Career Options for How to Become a Therapist: Multiple Pathways Exist

Many individuals find the idea of helping people for a living to be appealing. There is no one path to this type of career. Clinicians, therapists, coaches, social workers, or psychologist, provide psychotherapy and guidance to people. Below are several popular avenues to becoming a professional therapist.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that completes a residency in psychiatry after finishing medical school. Psychiatrists generally prescribe medication and conduct psychotherapy with their patients. Their training emphasizes the biological basis of psychological based distress.

PhD in Clinical Psychology and PsyD in Clinical Psychology
These degrees are similar, both requiring 4-5 years of graduate school and one year of internship. Through research and clinical practice, clinical psychologists seek to understand, prevent, and relieve distress and promote well-being. Common theoretical orientations that generally guide such treatment include psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive-behavioral and family

PhD in Counseling Psychology
This degree path is similar in requirements to a clinical psychology PhD. Counseling psychologists typically work with individuals who are dealing with moderate psychological issues, such as anxiety or sadness resulting from major life events.

Masters of Arts (MA) in Clinical Psychology
This degree requires completing two years of graduate school in clinical psychology. A master’s degree in clinical psychology often focuses on learning psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitivebehavioral and family systems approaches to therapy, like PsyD’s and PhD’s. However, in many states, a practitioner with this degree requires oversight from a supervisor with a PhD.

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)
Two years of graduate school and at least two years of postgraduate supervised clinical experience is required for this degree. Therapy by MFTs can consist of independent practice with individuals, couples, or groups (including families).

Social Worker
A master’s in Social Work (MSW) requires two years of graduate school. Social workers help coordinate care and services to individuals and families. Individuals with this degree are employed in a variety of agencies, often governmental.

Something we missed? Please add to the comments below!


5 thoughts on “Career Options for How to Become a Therapist: Multiple Pathways Exist

  1. It might be important to point out that while the Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees both allow these psychologists to practice independently, the Ph.D. programs (typically) have a heavier research emphasis than do Psy.D. programs.

    • Yes – thank you. PhD programs typically put a greater emphasis on independent research, and often times provide scholarships and stipends to students.

  2. Pingback: Tackling the Admissions Process: What to Know about Applying to Graduate School in Psychology « Psychology In Action

  3. Hey khumphreys nice article! It seems as though individuals unfamiliar with psychology put most of psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage-family therapists, and social workers in the same category thanks to the media with its dominate images of psycho-dynamic therapy with couches.

    I guess its fine as long as the practitioner has been trained well enough to understand the clients needs since as we know “the person is political”. We’ve been working on a few articles explaining the the many distinctions between career paths to students and any psychology major that visits our site. What do you think?

    Our website is in case you want take a look or share it. :

    • That looks to be a helpful website – and overlaps with some posts on Psychology in Action. Those interested in finding out more about careers within psychology are encouraged to check it out, ask questions, and seek out advice.

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