How do I Become a Psychology Therapist?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

"Psychology therapist" is a redundant term that typically refers to either a clinical psychologist who principally practices therapy or a person with master’s degree in psychology, who works as a therapist, usually as a marriage and family therapist (MFT) or a licensed professional counselor (LPC). It’s easy to briefly describe what it takes to become a psychology therapist when the term means any of the above.

A marriage therapist often has a master's degree.
A marriage therapist often has a master's degree.

For the person who would like to become a psychology therapist or clinical psychologist, there is a very straightforward path. The person will almost always have an undergraduate degree in psychology and will then need to earn one of the two doctorate degree in psychology available — the PhD or the Psy.D.

Psychology work experience may be gained by working at a psychiatric hospital.
Psychology work experience may be gained by working at a psychiatric hospital.

The PhD may or may not have a clinical or therapy-based focus. Students planning to pursue this degree should look for a program with strong emphasis on learning how to do therapy. The Psy.D is thought of as a degree that is targeted toward performing therapy after graduation and licensure.

Those who don’t want to search through numerous degree programs on the road to become a psychology therapist could simply look for Psy.D programs. People should still verify that these programs are most concentrated on preparation to become a therapist. After finishing either PhD or Psy.D, students may need to do supervised internship for a year or more to become licensed psychologists.

If a person would like to become a psychology therapist with only a master’s degree, she can find many master’s programs geared toward counselor or marriage and family therapist training. An undergraduate degree is necessary and some schools will only take people with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This may be flexible and students who have strong interest in this field and demonstrable knowledge will be competitive in many programs without an undergraduate psychology degree. Common prerequisites when a bachelor’s degree is not in psychology include statistics, abnormal psychology and personality theory.

Upon finishing a master’s degree, those who would like to become a psychology therapist will spend several more years gathering supervised experience in the counseling field. The general recommendation is that candidates for a license have to have about 3000 hours or more of supervision before they can get a license. This can be a challenging time because some people have difficulty finding the hours they need, and pay tends to be very low.

There is one more path to become a psychotherapist but it doesn’t involve studying psychology at the master’s or doctoral level. Instead, people can take a master’s in social work (MSW), get the same amount of experience as MFTs and LPCs in supervised training, and then become licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs). These professionals may also work as therapists.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Many colleges offer career days when high school students can visit and learn about different degrees and programs. These events are great opportunities for students who are considering careers as therapists to learn about the required coursework to become certified. College career days also provide information about job demands which is beneficial before students commit to pursuing psychology degrees.


Though being a therapist is a challenging career path, it is very rewarding. I have an aunt who is a psychologist, and she loves her career. She often visits colleges and universities to talk to students who are considering going into the field.

I think that any young person who thinks that he or she may like to become a psychologist should talk to someone who is practicing. This will provide some first-hand information about this type of career which can help a college student decide if it is right for him or her. This will also help to prevent a student from taking years of psychology classes just to find out that he or she doesn't not want to go into the field.

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