How to become a therapist: Education, certifications and more

Today, people are more open to overcoming mental challenges with the help of a professional therapist.

By U2B Staff 

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For those fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind, it could be extremely beneficial to understand what qualifications are needed to pursue a career in the field of psychology. Furthermore, 2020 has shown us that the world needs experts now more than ever who can truly understand the human mind. 

From social isolation, grief, loss of income, to school or work disruption and more, many factors have triggered mental health conditions or exacerbated existing ones. In the US alone, studies have shown that depression and anxiety rates are increasing to over 30%

Additionally, COVID-19 itself has been associated with many neurological and mental health complications such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression. New data also suggests that those with substance use or psychiatric disorders are at higher risk for worsened outcomes from the virus.

According to their 2018 predictions, the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. The Department of Labor predicts that the demand for psychologists overall will grow at a rate of 14 percent through the year 2028.

What exactly do therapists do? These professionals work with clients on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting. They often speak with individuals in person, although some host video conferences with their clients, even more so during the pandemic. Certain therapists help their clients enhance their relationships with family members or partners, while others focus on helping people overcome addictions or anger issues. 

While therapists do not prescribe medication, they often prescribe other treatments such as eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy, for clients with post-traumatic stress disorder.


Since therapists can help a wide variety of people, there are several specialisations within the profession. This includes psychotherapists, behavioral therapists, cognitive-behavioral therapists, interpersonal therapists, mindfulness-based therapists, recreational therapists, child therapists, marriage and family therapists and occupational therapists.

Many of these therapist positions have similar educational and career paths, but some have specific requirements as well. If you wish to rely on compassion to help individuals overcome their problems in an ever-evolving world, here’s what you need to do:

Decide on your path

There are a variety of different career paths to choose from as a therapist. Although the path to these different careers is similar, there are choices you can make early on in your career to specialise in these different therapy areas, such as taking relevant coursework in undergraduate and graduate studies, completing certifications, attending seminars, and joining industry organisations.

Complete relevant undergraduate education

The first step on the career path to becoming a therapist is to earn a relevant bachelor’s degree. You may choose a major and/or minor in disciplines such as counseling, psychology, or sociology. This early education can help you further explore the different fields in therapy and begin deciding on a specialisation. Within your degree programmme, you may take electives specific to your chosen type of therapy so you can develop a foundation of relevant issues, principles, ethics, and strategies.

Obtain an advanced degree

You could start by reviewing your state’s licensure and experience requirements for therapists as the educational requirements may differ. Most states require an advanced degree, and there may be specific topics or coursework required. Options for master’s degrees include social work, psychology or family or rehabilitation therapy.

The entry requirements for a master’s degree can differ between institutions and programmes, so be sure to begin reviewing requirements for schools and programmes you’re interested in while pursuing your undergraduate degree to ensure you are eligible for admission.


Gain practical experience

To become a licensed therapist, you will need several thousand hours of logged and verifiable clinic hours. This experience serves as training that will allow you to apply the theoretical knowledge gained in coursework.

Many undergraduate and graduate degree programmes include practical clinic hours where you will get to work with patients under the supervision of a licensed practicing therapist. If you wish to gain more experience, you may find observation opportunities or an internship that will allow you to work with clients. Consider taking advantage of clinical opportunities while studying to earn as many required hours as quickly as you can.

Perfect your soft skills

While progressing in your education and becoming more and more experienced, aiming to improve on your soft skills should be the top priority. The most successful therapists rely on these skills to excel in their work. 

As you work with patients, be sure to develop these soft skills with the help of your clinical supervisor, professors or mentors. Some of the most commonly used soft skills used by practicing therapists are empathy, active listening, and communication. 

Qualify for licensure

Upon graduation from an advanced degree programme in an appropriate subject and after completing a log of around 2500 clinic hours, you can begin applying to sit for your state’s legally required licensure exam. 

It is a written exam that covers the psychological theories of therapy and the state’s laws regarding mental health treatment. To remain licensed, you must complete 40 hours of continuing education every two years.

Earn voluntary certifications

Additional professional certifications are optional, but they can assist in highlighting your skills as an exceptional therapist with specialised expertise and experience in various therapy disciplines. Some common certifications include the National Certified Counselor and Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor.

Get your CV and cover letter ready

To make a lasting first impression on an employer, make sure to prioritise preparing your CV and cover letter. It is important to include your education, relevant elective modules, specialised coursework, clinical experience log and any awards or achievements you have received in detail.

As for your cover letter, complement the information in your CV by briefly summarising your training and experience with clients in your chosen specialty before you mention your professional goals.