Therapist Information: Everything You Need To Know About Therapists

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

The mental health care field is expanding rapidly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 351,000 substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor jobs in the U.S. in 2021. That number is projected to grow to almost half a million jobs by the beginning of the next decade, a growth rate much higher than many other occupations. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of mental health care for many people, and the stigma around seeking mental health support is fading.

Interested in learning more about the therapy profession?

If you are curious about the ways mental health care may be able to help you improve your life or address symptoms of mental health conditions, you may want to know a bit more about the therapist profession before you reach out to a professional.

Therapists are required to complete specific educational and licensing requirements to provide mental health services to clients. In addition, therapist licenses and titles can vary depending on what degree they hold and which populations of clients they serve.

Keep reading to learn more about the field of therapy and how seeking the support of a therapist could be beneficial. 

Educational requirements

To meet the licensing board requirements of most states, an aspiring therapist typically needs to have both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Common majors for bachelor’s degrees for people seeking to become therapists include psychology, sociology, and social work. While having an educational background in these areas may be helpful, most therapy master’s degree programs do not require a specific bachelor’s major for acceptance, though they may require the completion of certain prerequisite courses, typically in psychology.

Some therapists may also have a doctoral degree (usually a Ph.D.) in psychology or a related field. A doctoral degree is typically not needed to practice therapy, but it may be required for other career options related to the field of therapy, such as conducting psychological research. For a therapist to also be a psychiatrist, they need to have an MD or DO medical degree.

Regardless of what type of degree a therapist has, most mental health professionals have completed some type of formal training related to talk therapy, analytical skills, mental illness, communication, counseling and psychology theories, interpersonal relationships, ethical standards, and how to provide care in an equitable manner regardless of a client’s identity or background. 

Continuing therapist education

The field of human psychology is constantly growing and changing, so many therapists choose to continue their education even after they have secured their master’s degree and licensing credentials. If a therapist works for a larger organization, such as a mental health services administration, a hospital, a substance use rehabilitation center, or a local clinic, they may even be required to continually further their education in specific ways. 

Certain fields of mental health care, such as trauma therapy, psychedelic medicine, and addiction treatments continue to experience rapid evolution and breakthroughs in knowledge and research. So, it can be important for therapists, particularly therapists practicing in those specific focus areas, to stay current on recent developments.

Therapists may choose to stay up to date on research and continue their education in a variety of ways. They may complete formal therapy-related courses, either at their local university or through an accredited online institution. They might attend seminars or lectures delivered by prominent researchers in a specific subfield of therapeutic treatment. Or they may meet up with other therapists at regional, national, or international gatherings of professional associations, such as the American Psychological Association (APA), to discuss common challenges and pool ideas. They might also attend short, intensive training sessions on specific forms of mental health treatment, such as equine therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or couples therapy.

Types of therapists

There are a variety of different licenses a therapist can secure. Some allow the therapist to provide a more general practice in which they assist clients with a range of different mental health conditions, while some are more specific and allow the therapist to focus on specific populations or mental health disorders.

  • Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs): A licensed marriage and family therapist works with clients on concerns they may have with their romantic partner, spouse, or family members. An LMFT may meet with couples or all members of a family unit, but they can also meet with clients individually to help them work on interpersonal challenges. LMFTs can specialize further in related fields, such as divorce counseling or sex therapy.
  • Licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs) or licensed professional counselors (LPCs): An LMHC or an LPC may fulfill a more “general practitioner” type of role within the therapeutic community. LMHCs and LPCs may open their own practices or work for larger organizations, in which their versatility in therapeutic approaches and expertise can serve as an asset. They may also specialize in specific types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or rational emotive therapy.
  • Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs): A licensed clinical social worker has an educational background not only in providing therapeutic treatments but also in understanding the network of social support services available to clients who may be encountering issues beyond mental health conditions, such as financial distress or lack of reach to childcare. LCSWs typically have a caseload of clients they are working to connect to additional resources and support systems in the local community.
  • Psychologists (Psy.D or Ph.D.): Psychologists have a more advanced degree than the average therapist. They may continue to provide therapy services to clients, but they might also conduct research related to psychology and mental health. They could also choose to work for a university, research institute, or medical organization.
  • Psychiatrists (MD or DO):Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in the field of mental health care. In more recent years, many psychiatrists have moved away from providing talk therapy services and tend to focus more on medical interventions for mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions. Psychiatrists are the only professionals on this list who are authorized to prescribe medication.

Connecting with a therapist

If you want to learn more about the field of mental health care, or you think you may benefit from seeking professional mental health support, it may be helpful to speak with a licensed therapist. It can be complicated to find a mental health provider, though, as commute times and scheduling conflicts may impact your ability to connect with a therapist in-person. In these situations, online therapy may be a beneficial alternative. With online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp, you can receive support from your home and speak with your therapist through video chats, phone calls, or in-app messaging. You can also be matched with a therapist who specializes in your area of concern, removing the need to seek out the right fit for you all on your own.


The efficacy of online therapy

Recent research has demonstrated that online therapy has similar outcomes to traditional in-person therapy. One study assessed a group of clients after they had completed a course of online cognitive behavioral therapy and found substantial reductions in symptoms of a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, mood disorders, phobias, and more. CBT is a therapeutic approach that focuses on the connection between one’s thoughts and behaviors. Those using CBT can learn how to recognize their negative, automatic thoughts and change them into more helpful thinking patterns. With time and effort, this can improve their behavior and contribute to more positive mental health and overall well-being.


Many different mental health professionals can be classified as “therapists.” Educational requirements and licensing procedures can vary for therapists depending on their focus areas and the specific client populations they serve. If you are interested in learning more about the process of receiving therapy and the mental health profession, consider reaching out to a therapist. Online therapy can provide a convenient and available way to match with a therapist and get the support you need.
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