Do you have good listening skills and loads of empathy? Do you strive to help people? Then, therapy may suit you. Therapists work one-on-one with children, teenagers, adults and the elderly to enrich their lives, address personal problems and teach coping skills. They specialize in supporting people healing from traumas and treating mental illness. Therapists work to help people heal, grow and lead emotionally healthy lives.
Learn all about how to become a therapist so you can help people ease their minds and believe in themselves.
What does a therapist do?
Therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists all work in the mental health field and you should know how to distinguish between these professions. Psychologists have a Ph.D.’s in psychology and may do research, in addition to talk therapy. Psychiatrists go to medical school and prescribe medications. They’ll find a job in social work, behavioral therapy, marriage counseling, psychoanalysis or child therapy. With graduate degrees in social work or counseling, therapists strive to help patients make decisions and clarify their feelings in order to solve their problems. They teach coping mechanisms, alter thinking patterns and share stress management techniques. Therapists meet with families, couples or individuals to address their personal problems. Here are some tips to practicing therapeutic work:
- Incorporate art or pet therapy. “You get to help people, it is innovative, how you practice is up to you: you can practice in a more scientific way or a more artsy way,” licensed clinical social worker and therapist Audrey Oxenhorn said.
- Travel to trainings and conferences to stay up to date on current approaches. “As a therapist, take as many trainings as you can, know as much as you can about what is available in the field to offer clients the best possible treatment,” licensed clinical social worker and therapist Gina Tillman said.
- Work with a psychiatrist if they believe their patients need prescriptions for medications.
- Suggest lifestyle changes or practices to improve their patient’s quality of life. “My main goals everyday are to be fully present with each client, actively listen, empathize, spark hope and empower them to reach their personal goals,” licensed clinical social worker Lenice Haber said.
- Acquire marketing and business skills and know how to use social media, so they can get clients.
- Practice self-care regularly. You must handle your own issues to become an effective therapist. “Learn about your own issues, strengths and weaknesses before becoming a therapist. Participate in your own therapy. You have to help yourself and know yourself before you can help other people,” therapist Christine Elliott said.
What does it take to become a professional therapist?
To work as any type of therapist, you need a bachelor’s degree in psychology and most specialties require master’s degree. Most commonly, therapists get a master’s degree in counseling or social work. However, if they want to work in a highly specialized field, they can opt for degrees in that specific field. For example, to become a mental health counselor, you need master’s degree in clinical mental health. Regardless of your specific focus, most regions require additional licensing. This licensing process constitutes 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised counseling experience along with passing a state licensing exam. Only psychiatrists go to medical school and psychologists earn a Ph.D.’s.
What you should know about becoming a therapist
1. What income will I earn as a therapist?
Therapists in the United States earn on average $49,000; however, this varies based on specialization and region. In New England and in California, therapists tend to earn more due to political differences. More liberal regions or states where mental health is prioritized by legislators, have therapists who tend to earn more. In the deep South and rural Midwest, therapists earn closer to $30,000.
2. How much will I be expected to work as a therapist?
Therapists can expect to work 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. most days. However, they may have to work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients. Those employed in a hospital or other healthcare facility may also have evening or weekend shifts.
3. What will my work environment be like?
Therapists can work in hospitals, mental health and substance abuse centers and nursing homes. They can also work for nonprofits or in private practice. Normally therapists work in a facility with other therapists and medical professionals. They work hard to insure their offices feel calm and safe, so their patients feel comfortable during their sessions.
4. What do I need to know about the future of the therapist as a profession?
It will most likely continue evolving as more legislation passes regarding licensure practices. Requirements may change as more programs work to earn accreditation by the American Counseling Association (ACA). Also, this profession will keep growing as governments have begun to acknowledge the importance of treating and understanding mental health issues. Furthermore, more youths find themselves experiencing mental illnesses: the rate of Major Depressive Episode (MDE) increased from 11.9% to 12.63% from 2017 to 2018. This increases the need for mental health services and therapists.
3 key skills you need to become a successful therapist
Empathy serves as the unspoken prerequisite to becoming a therapist. It describes the ability to understand another person’s experiences, even if they do not explicitly explain their thoughts and emotions. A therapist must empathize with a patient’s choices and experiences even if they do not agree with them.
Therapists work in emotionally-charged environments. They may see extreme cases such as veterans with PTSD or abused children and must listen without reacting. Therapists must have the ability to come into work everyday without visibly getting upset. Listening and empathizing with traumatized patients necessitates immense amounts of emotional energy and compartmentalization skills to help the clients.
3. Listening skills
A counselor needs to not only listen to what the client says, but how they say it and what they omit. A therapist needs to listen between the lines and uncover the things that patients do not say and understand why. They must also listen without judgment or evaluation. Patients will come to you with difficult and complex problems and they need to feel like they can tell their therapist the whole issue without fear of shame or judgment.
5 Other Relevant Skills
- Communication skills
- Boundary setting
- Critical thinking
- Sense of humor
“Do it from your heart. Find a program that speaks to you. Do not become a therapist to make money,” Oxenhorn said.
“It is fulfilling to watch patients’ journeys to resolve their issues, learn coping skills and learn how to process things. The nuances of the therapeutic process are beautiful. Sometimes it can be difficult because patients are not ready to change. It isn’t always easy,” Tillman said.
“Some of the pros are seeing people make significant positive changes in their life, which leads them to live a more fulfilling life, engage in healthier relationships, be the person they were meant to be. Powerful. Working as a therapist can be challenging and very draining. Self-care is crucial,” Elliott said.
“One of the many things I enjoy about being a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) is the variety. In this career, everyday is as different and unique as each client that comes into my office,” Haber said.