How to Become a Therapist: Education, Licensure & Careers
- February 22, 2021
- Posted by: Ipolani Mugford
- Category: Student Resources,
Therapists are primarily concerned with helping people who are struggling mentally or emotionally. A therapist of any kind has to work with other people personally in sensitive situations. Therefore, you should be good with people and be both empathetic and patient. If this sounds like you, you may want to explore a career in therapy.
However, becoming a therapist requires years of training, and a year or two of practical training before finally passing an accreditation exam. Make sure you are committed to the goal of helping others before embarking on this journey.
What Does a Therapist Do?
Although therapists perform in a wide variety of roles, there are certain things they all have in common. Whether in person or online, therapists meet with clients and administer counseling to improve their well-being. In these sessions, you will meet with clients experiencing difficulties in a specific area in their lives and use your professional knowledge to help.
Your job will be to alleviate their suffering and help them move on and live a fuller and more enjoyable life. A lot of what a therapist does is listen and allow the client air their problems and provide them with general support. However, therapists do not listen in a purely passive manner. Instead, they evaluate the issues their clients face and look for strategies to improve their lives.
Therapists often deal with individuals who have a mental illness of some kind. While therapists are not licensed to prescribe medication, they use other methods to reduce the symptoms associated with these conditions. You will design and help your clients implement coping strategies to help them enjoy a higher quality of life.
Another important aspect of your role as a therapist will be to perform crisis management. Clients sometimes experience severe obstacles that can profoundly affect their lives and the lives of those around them if left unaddressed. When a client undergoes a loved one’s death, a traumatic breakup, or loses their job, it can trigger a significant crisis in their lives. Your skillful therapy could prove to be the difference between a temporary crisis and an unnecessary tragedy.
If you’re attending school full-time, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology within four or five years. If you decide to go for your master’s degree, expect another two to three years. A doctorate degree in psychology can take anywhere from four to seven years.
What Education Does a Therapist Need?
In the United States, every practicing therapist requires a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a directly relevant field. However, in most fields and states, a master’s degree is necessary to practice. A Ph.D. can increase your earnings as a therapist and may be required for certain types of employment.
The credentials you need will depend on what type of therapist you wish to become. Psychologists must reach the highest level of accreditation amongst therapists. To work at this level, you will need to complete either a Ph.D. in psychology or an equivalent degree known as a Psy.D. Though both are quite rigorous, they differ in their emphasis: a Ph.D. focuses on research while their Psy.D. equivalents get more hands-on clinical research.
Either track is highly demanding and will likely take you around five years to complete. Though it is possible to pursue a degree while working, expect to take even longer if you attempt to do so.
The education necessary to become a therapist or counsellor varies more. You will most likely need a master’s degree in order to work in these two occupations. A Ph.D. is usually not required, but it can help command higher salaries and gain an advantage in the marketplace.
Credentials and Licenses
If you are interested in accurate and up-to-date information on how to receive a license, the first thing you want to do is check requirements by state. These will differ depending on the job and specialization of your choice. However, we have provided you with general information here.
The American Psychological Association accredits psychologists with doctorates in the clinical, counseling, and school fields of psychology. Once you have earned the right to call yourself a Doctor, you will need to obtain an internship and a year or two practical experience. Then you can take the test, which will allow you to practice as a licensed psychologist.
A counselor may need either a bachelor’s or master’s degree to obtain credentials, depending on the state. Once they have completed their education, would-be counselors must conduct somewhere in the range of 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised counseling. The final step is passing a test, such as the National Counselor Examination.
What Fields Can a Therapist Work In?
When choosing to work as a therapist, there is a vast array of specializations available. Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy are two veteran branches, usually involving long-term work with specific individuals. In these fields, you will accompany the patient in their lives and have an opportunity to help them deal with their most substantial and deep seated issues.
Other disciplines such as occupational therapy and marriage therapy are more situational. As a marriage therapist, you will help a troubled couple avoid destructive quarrels and avoid divorce. Meanwhile, as an occupational therapist you will help an individual with disabilities or recovering from an injury integrate into the workplace.
While many therapists have private practices, they can also work in a variety of settings and institutions. Hospitals and private companies employ therapists regularly. Even major league sports teams hire therapists to work with their players and staff.
Many counselors work in schools and help students with the challenges they experience. Rehabilitation counseling is another thriving subfield. If you worked in this field, you would help individuals with disabilities and other disadvantages gain access to resources to which society denies them access. Meanwhile, mental health counselors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Finally, substance abuse counselors specialize in either a specific addiction (like opioids or alcohol) or working with a certain population of addicts (for example veterans or young adults).
How Much Do Therapists Earn?
The base salary you can expect as a therapist will vary quite wildly per your location, qualifications, and specialty. Psychologists are rewarded for their more strenuous training with wages well above the national mean. Meanwhile, therapists and counselors earn average wages in comparison to the national mean. All of the data here is updated as of 2019.
A psychologist in the United States earns $78,242 annually as of 2019. After 20 years in the field, you can expect to earn over $90,000. However, psychologists can vary wildly in their degrees of success depending on their location and private practice. Therefore, the lowest end of the salary scale is around $50,000, while the highest can reach well over $100,000 annually.
Therapists are compensated far closer to the average country-wide average. The base salary for the role is in the $36k-62k range, with the average wage sitting closer to the bottom edge at $45,799 annually. The starting salary you can expect is around $40k, and after 20 years in the business, you are likely to earn about $52k.
In some cases, a therapist can earn considerably more than the average. For example, marriage and family therapists doing state government work (OES designation) and in hospitals can earn over $70k on average.
Salaries for counselors are within the same range, but overall are somewhat lower. These jobs pay an average annual salary of $43,317 and increase over time, similarly to therapists’ jobs.
Exploring Next Steps
If you are genuinely interested in pursuing therapy as a career, you will be involved in the noblest of all endeavors: helping others. But of course, there are many practical elements to consider. You will most likely have to complete a degree and possibly more. Make sure to inquire into programs that will best suit your needs.
There have never been more options for obtaining psychology degrees online or hours suitable for the working professional. However, make sure that you only attend respected programs recognized by the institutions you wish to work for and the bodies responsible for accreditation in your state.
Receiving the training and accreditation to work as a therapist will not be easy. However, if you are a genuinely empathetic person committed to helping others, it is well worth it.