As a therapist, you will be in a unique career where you get to help people directly. While there are several types of therapy you can provide, all therapists work directly with patients. If you want to help people one-on-one, this might be the right career for you.
Figuring out how to become a therapist can be tricky. Without a guide to help you, it may take hours of research. Before you even look at the steps to becoming a therapist, you should understand the job duties. Let’s look at both to help you make the right career decision.
Job Duties of a Therapist
As a licensed therapist, you will be known as a mental health professional. Your main job duty will be to treat clients with mental health conditions. This includes helping them learn coping skills.
If you become a therapist with a medical degree, you might also prescribe medication, when needed. However, not all therapists have the ability to prescribe medication. Many focus on treatment options and offer advice for handling stressful and challenging situations.
The job duties of a therapist can vary, depending on the type of therapist you become. Common job duties include:
- Assessing the needs of a patient
- Creating a customized treatment plan for each patient
- Working with patients to help them develop coping skills
- Communicating with the patient and those close to them
- Providing joint therapy sessions with couples and families
- Offering rehabilitation therapy
- Recording sessions, taking notes and documenting the progress of a patient
- Providing the necessary resources and educational materials for the condition of the patient
These job duties are just a few of the most common for a therapist. Depending on the type of therapist you become, you might have additional job duties.
How To Become a Therapist in 6 Steps
Step #1 – Choose the Type of Therapist You Want to Become
You can go down many different career paths as a therapist. Choosing the type of therapist you want to become will impact the education and training you receive. Some of the most common types of therapists include:
While these are all similar, they are also very different. You may need to take specific coursework or choose a specific major based on the type of therapist you want to become.
Step #2 – Get your Bachelor’s Degree
You will need to get a bachelor’s degree to become a therapist. It’s best to make sure you do well in high school and on the SAT or ACT. This will help you get into a better bachelor’s degree program, which can help you land a better therapist job in the future.
During your bachelor’s degree program, you will need to choose a major and, potentially, a minor. You might want to major in counseling, sociology, or psychology. It can also be helpful to minor in the specialty you plan to go into as a therapist.
Your degree program will allow for electives. You can use these electives to minor or even double major. This is a good idea for therapists as it can help you increase your job opportunities.
Step #3 – Get your Master’s Degree
Before you go any further, it’s a good idea to look at the license requirements of your state. Some states require an advanced degree, while others don’t. You might be able to become a therapist with just a bachelor’s degree. However, a Master’s degree can help open up more doors.
Most states will require an advanced degree. You may need a Master’s degree in family therapy, social work, psychology, or rehabilitation therapy. Many employers will require an advanced degree, even if your state doesn’t.
Step #4 – Complete Your Supervised Clinical Work
If you want to become a licensed therapist, you will need to complete supervised clinical work. This will include several thousand hours of logged clinic hours. Each state is a bit different, so make sure you check the requirements for your state.
It’s common for undergraduate and graduate students to gain practical clinic hours while working on their education. You will work with patients while being supervised by a licensed therapist. Gaining even more hours can be done through an internship. It’s best to start earning your clinical hours as soon as possible.
Step #5 – Get your License
You will need to complete around 2,500 clinic hours to apply for your state license. This may vary from one state to another. You will also need to graduate with an advanced degree in the right subject for licensure.
Along with meeting the requirement, you will need to pass the exam. This written exam will cover psychological theories of therapy, along with laws about mental health treatment.
Once you become licensed, you will need to remain licensed to practice as a therapist. This will require 40 hours of continuing education every two years.
Step #6 – Earn Certifications
You don’t have to earn certifications to work as a therapist. However, the right certifications can help you specialize and become an expert in your field. The two most common certifications are:
- National Certified Counselor– You will need to complete general coursework, gain some professional experience, complete supervised clinical work, and pass an exam to get this certification. As a National Certified Counselor, you will have demonstrated professional training, education, and ethical standards within the field.
- Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor– This certification requires you to be a National Certified Counselor and complete advanced coursework. You will also need to complete supervised clinical training, have the right amount of professional experience, and pass an exam.
Both certifications can help you advance your career as a therapist.
Important Skills for Therapists
If you want to become a therapist, you should work on the following skills:
- Communication– You will need to become a master communicator to be a great therapist. Working with patients requires you to understand how to communicate in many different ways.
- Empathy– Without empathy, you won’t be a very good therapist. You need to be able to relate to how your patients are feeling and put yourself in their place as best you can. Empathy is a vital skill for any good therapist.
- Active Listening– Of course, as a therapist, you need to be a great listener. You will be listening to patients regularly and you want to learn how to become an expert at active listening.
These three skills are at the foundation of any good therapist. If you want to become a therapist, work on these skills every chance you get.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Therapist
How much can I make as a therapist?
The average yearly salary of a therapist is about $71K. It’s certainly possible for experienced therapists to earn more than the average amount. Some locations pay a higher average salary, too.
Austin, Texas is the highest paying location with an average salary of about $88K. It’s followed closely by Chicago with Phoenix, New York, and Philadelphia coming in with salaries above the average for the country.
What type of benefits are common for a therapist?
As a therapist, you will likely gain access to many employee benefits. You will likely get paid time off, health insurance, cell phone reimbursement, loan forgiveness, and mileage reimbursement. You may also have a flexible schedule and a few other benefits.
Is a therapist the same as a psychiatrist, counselor, or psychologist?
When you become a therapist, you might be one of many different mental health professionals. This term may refer to psychiatrists and psychologists. In some cases, the terms therapist and counselor are interchangeable, but this is not as common.
Psychologists and psychiatrists are specific types of therapists with advanced degrees. They can help patients in a more specialized way and both are considered medical doctors.
What type of issues can I help patients with as a therapist?
There are many different issues you can help patients deal with as a therapist. Some of the most common issues include:
- Eating disorders
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Anger management
- Marriage guidance
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
Some therapists will specialize in one specific area, while others will treat patients in multiple areas.
How long will it take me to become a therapist?
Most therapists will spend between 7 and 15 years to become a therapist after graduating high school. Most therapists will need to get a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Some will go on to get a doctoral degree.
It will also be necessary to complete supervised clinical hours. This can all take up to 15 years to complete. However, many therapists will enter this career in less time, depending on the level of education they choose.
Those considering a career as a therapist should understand how to become a therapist. Every state is a little bit different. Make sure you understand the requirements of your state. It’s also important to choose a type of therapy and get the right education for that type of therapy.