How To Become A Therapist?

By Gabrielle Seunagal |Updated May 25, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Melinda Santa, LCSW

Become A Therapist: Career Path

A therapist is one of the noblest professions. It takes many years of study and experience to become a therapist who can help individuals with their mental health.

Meanwhile, people don’t always know that there are several paths for licensed therapeutic experts to take, including pursuing an online therapy practice. So, which one is right for you, and how do you get there?

Mental healthcare is a rapidly expanding field for trained experts. And students who complete their degrees have an excellent chance of landing a rewarding career.

But good things don’t always come easily, which means you’ll have to pass a few tests before you can begin helping others. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is A Therapist?

How can you work to become a therapist? Read on for more.

Are You In Need Of Guidance In Your Life And Career?

Therapy provides an essential service to countless communities, so knowing what it entails is crucial.

Therapists are licensed mental health professionals who train in a university setting to offer effective treatments to psychiatric patients. The term “therapist” is, therefore, a broad description.

Therapist Vs Counselor

Therapists are sometimes called counselors because the two positions are somewhat similar. However, therapists and counselors are not the same things. Both professionals must complete advanced degrees to serve their communities. Yet, they don’t get the same education or training in school.

Counselors and therapists use different therapeutic approaches as well. And understanding those differences can help you make better decisions about your mental health or possible career path.

Different Therapist Naming Conventions

For example, some psychologists who achieve a doctorate-level degree call themselves therapists or psychotherapists. On the other hand, psychologists with a master’s degree or lower typically take the title of a counselor.

It’s the general practice in the mental health field to call specialists without their doctorate degree counselors instead of therapists. That means you’ll likely have to complete several years of secondary education to earn a license and become either a therapist or counselor. There are several different types of mental health professions to pursue.

Make sure you understand the average therapist’s job description first.

Therapist Job Description

The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NIH) places strict requirements on individuals who wish to practice as a therapist.

The reason is simple. Authorities want to ensure competence and therapy quality by standardizing training and measuring outcomes.

With that said, licensed therapists have a unique responsibility. A therapist is tasked with formulating a compassionate and effective treatment plan for patients with mental illness.

The tactics and methodologies used by a therapist must also adhere to psychiatry best practices, privacy laws, and the patient’s interests.

A therapist can diagnose and treat various mental health disorders through a thorough assessment. So, they often meet with patients regularly, either in person, over the phone, or online.

Therefore, sessions with a therapist are tailored to the individual’s needs with routine follow-ups and adjustments whenever necessary.

Therapist Duties and Responsibilities

Meanwhile, here are some of the other duties and responsibilities you might have as a legitimate therapist:

  • Implement integrated behavioral health principles, procedures, and philosophies
  • Maintain the integrity of the mental healthcare field
  • Conduct services in a manner consistent with the industry’s Code of Ethics
  • Provide guides therapies, intervention, education, and counseling as needed
  • Observe and assess the symptoms of mental illnesses
  • Offer clinically appropriate treatments based on assessments and plans
  • Document therapeutic outcomes, diagnoses, and treatment options
  • Participate in structured case consultations and supervised conferences
  • Engage in staff development opportunities to ensure professional growth
  • Earn and maintain licenses, certifications, and program performance courses

Flexibility Is Important For Therapists

As a therapist, you must also try to keep a flexible schedule. Patients may feel challenged, threatened, or intimidated by some treatments.

So, licensed psychotherapists should support their organization’s mission with sensitivity to cultural, relational, and workplace factors.

Education And Experience

An education from a higher learning institute is also required to become a therapist under most circumstances. You will likely need a degree in mental health, counseling, social work, or psychology.

Plus, most employers prefer at least two years of therapist-related work experience in a related field or internship.

Furthermore, you must possess a valid license to practice mental health therapy in your state of residence. There may be a request for credentialed malpractice insurance as well.

The path to becoming a certified therapist is somewhat tedious and time-consuming, but the result is necessary.

How To Be A Therapist

Can I Become A Therapist Without A Degree?

A group counseling session

The education required to become a therapist depends on which professional course you take. In some instances, you may be able to secure a position at an organizational or educational level without possessing an undergraduate degree in psychology.

However, those opportunities are rare.

The Educational Requirements

Most therapists complete their bachelor’s degree at least. And getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology can take anywhere from three to four years on average.

Then, many graduates move on to earn their master’s degrees. But master’s degrees can take another two or three years to complete.

Psychologists with a doctoral degree must finish yet another five to seven years of schooling.

So, that’s a total of between ten and fourteen years of intense training. Interestingly, most professional psychologists have a Ph.D. in psychology. However, some may possess a Psy. D, which is also called a Doctor of Psychology degree.

NOTE: 

A Ph. D. focuses primarily on the dissertation, which a Psy. D. concentrates more on clinical work.

While earning your degree, you’ll likely have to complete a specific number of supervised clinical hours as well. This part of the process often takes the longest. Still, the career opportunities afterward are generally more fruitful and lucrative.

On the other hand, you may need additional credentials to work for certain organizations. For example, some schools require an education specialist degree to qualify for a job. So, talk to your school’s admissions counselor or contact employers to find out more.

5 Paths For Professional Therapists

Once you’ve completed your education, you’re free to choose the career path that best suits your ideas and training. However, each option may require a different form of education or degree level. But here are five options to consider in the meantime:

#1. Clinical Social Worker (Master’s Degree)

These degrees are generally called MSW, which stands for masters in social work. Students must complete two to three years of training from an accredited school to practice in private or public settings.

#2. Mental Health Counselor (Master’s Degree)

Becoming a mental health counselor takes about two to three years as well. Graduates typically provide intensive talk therapies through various methodologies to help their patients thrive despite having a mental illness.

#3. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (Master’s Degree)

Psychiatric nurse practitioners must obtain a nursing degree first. Afterward, the path usually takes about three years to complete and results in prescribing psychopharmaceuticals to psychiatric patients.

#4. Clinical Psychologist (Doctoral Degree)

A clinical psychology degree is a doctoral credential that requires significant training in mental health and therapeutic methodologies. Professionals in this field typically focus on practice instead of research.

#5. Psychiatrist (M.D.)

To become a psychiatrist, you must hold an M.D. degree, complete training in psychopharmaceuticals, and learn about the different approaches to treating mental health issues. Meanwhile, this path takes at least five years.

Set Goals For Yourself

Think about what you want to do and achieve as a licensed therapist. Then, move along the path at your own pace. And for better insights on what each professional’s duties and responsibilities are, talk to a psychologist in person.

Get A Good Example Of Compassionate Therapy

Two women embracing each other in a hug; in a group setting in a large room.

Are You In Need Of Guidance In Your Life And Career?

Psychologists, counselors, social workers, therapists – they all play different roles. But they all have a few things in common.

For instance, appropriately trained therapists practice empathy for every patient regardless of the circumstance. They also practice active listening and use proper communication skills to assist individuals and groups with their needs.

Psychotherapist Requirements

Therapists must be engaging, professional, approachable, and organized. Their network should be fortified with equally talented experts to provide comprehensive treatment plans.

That means becoming a licensed therapist is a big responsibility with serious implications.

In addition, it knows how and when to find or use community resources is essential to offer effective treatments. However, that can be challenging when you’re just getting started. So, become a more insightful and effective therapist by observing what other professionals in the field do or don’t do.

Use BetterHelp To Further Your Career

Make BetterHelp your career mentor.

Join forces with one of our compassionate therapists to ask important questions and get the answers you need. Try to pay attention to how you’re treated as a patient. Then, find healing and understand any mental health conditions that may hinder your personal or professional life.

BetterHelp review #233145
Date of review: October 6, 2021

BetterHelp user B.R. wrote a review after working with Judith Wilson for five months on stress, anxiety, relationship issues, intimacy-related issues, self-esteem, and anger management.

“Judith is a really good therapist. She listens, offers good resources, and is easy to talk to. She checks in sometimes to see how things are going and makes me feel as if I and my issues matter. I’m super thankful to have found her!”

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