There are a lot of different ways that people can get credentialed or licensed to be a psychotherapist. A psychotherapist is a talk therapist who sits and listens to our mental health challenges and helps us in our journey. Getting into therapy is certainly one of the things that has helped me achieve success in this life and keeps me engaged in the things that are meaningful to me. I’ve seen therapists with a lot of different backgrounds and I realize there are a lot of questions around how do we find a good therapist. Therapists can range in quality and in training so it’s important to do research but also fit and experience are both important. It is important to see someone who is engaged with you, gets you, and listens well, but also has good training.
First up, is doctoral degrees. Psychiatrists are doctors who have eight years of training in general after college. So four years of medical school and then adult psychiatry. Residency is four additional years of training. Psychiatrists do a lot of different types of therapy but often they’re known for prescribing medications. I spend most of my time doing psychotherapy but I can also prescribe medications.
The other doctoral degrees in the mental health field are PsyD and a PhD. These are doctorates in psychology, so they’re not able to prescribe, but they have six to seven years of training. PhDs in general, tend to focus more on research, learning statistics and psychological testing. PsyD degrees tend to be more clinically focused but this can really vary. For example, someone with a PsyD degree can decide what they really love is research. So again, it’s important to think about the individual therapist’s background and their clinical experience.
Another way that people learn to be psychotherapists, although this is a less traditional path, is through becoming a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners have advanced training and prescribing privileges for some medications. Some nurse practitioners also train in programs that teach them some of the essentials of psychotherapy and many nurse practitioners go on to complete training in talk therapies. There are also individuals who have gone on and gotten a doctorate in nursing, a DNP. These are individuals who have significant training, often in prescribing, but sometimes also in psychotherapy.
Master’s Level Training
At the master’s level, there are a number of different qualifications that people can get. You can get a master’s in social work. These, traditionally, are individuals who practice a lot of therapy and are probably one of the largest groups of therapists in the country. Social workers are one of my favorite groups. They are very functionally trained and action oriented. Many social workers also go on afterwards to get additional training such as CBT or psychodynamic psychotherapy. So again, it is really important to understand the background and training of the individual you’re seeing. There are also a number of master’s level degrees specifically in mental health therapy, psychology, or even school counseling and school psychology. There are a number of ways for individuals to learn some of the central skills of listening and helping people through talk therapy.
Another master’s level degree that qualify individuals to practice psychotherapy is a LMFT. This is a master’s level degree that focuses on marriage and family therapy. These individuals have specialization in helping families sit together and discuss issues or helping couples in their relationships. So if that’s what you’re struggling with look for a LMFT degree.
So those are the individuals who, for the most part, traditionally have practiced psychotherapy, but there are a few other groups that I think are important to mention. The very first time I saw a therapist, the individual had gone to divinity school, and then afterwards done specialty training in counseling and college counseling. It was very helpful for me. So you could see someone in your church. There are also individuals who get doctorates in education and go on to, for example, do psychoanalytic training, psychodynamic psychotherapy training, or go to a program that specifies in school counseling.
Understanding someone’s education and background is important but there are a lot of different ways to become a therapist or a counselor. What really matters is experience, fit and good training. I hope this information helps you sort through all the therapists out there.