How to Become a Psychotherapist: 9 Courses & Online Options

PsychotherapistPsychotherapy is a therapeutic intervention that motivates individuals to make positive changes to their thoughts and lifestyle by improving their emotions and behavior.

Psychotherapists fall under the umbrella of practitioners who provide therapeutic interventions to help people maintain their mental health.

Psychotherapy is an effective therapeutic intervention; 75% of patients who use psychotherapy demonstrate improvement in their mental health symptoms (American Psychological Association, 2012).

Because of how effective psychotherapy is at promoting wellbeing, practitioners often look to specialize in psychotherapy or add it as a mode of therapy to their existing practice.

This article will provide aspiring and current mental health practitioners with guidelines on how to become a psychotherapist and information on certifications, degrees, and professional programs to do this.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

How to Become a Psychotherapist

Psychotherapy is talk therapy that helps patients with mental health conditions or quality-of-life issues (Schultz, 2021).

The foundation of psychotherapy is to ensure that the patient’s wellbeing is at the forefront of the client–practitioner relationship. Psychotherapists accomplish this by continuously evaluating the outcomes of each session and their impact on the overall treatment plan (College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario, n.d.).

To learn what it takes to become a successful practitioner, including the personal and professional qualities needed, we strongly recommend reading our On Becoming a Therapist guide.

The guide offers a comprehensive overview of the education required to pursue a career in psychotherapy or any other therapeutic discipline. It gives an in-depth analysis of the personal characteristics that could lead to success in therapeutic professions.

The book is an excellent resource for individuals considering a career in psychotherapy or another therapeutic profession to start learning more about what is required to pursue this career.

 

Qualifications & Degree Requirements

Psychotherapy qualificationsPeople often wonder how psychotherapists and psychologists differ.

To help you understand, we have provided specific characteristics that differentiate the two professions below.

Clinical psychologists require an undergraduate degree based in psychology. They will then have to pursue a graduate degree (master’s, doctorate, or both) in clinical studies to become certified. Since clinical psychologists can diagnose patients with psychological disorders or conditions, their training is more specialized (Schultz, 2021).

They are also required to do academic research alongside their clinical training and practicum to help develop their analytical skills.

A psychotherapist can pursue an undergraduate degree in any discipline and apply for a graduate program in psychotherapy following the completion of their degree (Cherry, 2020).

Most of their expertise in psychotherapy is developed through a combination of coursework and theory, followed by practicums where they gain hands-on experience.

Psychotherapy programs are much more flexible than traditional clinical psychology programs. Some psychotherapy programs require students to do research alongside their training, while others focus on coursework and practical experience.

It is important to look at the guidelines for pursuing a career in psychotherapy, as they may differ based on where you are located. A good starting point is the International Association for Counseling, which lists all the major counseling and psychotherapy organizations worldwide. Use their tool to locate a psychotherapy governing body near you and determine the specific requirements for training and practice.

 

Training in Psychotherapy: 6 Best Programs

Psychotherapy programs can be specialized and focus on specific populations and specialties, or have a more generalized curriculum.

Regardless of the approach, effective training in psychotherapy requires a combination of coursework rooted in specific therapeutic techniques, as well as multiple opportunities for candidates to practice the skills they have learned.

Below, we have listed a few graduate programs that provide these opportunities for students.

 

1. Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (PsyD) – Columbia University, New York, USA

Columbia UniversityThis institute offers several options for pursuing a career in psychotherapy at the doctoral level.

There are four programs meant for practicing psychologists and social workers to develop their skills in psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy.

The four programs include:

Each of these programs takes one to two years of full-time study to complete.

Candidates must have a PhD or PsyD to participate, as all four programs are rooted in research and individualized supervised practice that provides comprehensive training in psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Students will treat patients using psychotherapeutic techniques while receiving supervision and guidance from accredited professionals.

All the programs offer a combination of seminars and individual instruction to help students develop the advanced skills necessary to practice psychotherapy.

The programs are accredited by the American Psychoanalytic Association and Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.

Find out more on their website.

 

2. Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, Concentration in Somatic Psychology (MA) – California Institute of Integral Studies, California, USA

California Institute of Integral StudiesThis program is one of three in the United States that uses a combination of conventional psychotherapy and body-oriented approaches to work holistically with patients.

The program takes roughly two to three years of full-time study through a combination of remote and in-person coursework. Alongside coursework requirements, students complete 50 hours of somatic psychotherapy.

Somatic psychotherapists explore the bodily sensations that patients experience when forming their identity and interacting with others. Students will be taught about traditional psychotherapeutic techniques through body-based and verbal means of intervention (e.g., breathwork, massage, movement exercises, and expression).

A combination of these approaches can be an effective means of working with patients who have experienced post-traumatic stress, disassociation, and identity issues.

The curriculum prepares students for accreditation and careers in counseling psychology in private and professional settings.

Find out more on their website.

 

3. Master’s in Clinical Counseling and Psychotherapy – The Institute for Clinical Social Work, Illinois, USA

ICSW-LogoThis master’s degree is strongly rooted in psychodynamic perspectives and has an emphasis on clinical practice.

Psychodynamic therapy involves interpreting mental and emotional processes rather than focusing on behavior (Ackerman, 2017). The program takes about two years of full-time study or three years of part-time study.

Their educational approach has a strong focus on mentorship and real-world experience, emphasizing the importance of clinical practice and placement hours.

Courses are more generalized to the practice of psychotherapy, but students have the option of pursuing specialties such as couples and family psychotherapy and child and adolescent psychotherapy. There is also an online distance program.

Find out more on their website.

 

4. Master of Science in Psychotherapy (MSc) – McMaster University, Ontario, Canada

McMaster’s program prepares students for a career in psychotherapy with a specific emphasis on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The program is full time and takes approximately 20 months of study with 400 practicum hours. Students complete nine classroom-based courses and two clinical practicum courses.

This program is more generalized, as students are required to complete general courses on mental health and wellness and psychotherapy principles and research. They are also required to complete more specialized courses in CBT, with the option of completing elective courses in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to become more diversified.

Practicums are general and can take place in healthcare, social work, or school settings, based on availability and student interest.

Find out more on their website.

 

5. Master’s in Counseling and Psychotherapy (MSc) – Keele University, Staffordshire, UK

Keele UniversityThis program equips students with the skills to become counseling practitioners.

The program, including coursework and 100 hours of counseling practice, takes approximately one year full time or two years part time.

It takes a person-centered approach, teaching counselors how to develop a relationship with patients where they feel safe, valued, and challenged. To achieve this, the program includes courses that are humanistic and person centered by emphasizing reflection, personal development, and exploration through counseling approaches.

Students are also offered tutor-led training in practical counseling skills to help them gain comfort with their placements.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy accredits this program.

Find out more on their website.

 

6. Master’s of Psychotherapy (MPsyT) – Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand

This program offers candidates the option to complete a more general approach to psychotherapy or gain a specialized master’s of psychotherapy with a focus on children and adolescents.

The program takes two years full time or five years part time and includes a dissertation component, meaning that students are required to engage in independent research alongside their coursework and practicum.

Besides offering a broad spectrum of coursework for the general psychotherapy program, including general courses on psychotherapy practice, it also offers courses specific to children and adolescents.

A few of the courses specific to practicing with children and adolescents include a focus on working with parents and enhanced observational skills. It also offers a specific course in Maori healing practice in connection with psychotherapy.

Upon completion of either program, students are eligible to apply for accreditation through several organizations, including the Psychotherapists Board of Aotearoa New Zealand and the New Zealand Psychotherapists Association. Graduates of the child and adolescent program can apply for accreditation through the New Zealand Association of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists. This is the only university in New Zealand that offers a child and adolescent psychotherapy designation.

Find out more on their website.

 

3 Online Courses & Programs

With the growing need for flexibility and easy access to professional development opportunities around practitioners’ busy schedules, there has been an influx of online programming.

Online programs give practitioners the opportunity to upskill without having to commit to coursework or commute to a physical location.

The courses and programs listed below are relevant for certified professionals looking to upgrade their skills or learn more about integrating psychotherapy into their current practice.

 

1. The Complete Life Navigation Masterclass Series – PositivePsychology.com

Life Navigation MasterclassThis positive psychology program gives participants full access to nine masterclasses that teach mental health practitioners science-based approaches to improve their practice.

Using a sailboat analogy that puts the client in the captain’s seat, this course offers an introduction to positive psychology, as well as additional courses on key skills to help clients and practitioners, such as helping clients realize their resilience, helping clients become motivated and achieve their goals, building positive relationships, and developing emotional intelligence.

Although this course is not specific to psychotherapy, it is an excellent tool for practitioners to broaden their practice and learn new techniques that will ultimately enhance their client’s journey into self-improvement and increased wellbeing.

Find out more about the Life Navigation Masterclass.

 

2. Diploma of Applied Psychology and Counseling (specializing in the practice of psychotherapy) – Kelowna College of Professional Counseling

This diploma program is gearedKCPC toward mental health practitioners and university graduates in a mental health field (e.g., counseling, psychology) who are looking to integrate psychotherapeutic techniques into their practice.

The program specifically focuses on applying psychotherapy techniques to help treat more long-standing mental health issues.

Consisting of 16 self-paced courses, the program is expected to take up to a year to complete. It offers courses in psychotherapeutic techniques, professional and ethical challenges, clinical assessment, and treatment planning. In addition, the program gives students the opportunity to engage in self-reflection and study surrounding their personal therapeutic approach informed by research and experience.

Find out more on their website.

 

3. Certificate Course in Counseling and Psychotherapy – Institute of Mental Health

Institute of Mental HealthThis introductory course builds a foundation for practitioners looking to develop an understanding of psychotherapeutic techniques and methods.

It is suitable for practitioners in the mental health field, as well as healthcare professionals (e.g., nurses and nurse practitioners) who are looking to gain a foundation of psychotherapeutic techniques. The course is 18 weeks online and comprises 36 hours of instruction. Discussion time is also included.

Since this course applies to a wide range of practitioners, it includes specific connections to different mental health conditions and provides students with information on how to address conditions such as depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder, and self-harm.

This program also offers a case study course where students are given different case studies and asked to plan their responses using psychotherapeutic techniques.

Find out more on their website.

 

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

Our website has several resources available to help practitioners and new psychotherapists help patients improve their mental health and overall wellbeing.

These resources are outlined below:

  • Capturing Thoughts
    This worksheet gives patients the opportunity to examine their thoughts. Patients are also asked to look at the triggers, feelings, and concerns surrounding what they are thinking. This will help them identify thoughts that are negatively influencing their moods and actions.

  • Reflective Questions in Therapy
    The aim of this worksheet is to encourage patients to reflect on their behavior and beliefs that make up their identity. It also prompts patients to think about their inspirations, goals, dreams, and support system.

  • Understanding Your Anxiety and Triggers
    A common issue that patients experience is anxiety and panic. This worksheet challenges patients to identify situations that trigger their anxiety and asks them about their behavior and sensations when they are experiencing a difficult situation.

  • Readiness to Change Assessment
    Using Prochaska et al.’s (1994) stages of change model, this exercise is for practitioners to evaluate their patient’s readiness to change.

The exercise encourages patients to identify their behavior and what they want to change. After the patient has done so, the practitioner takes them through a readiness to change assessment and determines how ready they are to facilitate positive change. They will then be asked to engage in reflection throughout the process. The exercise can be accessed with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©.

 

A Take-Home Message

Psychotherapy is a broad therapeutic area that can make a difference in your patient’s wellbeing and open them up to talking through difficulties they might be experiencing.

Learning and practicing psychotherapy can make a vast difference in ensuring positive patient outcomes, especially if your patients respond well to open dialogue and conversation.

Whether you are looking to specialize in psychotherapy or integrate it into your practice, we hope this article provided you with ample information about where to learn more and resources to pursue a career centered on psychotherapy.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

References

  • Ackerman, C. E. (2017, August 10). What is psychodynamic therapy? 5 Tools and techniques. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://positivepsychology.com/psychodynamic-therapy//
  • American Psychological Association. (2012, November 1). Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-psychotherapy.aspx
  • Cherry, K. (2020, March 2). How to become a psychotherapist. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-can-i-become-a-therapist-2795762/
  • College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. (n.d.). What is psychotherapy? Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://www.crpo.ca/find-a-registered-psychotherapist/what-is-psychotherapy/
  • Prochaska, J. O., Velicer, W. F., Stephen-Rossi, J., & Goldstein, M. (1994). Stages of changes and decisional balance for 12 problem behaviors. Health Psychology, 13(1), 39–46.
  • Schultz, J. (2021). On becoming a therapist. PositivePsychology.com

Comments

What our readers think

  1. Penny Tilghman

    Recently I decided I would go back to school and start taking the courses I needed to take my bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) to a doctorate level as a P-PNP. I can’t seem to make this happen though. With the demands of a full time job and raising kids (some in college and 2 still in high school) my time is very limited. Even working toward my mindfulness certification has been a challenge. How do others pursue an advanced degree later in life when scheduled are full and demands are high?
    I appreciated the variety of options listed in this article, and I will look into a few which piqued my interest. Thank you.

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