How To Become A Psychotherapist: Education, Career Considerations, and More

By: Michael Puskar

Updated February 13, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley


Psychotherapy can be a rewarding career for those who enjoy helping people overcome various mental obstacles. While it can be an attractive option to pursue, it takes some careful planning and understanding of what it takes to become one. This article will discuss the role of a psychotherapist and how they differ from related fields as well as the requirements to become one if you are considering this challenging and rewarding work.

What Does A Psychotherapist Do?

There are a lot of professions with the prefix "psycho-," but what's the difference between them?

To begin, let's start by explaining what a psychologist is, which is the basis of all of these career paths. Psychology is defined as the study of the mind and behavior, and within this discipline, there are many different branches. For example, we have forensic, educational, and neuropsychology to name a few examples within the field.

However, it goes even beyond this, and outside of conducting research, some paths are dedicated to helping people find treatment, such as psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Between these two terms, it's quite straightforward to define psychotherapy and how it differs from psychiatry. Both have similar goals, but there are fundamental differences between them, despite both requiring a background in psychology.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that can prescribe drugs to treat mental conditions, but a psychotherapist can employ various techniques to help his or her patients overcome issues such as depression and anxiety.

Psychotherapy is also sometimes known as "talk therapy," but it can go much more in-depth and specific than just "talking". There are even methods that are especially effective for certain conditions. For instance, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which is a type of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), has been shown to be highly successful in many patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Based on your situation, a trained professional will take psychotherapy notes and will be able to use his or her best judgment on what course of treatment is best for you, but will not be able to prescribe medication unless they are also a psychiatrist.

Education Requirements To Be A Psychotherapist

To become a licensed psychotherapist, extensive coursework is required from accredited universities.


Initially, an individual should receive a Bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field which will take approximately four years. You will want to have a strong GPA during your undergraduate career because you will also need to enter a graduate program afterward.

A doctorate, such as a Ph.D. or a PsyD in clinical psychology or related fields like social work is a prerequisite to becoming licensed. States also license clinicians who are educated in the fields of counseling and social work at the Masters level to practice psychotherapy. This is not the same as a medical degree, which is what is needed to become a psychiatrist.

During your graduate studies, which typically takes about two years (longer for a doctorate), you will also be expected to perform clinical hours under the supervision of an instructor. This is to give you practice and experience under your belt before you become licensed and start working independently.

Licensing and having the proper credentials is crucial because it gives your clients confidence that you are experienced and that they are in trusted hands.

What Kinds Of Psychotherapy Are There?

Just like psychology, psychotherapy is a generic term that describes a host of different activities that usually involve talking and guiding people through problems. This section will discuss some of the various forms of psychotherapy and what they entail.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Interpersonal therapy focuses on the relationships between the patients and others in their lives.

For example, this type of psychotherapy can be useful for those who are depressed because of relationship issues as well as the loss of them, like martial separation and death of a loved one. It helps people to explore and change their own relationship patterns which might not be serving them as well as they would like in different types of relationships.

The goal of this method is to teach the patient how to deal with specific problems, which will consequently improve his or her mood. [1] Although it deals with relationships between others, interpersonal therapy is typically on an individual level, but group options are sometimes available.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapy is one of the earliest forms to exist, and some of the founding fathers of this concept were Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

Because of its association with individuals like Freud, this type of therapy has its roots in psychoanalysis, which are theories that aim to bring the unconscious to conscious awareness and to find relief from common mental conditions.


For example, someone may have repressed fears that are deeply rooted due to past experiences. Psychodynamics can be defined as the "human potential for dynamic self-alteration and self-correction. [2] By becoming aware of the fears, the fears can be lessened.

Despite being historically significant, psychodynamic therapy has been criticized for lacking scientific credibility and empirical evidence. Nonetheless, it has still been helpful for many people facing certain problems.

Cognitive Psychotherapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or sometimes just cognitive therapy for short, is another form of psychotherapy that addresses the way we think about things, which will then change our feelings towards them. It helps people to learn the connections between thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Cognitive is just another word for our thoughts or the process of thinking, and Aaron T. Beck, who developed cognitive therapy, suggested that our thoughts affect our feelings. This form of psychotherapy is sometimes also known as Beckian therapy, because of its founder.

This is also one of the most popular types of therapies and can be used for a variety of different issues. It's also practical and takes a hands-on approach to modify the way we feel about specific ideas or objects. Some even consider it to be the "gold standard" of psychotherapies. [3]

As mentioned before, Exposure & Response Prevention, which is a specific kind of cognitive therapy, helps desensitize people to their fears by exposing them to things that create anxiety while simultaneously avoiding any rituals, like avoidance or compulsions. There are other types of Cognitive therapies that are rooted in CBT.

Transference-Focused Psychotherapy

Created by Otto Kernberg, this method is designed for those with severe personality disorders, especially borderline personality disorder (BPD).

It is derived from psychoanalysis and based on the concept that ideas and images have been built up over one's lifetime, but they are not always conscious. According to Frank Yeomans, a doctor specializing in TFP, this can lead to distorted thinking. [4]

These distortions can result in drastic mood changes, reduced self-esteem, and even negatively affect relationships with others.


The goal of the therapy sessions is to allow the patient to live out these internalized thoughts and images in the therapist.

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy

Perhaps one of the most innovative ways to help people, equine-assisted therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy that involves using horses as a tool to address many mental conditions and behavioral issues.

Horses require respect and are considered by many to be sensitive to human emotions; if the horse senses that you are anxious and not in control, the animal will more than likely react the same way. This theory is how this method was developed and differs from therapeutic horse riding, but it can include it as an activity.

In a study involving 13 veterans who have PTSD, positive outcomes were shown in an equine-assisted program, and the individuals reported "increased sociability, reduced feeling of isolation, an increased sense of trust and hope, and a need to serve others" [5]

Despite still being experimental, equine-assisted psychotherapy can be a rewarding experience for the patient and the therapist alike.

Does Psychotherapy Work?

Any criticisms aside, the different types of psychotherapy options that are available include both empirical and anecdotal evidence of their efficacy.

Therefore, anyone interested in going through the steps to become a psychotherapist should be assured that already established methods have been helpful in treating millions of people around the world.

Psychotherapy is a service that is constantly in demand, and at, licensed, and professional counselors and therapists are providing their services to people daily.



Hopefully, this article has provided useful information on becoming a psychotherapist and what to expect when pursuing this career as well as the different treatment options that are available to the public.


  1. Markowitz, J. C., &Weissman, M. M. (2004). Interpersonal psychotherapy: Principles and applications. World Psychiatry, 3(3). Retrieved from
  2. Fonagy, P. (2015). The effectiveness of psychodynamic psychotherapies: An update. World Psychiatry, 14(2), 137-150. doi:10.1002/wps.20235
  3. David, D., Cristea, I., & Hofmann, S. G. (2018). Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is the Current Gold Standard of Psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00004
  4. Yeomans, F., MD, Ph.D. (2008). Transference-Focused Psychotherapy. Retrieved April 6, 2019, from
  5. Romaniuk, M., Evans, J., & Kidd, C. (2018). Evaluation of an equine-assisted therapy program for veterans who identify as 'wounded, injured or ill' and their partners. Plos One, 13(9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0203943

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