What degree to become a therapist?
January 27, 2008 6:52 AM   Subscribe

I want to become a therapist. What kind of degree should I get?

My interest in becoming a therapist anticipates the joy of exploring the psyche and of helping people in pain.

My basic desire is to learn from the best in the field, absorb the knowledge out there that exists from a variety of orientations, get a lot of supervised training, and have the ability over time to formulate my own style and brand of therapy. I think I am most interested in treating "normal" people and couples rather than severely mentally-ill people.

Should I be getting a Ph.D., masters, Psy.D.? Maybe a masters with extra training from a psychoanalytic institute? Maybe a Ph.D. NOT in clinical psychology but in something else?

I haven't done research and am skeptical that I'll like it, but I'm not sure. I'm also working a full-time job right now, so that constrains my ability to find out if I'll like it -- is there any easy way to see?

I'm ambivalent about spending five years in a Ph.D. program (if I could get in -- I understand they want research experience!). It's just a long, long time. But if it's the best way to learn the deepest information from the very best, I'll do it.

I'm also a little worried, from previous MeFi answers, that a masters degree will put me with relatively unmotivated, less focused peers than would a Ph.D. program. Comments?

Also, I'm interested in teaching down the road. But it doesn't have to be at a super-prestigious college.

Any advice? Thanks!
posted by shivohum to Education (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
FYI im in the UK.

I always wanted to be an art/poetry therapist, to do that I have to get a degree related to the area, have spent time in an education/social service related job to be able to get on the MA programme; then a MA in Art Therapy.
posted by Neonshock at 7:29 AM on January 27, 2008

Either get a PhD in clinical psychology or a Masters In Social Work. If you want to have a reasonable range of professional opportunities these are the degrees to have. Both are recognized through the country and have respective national accrediting standards. I would strongly encourage you to stay away from "targeted" degrees or anything offering a shortcut to a degree. Masters in counseling, pastoral counseling, family counseling, etc ( often 1 year courses ) may get you limited entry but that is where you are likely to stay. Quite candidly, I do not know any one hiring persons with degrees exclusively from psychoanalytic institutes unless the person already has advanced degrees. There is no short cut to credibility and professional mobility.
In employment situations you will make more as a PhD. but there is a limited demand. Probably the most marketable degree is a MSW as the number of schools offering it is fairly well regulated. In private practice a PhD may get you more credibility and higher fees but not a whole lot more than a MSW.
Perhaps the most marketable degree with widespread credibility is a Master's Degree in psychiatric nursing with certification. With this degree you can do private practice, teach, work in a variety of clinical situations and have widespread reciprocity. Good Luck
posted by rmhsinc at 8:37 AM on January 27, 2008

Rmhsinc is right on the money. I agree with everything in his/her post. It is *really* important for you to get a terminal degree if you go with a Master's degree. This means that the degree meets standards for licensure to practice where you live. In the USA an MSW is a terminal degree but a Master's in Psych is not.

One other thing to consider if you go with the psych nursing degree is eventually becoming a nurse practitioner...you will be able to prescribe meds with oversight from a doctor. This is a fantastic degree but requires a lot of schooling and you will have to ask whether you have enough interest in the medical side of things to make it worth it.

Rmhsinc touched on this when he mentioned psychoanalytic psychology. To make yourself marketable you should consider training in the most popular therapeutic modalities; for example CBT, interpersonal psychotherapy, etc. You can get some of this through your schooling; people often also attend outside workshops for additional training and experience to add to the resume.

Good luck.
posted by mintchip at 9:49 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

A master's in psychology is sufficient for practice in many states (but not all, and insurance coverage does vary)--my mom has been a practicing therapist with only an MA for 20 years and is state licensed. Some insurance companies like using them and social workers, because of course they charge less than PhD psychologists or psychiatrists.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:29 AM on January 27, 2008

posted by k8t at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far - keep it coming, please :-). What of an MSW vs. a Psy.D.? Will the latter teach you more? I hear Psy.D.s may also have a chance at better financial aid...
posted by shivohum at 12:23 PM on January 27, 2008

Two caveats at the outset: (1) I'm in America, and have no idea what the status of things are in the UK, so everything after this may or may not help; (2) I have no beef with Social Workers, and don't want to start any. :)

Having said that, I'm currently a therapist of the Marriage and Family variety, and think it's an excellent way to be a therapist without "too much" school. Marriage and Family Therapists can do unsupervised private practice with only a Masters in MFT, thus making the Masters a terminal degree. There are doctorate programs in the field (I'm wrapping one up in the next few months), but they're more for teaching and doing research, program administration, and the like. The vast majority of licensed MFT's are practicing with their Masters.

The reason why I'd recommend going the MFT route instead of the Social Work route is that -- at least from my knowledge of the social work program at my university -- the program teaches much more case management, and much less traditional methods/schools/modalities of therapy. Social workers still do therapy (and good therapy, at that), but if you want your educational base to consist of a more in-depth understanding and analysis of therapy, I'd put my money on Marriage and Family Therapy.

Here's the link to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.

Hope that helps.
posted by cheeken at 12:32 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a therapist in training (for M.A., L.P.C.), I can't tell you which degree is right for You, but I can refer you to the American Counseling Association. It's the preeminent professional resource for professional counselors. Also, take a look at the National Association of Social Workers. These two organizations cover pretty much all licensed therapists in the United States.

As for your concern that, "a masters degree will put me with relatively unmotivated, less focused peers than would a Ph.D. program," I wouldn't worry about that. I find my coursework and colleagues stimulating both intellectually and in case conceptualization. I am considering several options for advanced training once I graduate. No matter which program you pursue, the degree is just the beginning. We in the helping profession are never finished learning.

Ultimately, however, the biggest factor that influences your skills and competence as a therapist is your own drive-- for personal insight, for empathy with others, and for opportunities for advanced training.

Best of luck to you.
posted by mynameismandab at 1:17 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

MFT or MSW. You don't need a doctorate if you're not planning on doing research, working with severely affected populations, or prescribing medication. A masters in marriage and family therapy or social work will enable you to get state licensure and start work. Of course, you might want to get another degree further down the road for your own reasons, but it is not necessary.
posted by Nickel at 1:17 PM on January 27, 2008

I am not a therapist but have been down the road of therapy and have found that the PhD doctors don't seem to have the same experience level that MSW's have. I don't know why that is. I don't mean experience in treating the patient but more of an empathy for what I am going through. I remember see a psychiatrist once and he really had no idea where I was at. I have stopped therapy now and have not been in it for years but there are many people that have helped me. I actually found that the more spiritually based dr's were the ones that helped the most. I had one counselor who always said that "the deeper you go into your pain the more joy you will feel" and that is true. Therapy is good for people at the time they need it but the goal should always be for them to not need it anymore and be able to function without it. Part of the need for therapy is the lack of good close friends who understand us and really listen to us. We all need to be heard without judgement and I feel that is a big problem today. Many people are self-centered to a fault. Anyway, I would recommend the MSW route since there are many paths to take, particularly if you are working with families and children. The only real difference in PhD versus MSW is presribing medications and status. I have arrived at a point in my life where I follow my intuition and do what I think is right for me and if others don't like it or agree then that is their problem. I have spent too many years doing things that other people expected of me and now I feel a freedom that I have never experienced before.
posted by butterfly7171 at 6:46 AM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

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