Psychotherapists are trained professionals that treat emotional problems in patients. A psychotherapist could be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor, depending on their level of education and accreditation.[1] Youíll need to determine whether you want to be a medical professional or standard counselor before pursuing a career in psychotherapy. Once youíve chosen a career path, youíll want to figure out where you want to practice and who your clients will be.

EditChoosing between Different Psychotherapy Careers

  1. Pursue psychiatry if you want the ability to prescribe medication. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, which means that youíll need to go to a psychiatry program at a medical school after completing your bachelorís degree. Psychiatrists are trained in both medical pharmacology as well as traditional forms of talk therapy and counseling. Pursue a career in psychiatry if you want to have the largest access to the****utic resources.[2]

    • Youíll need to pass the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, in order to apply to medical school. Doing well on the MCAT is important because medical schools tend to be highly competitive and very selective. Make sure that you fully prepare yourself for the MCAT by studying well in advance of your test date.[3]

  2. Become a psychologist if you want to focus on talk therapy. Psychologists are non-medical doctors that specialize in mental health and human behavior. To become a psychologist, youíll have to complete a PhD program after receiving your bachelorís degree. Consider becoming a psychologist if youíre mainly interested in the****utic practices that donít require medication, like marriage counseling or individual therapy.[4]

    • PhD is shorthand for Doctor of Philosophy. An individual with a PhD is still considered a doctor, they just canít prescribe medicine.[5]
    • PhD programs can be highly competitive and expensive, so donít assume that the path to becoming a psychologist will be easier than the path to becoming a psychiatrist.

  3. Train to become a counselor or social worker to focus on general needs. Social work and counseling are general terms for trained professionals that help people in need. Social workers and counselors often work with struggling families, children, or people dealing with addiction, and their patients often donít suffer from mental illnesses. You typically have to become licensed as a social worker and counselor, and the requirements depend on the state or country that you live in.[6]

    • Social workers and counselors often work for family welfare groups, government agencies, public clinics, or schools.
    • Social workers and counselors usually specialize in a specific area of counseling, but this isnít always necessary.

EditBecoming a Medical Psychotherapist

  1. Complete a bachelorís degree in a major thatís relevant to psychotherapy. If you plan on becoming a psychologist, you may want to consider an undergraduate major in education, psychology, or both. You could also consider a degree in social work.[7] If youíre interested in psychiatry, consider a science-based major that will help you in medical school. Chemistry, biology, or pre-med are all excellent choices.[8]

    • Your grades will determine what kind of medical schools and PhD programs you can get into, so work hard as a college student to get the best grades you can!

  2. Pass the MCAT, GRE, or both depending on your desired program. Medical schools require the MCAT exam, while most PhD programs require the GRE (or Graduate Record Examination).[9] Medical schools will sometimes require both tests, while PhD programs rarely do.[10] Once youíve completed the necessary exams, you can use your scores and previous grades to complete applications to the programs of your choice.
  3. Apply to medical schools or PhD programs based on your goals. Research potential programs or medical schools carefully. Most programs or medical schools focus on a handful of particular specialized programs, so consider what you want to study before applying. To apply, send your required test scores to your school of choice along with their school-specific application.

    • Applications for medical schools and PhD programs are always listed on a schoolís website. Read their requirements thoroughly to understand what you need to do to be accepted.

  4. Finish your program by choosing a specialty or focus. In medical school, youíll have to choose a specific area of your field to focus on. In a PhD program, youíll have to complete a thesis (an extensive research project) that tackles a highly specialized topic in your field. You donít need to choose your specialty right away, but itís a good idea to make an informed decision early on in your post-undergraduate studies.[11]

    • The autism spectrum, trauma, and developmental psychopathology are all common specialties. Choose a specialty that appeals to your areas of interest.

  5. Become a licensed medical therapist in your state or country. Having a degree does not make you a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Youíll have to register your medical licenses and degrees with the state or country that you plan to practice in. There is typically a fee associated with this process. Once youíve received your license to practice, you can begin working in your field.[12]

    • The specific requirements for your state can be found online, usually on the website of your stateís Board of Psychology.
    • Most states require supervised professional experience, a licensing exam, and a distinct application form accompanied by transcripts.[13]

EditPursuing Psychotherapy as a Counselor or Social Worker

  1. Complete a bachelorís degree in psychology, social work, or counseling. Take your specific career goals into account when selecting a major. If you plan on becoming a drug counselor or child welfare specialist, social work may be a better major than psychology. If you want to focus on in-depth and long-term counseling, a degree in psychology may be better.

    • You may want to consider minoring in sociology, political science, or a foreign language as well. These minors will pair well with you degree and will make you more marketable to potential employers.[14]

  2. Obtain a Master of Social Work (MSW) if you want or need additional accreditation. Many states and countries require social workers to complete a masterís degree in social work. While some schools may ask you to take the GRE, most of them wonít require an advanced test. In your masterís program, you will specialize in a specific field within your discipline, and you may be required to complete a thesis.[15]
  3. Apply for licensure or certification in the country or state where you live. Every state and country has different requirements for social worker accreditation. You will likely need to complete an application and pass a state-specific exam in order to earn your social workerís license. There is usually a fee associated with these applications and tests.[16]

    • You may have to pass the Association of Social Work Boards exam (or ASWB). This is a common test required by states in the United States to become a professional social worker.[17]
    • Social worker licensing is state-specific. Requirements for each state are compiled online by Social Work Licensure, an organization of practicing social workers that track each stateís laws regarding certification.[18]
    • Most states require a clinical exam, references, and a documentation of social work training and experience.[19]

EditStarting Your Career

  1. Apply for an entry level position in psychology or psychiatry to get experience. Psychologists and psychiatrists often start out as research assistants or psychiatric technicians. Research assistants generally donít work directly with patients in a the****utic setting and tend to focus on research and publication. Psychiatric technicians work as part of a team in a medical or mental health facility, such as a hospital, clinic, or rehabilitation center.[20]

    • Be open to opportunities in fields that may not work directly with patients at first. It often takes some time to get experience behind the scenes before tackling clinical work.
    • Bring a resume and samples of your psychothe****utic research with you to your interviews. Youíll need to be prepared to talk about your research in detail, so bring work samples to share.

  2. Enter the field as a social worker or counselor based on your focus. Hospitals, schools, public clinics, and government agencies are all excellent places to start looking for work. Use your educational background as a starting point to find a job that matches your experience. If your studies focused on youth counseling, consider working for a nearby school or your local department of family services or child welfare. If your emphasis in school was on drug counseling, look for openings at rehabilitation centers or health clinics.[21]Advertisement

    • Due to the fact that social workers tend to require less schooling than psychiatrists or psychologists, feel free to apply to positions outside of your specific area of expertise. Many openings donít require specific experience or schooling.[22]
    • Research your organization carefully before showing up to an interview. A for-profit organization is going to ask different questions than a non-profit or government agency.

  3. Open a private practice if you have a business plan and can find clients. Starting a private practice involves opening a business, and can take years of financial maneuvering to get going. Youíll want to start by developing a business plan, finding an office, and registering your business. All of this can seem difficult and overwhelming, so make sure that itís financially feasible by doing your research before taking the leap.[23]

    • Psychologists and psychiatrists often rent out a smaller office in a larger building since they tend to require very little space to work.
    • Social workers and counselors rarely open private practices, but you can always start a business that provides social work or counseling on a consultation basis.

  4. Build a client base by looking for referrals and advertising your services. Getting referrals from other doctors or professionals in adjacent fields of study are often a great way to build a client base. Let colleagues know what your services are, and tell them that youíre always open to consultations. Similarly, you can advertise your services online so that patients can learn more about what you do.[24]

    • Consider making a professional website so that potential clients can learn about what you do and have the ability to contact you directly.


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