Interested In Becoming A Therapist? Career, Training, And Educational Requirements
Updated May 21, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Melinda Santa
Sister Mary Rose McGeady, known for her work with homeless youth in the U.S.A., said, "There is no greater joy, nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone's life."
Most therapists would agree with Sister Mary Rose McGeady. They have a deeply felt need to make a difference in people's lives.
The chances are that those who are considering a therapist career path feel the same way.
How Do Therapists Make A Difference In People's Lives?
Therapists help people cope with and mental health issues and traumatic experiences. There are many times that people seeking therapy want a better understanding of themselves. The reason is that they want to live a fulfilling life. Sometimes, people have no-one else but their therapists to turn to when they're experiencing emotional upheaval or a life-changing event.
Whatever the reason people seek therapy, therapists play a valuable role in helping them achieve mental well-being and happier lives.
What Makes A Good Therapist?
The right education and training are essential if you want to become a therapist, but just as necessary are the right interpersonal skills.
The qualities of a good therapist are:
- to be a good listener
- to have powers of observation
- to be able to communicate clearly
- to be patient
- to be empathetic and compassionate
- to be confidential
- to have a good understanding of self
- to be tolerant and non-judgmental
- to be comfortable with all types of people
- to be creative and flexible
- to be analytical and logical
How To Become A Therapist?
Therapists are mental health professionals; they must have a license to practice their work. Therapists need to be licensed in the state that they're practicing in, but by-and-large the requirements for each state are similar.
In California, aspiring therapists must apply to the Board of Behavioral Sciences to become a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) or a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) before they can practice.
But before you can apply to become an LPCC or LMFT you need to:
- complete an undergraduate degree
- follow it up with a master's or doctorate
- apply for associate counselor status and register as an intern
- pass the California Law and Ethics exam
- complete 3,000 hours of supervised practice
- pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor exam.
We'll look at each of these steps in detail.
What Degrees Do You Need To Become A Therapist?
You can earn your degree by attending classes in person or studying through an online program, but whichever route you choose to take, make sure that your course meets California's LPCC requirements. California accepts any course accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
The first step to becoming a therapist is to get a Bachelor's in Psychology degree.
In most cases, a Bachelor's in Psychology degree will take four years to complete.
The university you choose to attend is a personal choice based on your financial and geographical needs. However, to see the top-ranked general psychology universities in California, click here.
Master's Degree Or Doctorate
Once you have your Bachelor's in Psychology, you will need to complete a master's or doctorate.
The California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (CCCL) requires that your graduate degree has 60 semester hours of training and includes the following coursework:
- trauma counseling
- addictions counseling
- techniques of advanced counseling and psychotherapy
If your graduate degree doesn't include all the above, you will need to complete post-master's classes for the courses that you don't have.
A master's degree takes two years to complete if you're a full-time student.
A doctorate in psychology may take between eight and ten years to complete.
Cost Of Degrees
Fees for a bachelor's in psychology vary from university to university and can cost anywhere from $8,000 a year to $60,000 including fees, tuition, room and board, and books and supplies.
Likewise, a master's in psychology varies from university to university and can cost anywhere between $8,000 and $60,000 a year.
The cost of a doctorate in the U.S.A is anywhere between $28,000 and $40,000 a year, but students can apply for partial or full funding from the many government and institution schemes available.
Applying For Associate Counselor Status And Registering As An Intern
Now that you've met the California LPCC education requirements, you can take the next step and apply to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences for Associate Counselor status and register as an intern.
The application may take more time than you expect. In addition to submitting transcripts and certificates, those thinking of going the therapist career route will undergo a background check that includes fingerprinting and could take several weeks to process.
The Board of Behavioral Sciences application form requires detailed answers to personal questions and must be accompanied by a photograph.
What Is Required from An Intern?
A Psychology Intern is supervised by a clinical mental health professional. They provide individual and group counseling under intensive supervision. Psychological Interns provide assessments and can make referrals when necessary.
Complete Your Education, If Necessary
If your degree doesn't meet the education requirements of the BBS, you have one year to complete the additional courses. The BBS will tell you where you need to focus your attention.
Pass The California LPCC Law And Ethics Exam
Interns need to sit and pass this exam in their first year of internship. The BBS provides an outline of the exam questions that you can expect, and there are many study aids and programs available to help you achieve success. You can take the exam once a year until you pass.
As soon as you've been registered as an intern, you can start earning your supervised practice hours. Interns must complete 3,000 hours of supervised therapist practice within a minimum of two years and a maximum of six.
Pass The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam
When you've completed your 3,000 supervised practice hours, you can take the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam. If you don't pass the first time, you can take the exam once a year until you do.
Yes, it's taken years, but you're almost there! All you need to do now is apply and pay for your license, and you're a practicing therapist.
You're ready to make that difference in people's lives that made you want a career as a therapist in the first place.
What Happens If You're Licensed In Another State?
Therapists already licensed in other states but wanting to undertake a therapist career in another area will already have passed the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam and met most of their state Board of Behavioral Sciences requirements. Their application and acceptance for a local LPCC will, therefore, be an easy and fast experience.
What About Online Therapists?
Distance therapy is not as new as you might think; Sigmund Freud wrote letters to his clients more often than he interacted with them on his couch.
Sigmund would have loved online therapy: e-mail, video chat, or phone would have kept him in immediate contact with his clients without laboriously writing letters and waiting for snail mail to deliver and receive them. One wonders how his clients fared in the weeks it took to exchange letters.
The requirements to become a licensed online therapist are the same as those detailed above with a few additions. The online therapist will need a solid grasp of technology, training on how to provide effective therapy online and know how to ensure the confidentiality of clients' information.
As we move ever deeper into the wonderful world of technology, so the demand for online therapists increases.
Click here to read more about the benefits of online therapy.
What Is The Job Market Like For Therapists?
There's nothing to worry about here. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, therapist jobs are expected to increase by 23% by the year 2026.
Society is increasingly comfortable with the concept that mental health issues require treatment, and the job market for therapists is therefore booming.
How Much Do Therapists Make?
Salaries for licensed therapists can be anywhere between $46,000 and $70,000 a year depending on the type of therapy they offer, where they're geographically located, and their years of experience and expertise.
On Being A Therapist
We already know that being a therapist can be enormously rewarding, but it's also true that actively listening to and analyzing people's problems is emotionally draining and stressful.
Therefore, it's necessary for therapists to defend themselves against burnout. A therapist who is emotionally and mentally exhausted cannot effectively help clients.
Therapists need time off from their profession as much as anyone else does. It's a fact of life that friends and family expect free therapy at social events when the therapist wants nothing more than to relax and enjoy the time away from clients.
Therapists need to set boundaries if they're not to become exhausted and ineffective, and gently refer friends and family to another therapist.
People who work in "helping" professions are vulnerable to compassion fatigue. Therapists are exposed to the pain and suffering of their clients and can experience secondary trauma. They may be fewer effective therapists as a result.
Therapists need a therapist of their own to help them develop self-care coping mechanisms against compassion fatigue and burnout.
And, just like anyone else, therapists need the sympathetic, unjudgmental ear of a therapist to help them cope with emotional trauma and turmoil in their own lives.
Helping Others Gives Meaning And Purpose To Life
If you're interested in a career as a therapist, then you're sure to be the type of person who finds meaning and purpose in helping others. You're not alone.
Charles Dickens: No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.
John Holmes: There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people.
It may be a long and expensive journey to achieve your dream of becoming a licensed therapist, but undertaking a therapist career path, it's undoubtedly worth the effort when you consider the many clients that will live fuller, happier lives because of you.
If you're licensed and interested in becoming an online therapist? Counseling with BetterHelp may be just what you need. Click here for more information.