If you are considering a career as a therapist, you are probably wondering what you should major in when you go to college. Do you need a bachelor’s degree in psychology to become a therapist? The short answer is no, you do not need to major in psychology. Not only do you not need to major in psychology to become a psychologist, you don’t even need to be a psychologist to become a therapist. There are actually many different disciplines that will qualify you to become a therapist, although all begin with an undergraduate degree. Once you have obtained your baccalaureate degree, you will have to apply to a graduate school for advanced training. In every state, a licensed therapist has a master’s degree. The following are examples of degrees which will qualify you to become a therapist:
Master’s in Counseling, Psychology or Mental Health
Marriage and Family Therapist
To become a psychologist, you must apply to a school of psychology. Your undergraduate degree can be in any field, but you should remember that a psychology program will look for students who are able to complete an advanced research project. Any classes that you take in research, neurobiology and/or statistics as an undergraduate will help prepare you for this work. If you are admitted to a Ph.D. program, you can expect that the program will take between four and eight years to complete.
A Ph.D. in Psychology is a very flexible degree and will offer you a wide range of career options. The American Psychological Association offers more advice about licensure: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2004/01/get-licensed.aspx
Master’s in Counseling
Most clinical graduate programs, such as those in counseling, mental health counseling and even psychology will lead to some form of licensure that will allow you to practice as a therapist. You will need to check with your local state board to see the specific requirements.
All of these two year programs will offer you a variety of classes in practice related subjects (assessment, diagnosis and treatment). With your degree you can expect to find work as a therapist in a local mental health clinic, hospital or treatment related facility.
A Master’s in Social Work is a two year academic program that is focused on providing clinical services. The profession of social work was founded to alleviate social injustice and poverty, so you can expect that the focus of your education will include interventions at the macro level. In addition, social work offers specific training in practice related skills, so you can expect a core curriculum that will focus on treating mental health problems. As is true of all other master’s degrees in therapy, you will need at least two years of practice post degree to obtain the highest form of licensure.
More information can be obtained at the National Association of Social Work (NASW).
Marriage and Family Therapy
A Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy services focuses on providing services to individual in relationships. If you choose this course of study, you can expect to focus on systems theory, a branch of therapy that attempts to understand how an individual functions in their natural system. A marriage and family therapist will view a system from a broad perspective, which will include family, extended family and even social or community groups.
There are few jobs as rewarding as work as a therapist, knowing that your purpose is to help people lead better, happier and more productive lives. If you are an undergraduate thinking about therapy as a career, consider volunteering at a local shelter, clinic or human service agency. In addition to your academic preparation, this experience will serve you well in any graduate program that you choose.