Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology is usually enough for you to be able to work as a therapist, which can come in a variety of forms, from psychologists, and counselors to social workers.
The American Psychological Association says that psychology graduates make anywhere from $50,000 to $90,000 per year. While majoring in psychology allows you to take on an entry-level job in the mental health sector, having a master’s degree in psychology is often a requirement for various intermediate and senior-level positions.
In this post, I help you navigate your options if you want to become a therapist as well as what you need to do.
Psychology, Counseling, and Therapy Differences
These three degrees and careers are similar, but they function in different areas.
They all work with people who have one or more issues that they want to solve or learn how to manage. Some therapists can even have clients without issues but they have to learn to manage things like PTSD, and general mental health.
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Counseling treats people with therapeutic techniques and helps them overcome and manage emotional, social, and psychological problems.
Therapy focuses more on feelings and issues that impact the person whether they be emotional, behavioral, or it can help with relationship issues and other beliefs a person has.
From these definitions, it is easy to see that these different types of counseling and therapy, are all similar.
To differentiate what you want to study, you should know what types of issues you want to help people through. That way, you will be led to the type of psychology you need to study.
What to Study to Become a Licensed Therapist
Deciding what to study is a hard choice to make, but for those interested in therapy the choice can be made for you.
Some people want to be a therapist for those who struggle with ADHD, PTSD, Dermatillomania, Depression, relationship issues, divorce, sexual issues, stress, anxiety, anger, grief, parenting, phobias, fertility issues, eating disorders, abuse, and more. (Source)
Some therapists are specialized to work with kids, teens, or adults. And they can specialize in any specific problem listed above.
So if someone has depression and wants to see a therapist about it, they can go to someone who specializes in that. But, that same therapist can also help in other areas in the patient’s life that they want advice and counseling in.
Being specialized in one specific issue means you are best equipped to handle that issue and teach the patient how to deal with it and how to manage it on their own, and they can do all the other things a therapist can do.
If you want to prescribe medicine for people who go into therapy and counseling, then you will need to study medicine and you might be directed towards a Clinical Psychology degree.
Others who want to study how people act according to how their brain functions would want to go into Psychology, and you can become specialized in an area if you choose.
If you want to work with people on their personal life and the issues they face with family and relationships you may lean towards counseling.
But, depending on what you want to help people with, your college or university may tell you that there is a degree or program designed for what you want to study and you will follow the graduation plan that your school has laid out for the degree.
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Is It Hard to Become a Therapist
First, you have to decide what to study specifically.
Take advice from above and figure out what type of patients you would want to see every day. When you know who you want to work with and what problems you want to help people overcome, then you can look up what specific degree goes with that.
You can work with your university or college and talk to an academic advisor.
Talking to them can help you figure out what degree works for what you want to study, which is really helpful because there are lots of degrees in Psychology, Therapy, and Counseling.
After you work with an academic advisor or work by yourself, you can plan out classes to take to become a therapist.
Planning out your classes is a great way to ensure your success. Plan out the semesters you will be attending and then you won’t have to worry.
People tend to adjust when they take certain classes as they go throughout college, so by planning it all in advance you will only have to make small adjustments as you continue through each semester.
After planning your classes, take them!
It is a lot easier said than done.
There will be a lot of learning about human behavior, the human brain, how people are influenced, and you will have to learn some medical terms depending on what you’re going into.
Some people will be diagnosing, others will be prescribing, and others will be helping patients manage a specific issue or disorder, so there is a possibility for memorizing many terms in these studies.
Depending on the major or program you are taking for your degree, you might have to find an internship in order to graduate.
Your school or your professors can help you with this, they normally have a list of places in your city where people go to for the internship that you can apply to.
If you have to get an internship, start thinking about that early and ask the professors you have over the semesters of school what they recommend. It will help you immensely when you have to find an internship to attend.
After finishing all of the requirements for your degree, unfortunately, you are not done. To become a licensed therapist you need a Master’s degree.
So, time to get into a post-graduate program and finish your master’s degree. Some people think the work is easier, some think it’s harder.
Depending on how you did with obtaining your Bachelor’s degree, you may find yourself taking easier classes, harder classes, or equally as difficult classes as you took for your Bachelor’s degree.
When you have done the same planning steps to plan your classes for your Master’s degree then you are set to finish in the timeframe you set for yourself. After graduating with your master’s degree, you are set to start your career.
Some programs have you take the state test for becoming a licensed therapist, and others make you take it on your own time during semesters or after you have graduated.
Either way, so long as you have passed the state test, passed the state requirements, and you have a Master’s degree, then you are officially a licensed therapist.
There are many routes that require even more school and you need a Ph.D., so if that is what you need to do the work you want then go on and obtain that degree.
There is a lot of schooling required for psychology degrees and becoming a therapist or counselor. Knowing that there is a lot of school required for this profession is important to know before getting started.
If you found out after getting a Bachelor’s degree that in order for you to do what you want you have to go to more school, then you would be very upset.
To prevent that, it is important that you read about how much schooling it takes to become what you want to be. A lot of practice, schooling, and money is needed, but then you can start working soon after graduation and really get going on that career you want.
All you have to do now is figure out what you want to do.
Where do you want to work?
Where can you find work?
Professions for Psychology, Counseling, and Therapy
There are many places someone with a bachelor’s or masters can go in the world of psychology.
You can own your own practice, you can work in someone else’s office, you can work for a hospital, you can work with schools and school-aged kids, there are many options.
But by now, you have likely chosen the specific route you want to take and you simply need to find a job opportunity that fits what you want to do.
For people more interested in Psychology, some careers are Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist. You need a Ph.D. for this degree.
When getting this degree you are certified to assess and analyze patients’ mental health through interviews and questions to accurately investigate what the patient is going through, feeling, thinking, and how they are reacting.
From that, you are able to diagnose them and treat them with medicine.
For people more interested in Counseling or Therapy, some careers you can get into are counselor, therapist, social worker, and more. For these practices, you need a Master’s degree.
You will work with people in individual settings or group settings. You can work with children, adults, parents, and more.
People go to therapy for learning how to move on from things in their past, how to cope with loss, how to manage their mental health and other struggles they deal with, how to fix a broken relationship, how to change things in their life that need changing, and much more.
What Makes a Therapist Good at their Job?
It is important for people going into psychology and therapy to be compassionate and a good people person.
Being able to talk with people about what they are going through and be sensitive, being able to react responsibly, and offer advice that will genuinely help the patient is a few ways a therapist can be good at their job.
Many people who have traumatic childhoods or who are currently going through traumatic experiences need a therapist who listens and doesn’t judge them personally.
A therapist needs to judge the situation the patient is going through or has gone through and needs to judge for themselves how to treat the patient and what therapeutic methods of healing can help them.
For a patient to feel uncomfortable in a therapist’s office is bad.
A patient can feel uncomfortable telling personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences to a stranger, but that should only be from the patient needing to feel comfortable with that therapist and learn to trust them.
A therapist should never make a patient feel bad for what they are going through and a patient should never feel embarrassed with their therapist.
Some therapy sessions can be easy, some are hard for patients. People go in waves of good days and bad days, and a patient’s issues and struggles can change over time. A therapist needs to work through the good and the hard sessions.
And the patient needs to try the advice and help the therapist gives them so that they can discover together what helps them through their problems.
Then, they can start getting those hard sessions occurring less and less often and they can work on other issues the patient wants to address.
A therapist wants to help their patient struggle less. They are there to provide the tools and advice that they learned in school to their patient so that the patient can use those tools and better themselves. As well as, better the people in their life.
A mother having struggles with raising kids can see a therapist who specializes in family and she can learn how to overcome her daily struggles with her children.
Through that, her kids can benefit by having their mom learn how to react or respond better to them and it can create a better home.
If a therapist works with a couple they can help the couple learn how to handle disputes better and from that, the couple can grow stronger together.
Then, their kids, family, or friends around them can enjoy the couple more and they can learn to move past things and grow together.
Therapy is a great career that takes a lot of work and a lot of schooling. If you want to become a therapist, then take the tips above and learn about what kind of people you want to help.
You may feel like you are better equipped to help families, you may feel like you are better equipped to help people struggling with a chronic illness. Whatever you feel, decide what you want to help and go for the degree path that leads you there.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.