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How do I Become a Psychotherapist?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A psychotherapist uses a series of techniques to enter into a deep connection with patients, in order to help them work through problems they may be having in their lives. Psychotherapy has as its primary aim the alleviation of a patient’s perceived discomfort with life, to help them live a personally more gratifying life. Psychotherapy is not an objective discipline, instead relying on the psychotherapist’s ability to make a connection with the patient and discern underlying causes of problems, and the best way to walk the patient through coming to a happier state of mind. As a result, those who wish to become psychotherapists tend to be those who wish to help other people by relating with them on a personal level.

It takes a great deal of work and education to become a psychotherapist, and takes many years. Often, people who think they want to work as a a psychotherapist find the amount of work to be too much, and so opt to go into a helping field that requires less education. For example, some people may choose to focus on social work, or to become a counselor of some sort. Even in these cases, however, many years of education are required to ensure the practitioner will handle people well.

The requirements to become a psychotherapist differ from country to country and from state to state in the United States. Generally, one needs at the very least a Master’s Degree, generally either in Social Work, Counseling, or Psychology. In some states, like California, a PhD is the minimum degree one needs to acquire to become a psychotherapist. Additionally, a strong understanding of a number of associated disciplines is required, so those who wish to work as a psychotherapist should take classes in neurology, physiology, and chemistry, to give them the foundation necessary to understand the physiological component of psychotherapy.

Once a degree has been acquired, the potential psychotherapist needs to pass the National Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. This exam tests the potential psychotherapist on their understanding of research methodology, psychological assessment, the building of tests, developmental and social psychology, and psychotherapy. Although the coursework taken during the degree fulfillment should adequately cover most of these areas, there are specialized workshops to help people who want to become psychotherapists prepare for the test.

Next, the future psychotherapist needs to become licensed to practice in a specific state. Different states have different requirements, and different licensing procedures. Many require that the person pass a licensing exam, after which time they are a psychotherapist and can practice. In other states, the person may be required to spend a minimum amount of time in residency with an established psychotherapist, in order to gain an understanding of the field first hand, and once their mentor has signed off on their time with them, they can become licensed.

Once licensed, the person has become a psychotherapist, and can go into private practice or join a larger organization. The opportunities for psychotherapists are many, although there are many different theories of psychotherapy, and new psychotherapists may find their options limited by the school they chose to pursue. Generally, most people take anywhere from two to nine years to become a psychotherapist, depending on how much education they already had acquired before they began to pursue a certification.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By AnswerMan — On Jan 26, 2014

I agree with you, Buster29, about the usefulness of a good psychotherapist, but I think it's important to find the right one. One of my daughters was having trouble with bullies in school and the principal suggested I get her some counseling. I found a psychotherapist in the phone book and made her an appointment. It didn't go very well, since the psychotherapist was not a specialist in adolescent issues and my daughter said she felt like she couldn't really open up to him.

I found a different psychotherapist across town who mentioned adolescent problems in her online listing, and it made all the difference. My daughter really worked through a lot of her issues and loved seeing her doctor twice a week. So make sure if you're looking for a psychotherapist, ask them if they are comfortable working with certain age groups or even genders.

By Buster29 — On Jan 25, 2014

I went to a psychotherapist for a few months many years ago and I still thank him to this day for his help. It's like someone genuinely listens to you for 50 minutes and doesn't get angry or defensive or judgmental. It wasn't like the intense sessions you see on TV. I just sat on a regular chair in his office and talked about whatever was bothering me that day. Sometimes it was very serious stuff, but other times it was just a temporary frustration. The psychotherapist didn't try to push me into a crying jag or ask me about my mother or anything like that.

If you feel like the things in your life are getting too overwhelming, I highly recommend making an appointment with a good psychotherapist. Family and friends are all right to talk to sometimes, but they can't be nearly as objective as a psychotherapist.

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