How to Become a Therapist
—by Jim Nolan, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Former President of Southwestern College, and Private Practitioner
Here’s the basic info you need.
You Need a License:
First, Psychotherapists, Therapists, Counselors, Art Therapists, Psychologists, Clinical Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapists—well, all of those are titles of people who can “do therapy”, and all of them require a professional license. Actually, “Therapist” and “Psychotherapist”, as titles, do not indicate a specific profession. They are kind of generic, and actually, NOBODY is a “Licensed Therapist”—they are licensed Counselors, or Art Therapists, or whatever. And then there are Occupational Therapists, Massage Therapists, Physical Therapists and so on. So “Therapist” is not really a professional title.
Do I Need a Graduate Degree? Like a Master’s or Doctorate?
Almost always “yes.” One exception I know of is working in Drug and Alcohol or Addictions Counseling. In SOME states, including New Mexico (check your state), you STILL need a license, but you can get it without a graduate degree. (In New Mexico, we are talking about the LSAA and the LADAC.)
What Kind of Degrees Lead to Becoming a Therapist?
The ones listed above—ALL of those professions train you do be a therapist of one sort or another, each with its own kind of license. Counseling, Counseling Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Art Therapy, Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy–I know, it’s kind of confusing, but…
What About Life Coaching?
Life Coaching is different. At this point in time, you do NOT need ANYTHING—no license, no degree, no training, no diddly squat. Of course, if you do NOT have any of those things, you will probably suck at it and never make a dime, but that is another issue. You can make business cards today, telling the world that you are a Life Coach. Life Coaching is a great profession, and the good ones DO have training, and a lot of them (but not all, by any means) have some kind of related degrees as well. For example, an experienced MBA might make a great Business Coach, or Executive Coach.
Do I Have to Take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)?
No. Not everywhere, anyway. Southwestern College (Counseling and Art Therapy/Counseling) does not require it. We don’t find the idea of it useful for what we do. Psychology Doctorate Programs usually do, in my experience, though I am sure there must be exceptions. Check with individual schools, and even with individual programs.
Do All States Have the Same Requirements to Get a License?
No, No, No, No, No, No. Nyet. Nope. Nix. Nuh-uh. No way. Negative. Veto. No way, Jose. No siree, Bob. Not on your life. Not for all the tea in China. Under no circumstances. Thumbs down. Fat chance. Nein. Fahgettaboutit.
I Take It That’s a No?
Correct. You have to check in with any and every state that interests you seriously, to make sure that any given program, in any given school, will qualify you to sit for licensure in that profession in that state. A lot of people never learned this, or did not listen when they were told, or did not appreciate how important it was when they DID hear it. Way Important. There are schools, for example, in California, that will allow you to obtain some kind of licensure in California, but nowhere else on planet earth. And the responsibility for doing all this homework is on you. But I hope it helps that I get you oriented toward all of this stuff.
What is the Greatest School for Therapists in the History of the World?
Southwestern College. We offer master’s degrees in Counseling and Art Therapy/Counseling.
Did you really think I wasn’t going to put in a plug for this school? What SWC does is unique, and I think it is utterly awesome. Check it out. Seriously.
Former SWC President