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The ThriveTalk Guide to How to Become a Therapist

Since some of you might be passionate enough about psychology and mental health to pursue a career in this filed, perhaps a post on how to become a therapist will offer you a bit clarity and guidance.

And even if you’re not interested in this profession, you can use this opportunity to find out more about this relatively new ‘craft’ which aims to promote mental health and cultivate well-being.

Many consider psychology a fascinating field; something makes people smile in amazement when they ask you about your job. But the road from ‘how to become a therapist’ to being an actual therapist can be quite tricky to navigate.

A licensed therapist doesn’t just use ‘talk therapy’ to help people who are going through a rough patch; he/she must know how to use various psychometric instruments (questionnaires, tests, assessment scales), stay up to date with all the latest advancements in the field, and revise his/her practice constantly.

But before we get to the steps one needs to take to become a licensed therapist, let’s take a moment to understand what a therapist does.

What Do Therapists Do?

Therapists are licensed mental health professionals who can help you understand the emotional and psychological issues you might be dealing with and find appropriate solutions to manage them.

In a way, therapists are doctors of the mind. Just like a medical professional evaluates the condition of patients and proposes treatment options, so does a therapist zeroes-in on the patient’s emotional problems and helps him overcome them.

But the job of a therapist doesn’t stop here.

With in-depth knowledge about the inner workings of the human mind, a therapist can help you discover your internal resources and use them to achieve personal and professional growth.

Therapists usually work in clinical settings or private practice. Depending on their training, they can provide individual, group, family, or couples therapy. But the way they address psychological problems varies based on the therapeutic approach they choose to pursue.

Degree Fields

The word ‘therapist’ is a general term that encompasses several specializations that vary depending on the academic background required to achieve it and the type of problem it addresses.

Ph.D. vs. Psy.D.

The Ph.D. vs. Psy.D. dilemma is sometimes a source of anxiety for psychology majors who are pondering their career path. Although both degrees represent a superior academic achievement that opens the door to a wide range of career options, there are some notable differences between the two.

While a Ph.D. is a Doctor in Philosophy, a Psy.D. is a Doctor in Psychology. Ph.D.’s follow the scientist-practitioner model and earn their degrees in about 5-7 years, while Psy.D.’s are specialized in clinical work and earn their degree in about 4-6 years. [1]

Master’s of Counseling

Compared to earning a Ph.D. or Psy.D., a master’s degree in counseling is the relatively faster and less strenuous way to become a therapist. Master’s programs in counseling equip you with all the tools you need to help people improve their mental health.

Aside from gaining extensive knowledge in interpersonal, family, group, and child psychology, licensed counselors are required to partake in supervised clinical work. [2]

Master’s of Psychology

After completing a bachelor’s program, the next step toward becoming a therapist could be a master’s program in psychology. You can opt between Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.).

Although psychology and counseling have a lot in common, there are some differences between a master’s degree in counseling and a master’s degree in psychology.

For starters, psychologists focus more on conducting research that innovates the field, while counselors are mainly interested in using their knowledge to help people overcome emotional and behavioral problems. In other words, psychologists push the boundaries of this field, while counselors transform it into something practical, with real-life applications.

Licensed Clinical Social Work

Similar to master’s programs, a degree in clinical social work, provides the necessary knowledge and training to help people deal with emotional issues. Licensed clinical social workers provide therapy in various clinical settings such as hospitals, community mental health centers, primary care, and even private practice.

To obtain your license in clinical social work, you must complete two years of coursework beyond the undergraduate degree and also follow an internship program that helps you gain supervised experience. [3]

Drug and Alcohol Counseling

As the name suggests, therapists who specialize in drug and alcohol counseling are trained to handle substance abuse disorders. While some choose to start a private practice, others prefer clinical settings such as hospitals, rehab centers, or transitional living programs.

To obtain your license in drug and alcohol counseling, you must have a master’s degree in Behavioral Sciences and complete a certification program that includes education and supervised practice.

Marriage and Family Therapy

Since relationships play a crucial part in our day-to-day lives, some of today’s psychologists opt for a license in marriage and family therapy. Just like drug and alcohol counseling, this form of therapy can take place both in private practice and clinical settings.

A therapist who’s specialized in this particular niche works with families in distress and couples who are often ‘stuck’ or on the brink of divorce.

Therapist Salary

Aside from the academic steps – which can be relatively challenging – there’s also the financial aspect which weights heavy for today’s aspiring therapists. Although the salary of a therapist fluctuates depending on the country, level of experience, and academic achievements, therapists typically earn decent money.

For example, the average salary of a therapist in the US is around 50,000 dollars a year, while in the UK therapists make about 40,000 pounds a year, which is relatively the same.

But the best part about this profession is that it gives you the opportunity to generate several streams of income. In other words, aside from working at a clinic or in private practice, you can also write books, create online courses, hold workshops, or even train aspiring therapists (once you reach a certain academic level).

If you wish to learn more about how to become a therapist, visit the American Psychological Association website for more details about this profession and what it takes to practice it.


[1] J. Golding and A. Lippert, “Choosing Between a PhD and PsyD: Some Factors to Consider,” Psychology Today, 02 March 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/careers-in-psych/201603/choosing-between-phd-and-psyd-some-factors-consider.

[2] n.a., “Education and Degree Requirements to Become a Therapist,” GoodTherapy, 31 July 2013. [Online]. Available: https://www.goodtherapy.org/become-a-therapist/education-requirements.html.

[3] K. Cherry, “How to Become a Psychotherapist,” Dotdash, 11 October 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-can-i-become-a-therapist-2795762.

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