilities return to their prior level of functioning, and helps people with permanent disabilities live more independently on a day-to-day basis (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
- A recreational therapist uses recreational activities such as arts and crafts to help people improve their levels of well-being in general (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
- A marriage and family therapist might help resolve interpersonal issues between a married couple, as well as personal issues that either person in the relationship might have (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
- According to study.com, a behavioral therapist can help people change the way they behave, such as the way they react to something that often happens in their lives.
- A CBT therapist might help someone identify thought patterns which lead to destructive behaviors and then help change those thought patterns (Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies).
- Finally, a child therapist can help a child figure out why they cannot focus in school so that they can develop in a more healthy manner (Miller).
In other words, what a therapist does greatly depends on what type of therapist they are. Some therapists only treat people with mental illness, while some therapists treat people with mental illness as well as people who are more mentally healthy since some of the targets of therapy do not depend on the presence of mental illness.
At its base, though, the job of a therapist generally consists of helping someone improve their levels of well-being. Part of this is continuing education, as therapist sometimes have to help treat clients in ways they were not trained to, such as the case of marriage and family therapists who are treating clients interested in nonmonogamy (Bairstow, 2017).
What Makes a Good Therapist?
Some of the qualities that are helpful for therapists to have include (in alphabetical order): analytical skills, communication skills, compassion, flexibility, interpersonal skills, leadership skills, listening skills, observational skills, organization, patience, resourcefulness, speaking skills, and writing skills, to name just a few (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
In other words, a therapist needs to be able to communicate effectively with a client to be able to figure out what the client is looking for from a therapy session. This includes patience and listening skills since therapists need to understand what someone’s problem consists of before they can start treating it. Therapists also need to be observant, so they can pick up on things that are not necessarily explicitly stated by the client.
While communication is important for all those reasons, a therapist’s job does not simply consist of figuring out what their clients’ main problems are. Therapists also need to be able to effectively treat their clients’ problems. This is why clients need to be resourceful and flexible, so they can treat their clients in an individualized way based on what their clients are able to do.
Finally, therapists need to be organized so they can keep track of all the work they have done with their clients. This record-keeping includes writing skills and speaking skills so that the therapist and the client are always on the same page. This mutual understanding is key to any therapy session.
How To Become a Psychotherapist
Psychotherapists help people overcome problems in their lives, whether they are mental or interpersonal (UK Council for Psychotherapy). For example, a psychotherapist might help someone figure out why they are so stressed all the time or might help someone deal with an unhealthy relationship with a coworker. This is often accomplished in weekly, hour-long sessions, like many types of therapy.
To become a psychotherapist, one should first earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. From there, one can start earning their master’s degree in psychotherapy. While earning their master’s degree, one will start accruing relevant experience that is necessary for licensing.
In the United Kingdom, for example, one needs a master’s degree in psychotherapy and 450 hours of practice to be registered as a licensed psychotherapist by the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). If someone’s master’s degree program did not include the necessary amount of experience, one can also work as a counselor to accrue the necessary amount of hours for accreditation.
For more information on psychotherapists, visit this website.
How To Become a Behavioral Therapist
Behavioral therapists help people overcome unhealthy behaviors, such as behaviors that are self-destructive. For example, a behavioral therapist might help someone with depression stop sabotaging career opportunities for themselves. Behavioral therapists treat people with mental health disorders, though these mental health disorders can vary from trichotillomania to substance abuse issues (Falkenstein et al., 2016; Moyers et al., 2016).
According to the website Study.com, someone who wants to become a behavioral therapist should first earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. After earning a bachelor’s degree, one can start working as a behavioral disorder counselor. If one wants to be a licensed behavioral therapist, though, they can start working on their master’s degree in psychology or counseling.
After earning their master’s degree, it is a matter of licensing. Licensing requirements vary by region, but to give an idea, every state in the United States requires a master’s degree along with 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience for behavioral therapist licensing.
For more information on behavioral therapists, visit this website.
How To Become a CBT Therapist
CBT therapists are similar to behavioral therapists, as they help people overcome destructive behaviors, but CBT therapists ultimately focus on thoughts and thought patterns (Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies). For example, a CBT therapist might help someone who consistently lashes out at work figure out which thought patterns are causing them to do so. A CBT therapist would then work with their client to change these thought patterns, so the client stops lashing out at work.
The process of becoming a CBT therapist is similar to the process of becoming a psychotherapist. First, one should earn their bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. Then, one can start earning their master’s degree in psychotherapy, as well as start accruing their hours of supervised clinical experience.
After earning their master’s degree, prospective CBT therapists have two options. According to CBTtherapist.com, they can either become accredited in psychotherapy and start offering CBT programs, or they can specifically become accredited in CBT therapy.
For example, in the United Kingdom, the first option might consist of getting licensed by the UKCP or the British Association for Counseling & Psychotherapy (BACP) as a general psychotherapist, while the second option would consist of earning psychotherapist accreditation and then getting specifically accredited as a CBT therapist by the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Therapy (BABCT) or the Association for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (AREBT). BABCT requires 200 hours of supervised clinical experience on top of the 450 required for UKCP accreditation, to give you an idea.
How To Become a Recreational Therapist
Recreational therapists help people with mental or physical health issues to improve their levels of well-being (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). For example, a recreational therapist might help someone living in a nursing home lead a more fulfilling life by playing games or doing activities with them. A recreational therapist might also use sports to teach someone how to be more independent after an accident.
First, someone who wants to become a recreational therapist should earn a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy or a related field. Beyond that, many regions do not have specific requirements for recreational therapists. That said, most hospitals and clinical offices prefer to hire certified recreational therapists (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
In the United States, the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) certification, which is earned by either simply earning a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy, or by earning another type of bachelor’s degree and then passing an exam (which recreational therapist degree-seekers have to pass anyway to earn their degrees).
Further specialty certification can be earned in areas such as behavioral health or physical rehabilitation, which might help a prospective therapist be a more competitive candidate when searching for a job.
For more information on recreational therapists, visit this website.
How To Become a Child Therapist
Child therapists help children develop in a more healthy way. For example, a child therapist might help a child understand why they cannot focus in school, and figure out ways to help the child focus better in the classroom (Miller). According to study.com, child therapists also help diagnose possible mental health disorders in children.
Like most therapists, the path to becoming a child therapist begins with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. From there, according to psychology.org, one should earn a Master’s degree in child development or clinical psychology. Once one has a master’s degree and the requisite amount of supervised clinical experience, they are nearly qualified to start working as a child therapist.
The last step in most regions is completing a class on child abuse, so that the therapist can, if necessary, recognize and report instances of child abuse in their client. One can also go on to earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to be a more desirable candidate.
How To Become a Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists help families and couples overcome interpersonal issues with each other, and also help treat individuals who have mental health issues which affect their familial relationships (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). For example, a marriage and family therapist might help a married couple understand why they have been fighting more and more. A marriage and family therapist might also help a family learn how to better deal with one of their member’s anxiety issues.
To become a marriage and family therapist, one must first earn a bachelor’s degree, with the area of study being fairly unimportant. As always, majoring in psychology is a good start. After that, one can enter a master’s program in psychology, marriage and family therapy, or a related field. After earning a master’s degree, one can then be licensed as a marriage and family therapist (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy). In the United States, this licensing is administered by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.
How To Become an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists help people with physical and mental health issues to be more independent (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Occupational therapists also “aspire to promote dignity… and an adequate standard of life” for their clients (Crawford et al., 2017). For example, an occupational therapist might help someone who is new in a wheelchair figure out how to live their day-to-day life in an independent matter. Occupational therapists also help their client’s family members or caregivers understand how to best help the client in their day-to-day activities.
To become an occupational therapist, one should first earn a bachelor’s degree in a program that includes some coursework in biology or a related field. After earning a bachelor’s degree, prospective occupational therapists should volunteer or otherwise work in an occupational therapist’s office to gain experience (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
From then, prospective occupational therapists should be qualified for a master’s degree in occupational therapy, which is the requisite degree for most jobs. After earning a master’s degree, one needs to complete occupational therapist licensing, which is administered in the United States by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). From there, one should be ready to start looking for work.
For more information on occupational therapists, visit this website.
A Take Home Message
While the path to becoming a therapist may seem extremely long, it is important to remember that there are actually several paths to becoming a therapist. If one already has a bachelor’s degree in just about any subject, they can start seeking out a master’s program in psychology or therapy. Earning a Ph.D. also increases one’s chances of getting hired, and while that may seem like too much of a struggle, it is important to know that there are also Ph.D. programs which earn a master’s degree in the middle of the program.
There are also options for people who only have a bachelor’s degree, or can only realistically earn a bachelor’s degree. Without going on to earn a master’s degree, one can still work in certain counseling positions. Some people might be happy working as a counselor, but those who are not will still be earning crucial experience as a counselor which can help them eventually become licensed as a therapist and start finding work.
The takeaway message is that if you want to help people find more well-being in their lives, no matter how far along in the career path you are, with just a little bit of education and licensing you can make your goal come true.
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