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How Long Does it Take to Become a Therapist?

Professional therapists gain certification and the right to practice their craft through a variety of different channels. Some begin their training in the field of psychology, while others shift to the therapy profession from different educational backgrounds. But all who decide to enter into the field of professional counseling and therapy begin with the same question: How long does it take to become a therapist?

What Is a Therapist?

The term therapist is often used as an umbrella term to define professionals who provide counseling services in a variety of settings. Therapists may work in addiction and recovery, school counseling, marriage and family therapy, or a variety of other specialty areas. Therapy or counseling may be provided in individual, couple, family or group settings. Therapists may also be defined by the tools they use in their work. For example, play therapists use interactive play as a method to reach the children with whom they work, music therapists use active music exercises to achieve measurable therapeutic goals, and art therapists use artistic endeavors to help their clients to express thoughts and feelings. Therapists also come from a variety of educational backgrounds. They may be degreed social workers or psychologists, or they may come to their graduate therapy training from a different field altogether. The first step in determining how long it will take you to become a professional therapist is determining which of these specialty areas you would like to pursue.

Education and Training

All therapists must begin by getting a bachelor’s degree. Many therapists will obtain bachelor’s degrees in psychology, but others will begin in different liberal arts fields for their bachelor’s degree and then shift to therapy or counseling for their graduate work. Beyond the bachelor’s degree, therapy training is diverse. Some students pursue a PhD level degree, but this is not necessary to practice. Most counselors are master’s level graduates. A doctorate level degree tends to be for those students who are interested in becoming educators, researchers or supervisors. In addition to the required graduate level coursework, therapist training will include practical experience (usually Practicum classes as well as an internship following the completion of coursework). Finally, there will be a process for earning your professional license or certification. This usually involves a set number of hours in which you are supervised by a professional in your field, as well as a certification exam before you are granted the right to practice as a licensed or certified professional therapist.

Where Can I Find More Information?

Please visit these sites for more information on becoming a professional therapist and details on the specific training requirements in each field:

American Counseling Association
American Mental Health Counselors Association
American Music Therapy Association
Association for Play Therapy
American Art Therapy Association

So, What’s The Bottom Line?

In conclusion, the majority of students looking to go into the counseling/therapy profession can anticipate completing 6-8 years of training after high school. This time includes earning a bachelor’s degree (about 4 years) and a master’s degree (usually 1-2 years) followed by clinical training or internship (anywhere from 6 months to 2 years).