Becoming a Psychotherapist – Schooling Guide and Online Psychotherapy Degrees

What is Psychotherapy?

The term psychotherapy refers to the practice of talk therapy. That is, in simplified terms, psychotherapy revolves around using talking and listening as mechanisms for bringing about change in a person’s life. But psychotherapy is much more involved than just talking and listening.

Instead, psychotherapy is about building a trusting relationship between the therapist and the client such that the client feels comfortable sharing his or her experiences, expressing his or her emotions, addressing his or her fears, and so forth.

What is a Psychotherapist?

A psychotherapist is a skilled expert who supports individuals struggling with various mental health concerns, including stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, negative behavior patterns, emotional turmoil, and other psychological issues.

There are several types of professionals who practice psychotherapy, such as Licensed Professional Counselors, Social Workers, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Mental Health Nurse Practitioners.

Despite minor differences in their methods or techniques, all of them utilize “the talking cure” as the primary means of addressing psychological challenges.

Broadly speaking, therapists function as facilitators, assisting clients in uncovering their genuine emotions. For some clients, the therapy process may be brief, while for others, it could involve a more extended journey. However, for those willing to be honest, curious, and open during treatment, the results can be enriching and ultimately life-enhancing.

Psychotherapists, or “therapists,” offer empathetic and unbiased listening. They possess specialized training that enables them to focus not only on the content of their clients’ words but also to identify subtle signals, defense mechanisms, emotional reactions, and psychological needs.

Through their careful listening, clients can discuss their concerns in a way that allows them to discover their own solutions, gain valuable emotional insights, and experience emotional recovery.

What are the Types of Psychotherapists?

There are various types of psychotherapists, including:

  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW): These practitioners deliver therapeutic services while helping clients connect with community resources and handling case management.
  • Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC): Sometimes referred to as licensed mental health counselors (LMHC), these experts provide therapy to individuals, couples, and groups.
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT): Concentrating on relationship issues, LMFTs collaborate with individuals, couples, and families to tackle and resolve relationship difficulties.
  • Psychologists (PsyD): In addition to offering psychotherapy services, psychologists possess comprehensive training in performing psychological evaluations.
  • Psychiatrists (MD): As medical doctors with a specialization in mental health, psychiatrists have the option to provide therapy, though not all elect to do so. They are also authorized to prescribe medications to patients.

How to Become a Psychotherapist?

A psychotherapy degree is the culmination of the educational requirements necessary to become a psychotherapist. There are many different levels of education for psychotherapists, beginning with undergraduate studies, continuing in graduate school, and ending with a doctoral degree.

Psychologist Degree Requirements

In simple terms, most psychologists hold either a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). The primary difference between the two is that a Ph.D. involves research and a dissertation, while a Psy.D. focuses more on clinical practice.

Although all of these paths necessitate a bachelor’s degree, certain psychology positions (such as a school psychologist) may only require a master’s degree and not a higher level of education.

Typically, a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology takes a minimum of five years to complete. This period generally includes a research or practicum element and a specified number of supervised clinical hours. Although this is the lengthiest route to becoming a therapist, it offers the best job prospects since it represents the highest level of education one can attain in this field.

Some psychologist specializations demand additional education. For instance, school psychologists may need an Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.) before they can work in specific schools, along with a supervised internship.

Counselor Degree Requirements

The educational prerequisites for aspiring counselors depend on the specific area of counseling they intend to pursue. For school or career counseling, candidates typically need a master’s degree in counseling or a related field, with a specialization in career or school counseling. In many regions, teaching experience is preferred for school counselors before obtaining a license.

For those interested in rehabilitation counseling, a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field is necessary. Certain institutions offer five-year programs, enabling students to obtain both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.

A bachelor’s degree is essential for individuals seeking admission to a master’s degree program.

In the case of substance abuse or behavioral disorder counseling, a bachelor’s degree is generally sufficient. However, a master’s degree may improve job prospects. Mental health counselors should possess a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling or a similar field.

Regardless of the counseling specialization, most regions mandate additional licensing. This process typically involves completing a set number of supervised counseling hours (approximately 2,000 to 4,000 in some cases) and passing an examination.

Therapist Degree Requirements

To embark on a career as an occupational therapist, individuals should first obtain an undergraduate degree in a program containing coursework in physiology or a similar subject area. Following the completion of their bachelor’s degree, aspiring occupational therapists are advised to volunteer or secure employment at an occupational therapy practice to acquire relevant experience.

The journey to become a child therapist typically starts with completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related discipline. Subsequently, individuals must pursue a master’s degree in child development or clinical psychology and accumulate the necessary supervised clinical experience hours.

To become a marriage and family therapist, one must first earn a bachelor’s degree, ideally in psychology or a similar area of study. After completing their undergraduate degree, aspiring therapists can pursue a master’s program in marriage and family therapy, counseling psychology, or a comparable field, while also obtaining the required supervised clinical experience.

For those aiming to be cognitive behavioral therapists, it is essential to hold at least a master’s degree in mental health or a related area. The initial step in this career path involves obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree. This educational foundation is crucial for pursuing a career as a CBT therapist.

To become an ABA therapist, once you complete your undergraduate studies, the next step is to get a master’s degree. Some schools offer specific graduate degrees in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Others offer graduate programs in psychology with an ABA focus.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychotherapist?

It depends on the license type of the psychotherapist:

  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW): After finishing high school, it normally takes 6 to 8 years to become a clinical social worker.
  • Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC): After finishing high school, it generally takes 7 to 9 years to become a licensed counselor.
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT): After finishing high school, it typically takes 7 to 8 years to become a licensed marriage and family therapist.
  • Psychologists (PsyD): After finishing high school, it generally takes 10 to 14 years to become a licensed psychologist.

What is an Online Psychotherapy Degree Program?

Online degree programs in psychotherapy do not exist, per se. That is, students instead must pursue online degrees in related fields or degrees that will prepare them for future studies.

For example, a student can complete online studies for a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Much like an on-campus program, undergraduate degrees that are obtained online require around 120 credit hours to complete. What’s more, the same type of coursework is required, with both general education requirements like science and math required alongside specific studies within the field of psychology, like the history of psychology, the psychology of learning, physiological psychology and so forth.

Additionally, there are many online master’s degree programs in psychology and related fields that may help prepare students for careers in psychotherapy. Online master’s degree programs differ widely in terms of their length, just like on-campus programs do. Again, these programs could be completed online in as little as a year or it might take two to three years to complete the degree requirements.

There are even some online degree programs for doctorate degrees, though these programs are far less common than online undergraduate and graduate degrees. However, no matter the level at which a student pursues his or her studies online, these programs offer many benefits.

Primary among the benefits of studying online is the ability to tailor one’s learning to one’s schedule. That is, rather than having to take classes at specific times, online students can complete their studies when it best fits into their daily schedule.

What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychotherapist?

The label “psychotherapist” refers to a wide range of professionals in both psychology and counseling domains. This comprehensive term is applied to those experts who deliver therapeutic support to clients, including psychologists, counselors, and therapists.

How to Become a Psychotherapist Without a Degree?

You cannot become or call yourself a psychotherapist without a formal degree or education.

How Much Does a Psychotherapist Make?

The earnings of psychotherapists are influenced by a range of factors, including their specific credentials (e.g., Psychologist, LCSW, LPC, or LMFT), the duration of their practice, geographical location, supplementary certifications, and other aspects.

A psychotherapist boasting ten years of experience is typically positioned to earn more than someone fresh out of college. Additionally, therapists running private practices might charge higher rates in urban settings with higher living costs compared to those in more affordable rural locations.

Some therapists decide to acquire post-graduate certifications, such as focusing on a particular therapeutic technique. A psychotherapist’s work environment can also considerably impact their income, as they may work in diverse settings from public schools to private practices, each offering unique salary scales and benefits.

Many psychotherapists maintain full-time, salaried positions, while some work on a per-client basis, earning income based on the number of clients they attend to.

As of January 2024, the average salary for licensed psychologists in California, Colorado, Florida, and Massachusetts is $124,394, $94,835, $105,796, and $103,491 per year respectively. Meanwhile, psychologists working in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Texas on average earn $123,200, $130,853, $92,876, and $109,356 respectively.

On the other hand, the average salary for licensed professional counselors (LPCs) in California, Colorado, Florida, and Massachusetts is $77,872, $65,630, $67,010, and $76,745 per year respectively. Meanwhile, LPCs working in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Texas on average earn $69,718, $79,032, $70,530, and $69,142 respectively.

Furthermore, as of April 2023, the average salary for licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) in California, Colorado, Florida, and Massachusetts is $107,317, $89,244, $76,213, and $102,1730 per year respectively. Meanwhile, LMFTs working in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Texas on average earn $98,107, $113,107, $90,461, and $97,597 respectively.

More Resources

Copyright © 2024 All Rights Reserved. Program outcomes can vary according to each institution's curriculum and job opportunities are not guaranteed. This site is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional help.