How to Become a Therapist

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A guide to becoming a therapist, one of the top searched careers in 2022.

[Featured Image]:  Therapist consulting with a client, discussing mental health issues.

Amid the Great Resignation, there has been an increase in workers leaving unfulfilling, underpaid jobs. Some people turned to Google to search “how to become” a new career role and among the top searches was “therapist” [1]

It’s also a career whose role in society is in high demand since the pandemic and other global tragedies may have heightened the need for social and mental support. In fact, the job outlook for mental health counselors between 2021 and 2031 is 22 percent and much faster than the average of all occupations (5.3 percent) [2,3]. Becoming a therapist can be a rewarding career if you value skills like empathy, listening, and understanding psychological frameworks.

If you have ever considered becoming a therapist, this article will help guide you through whether this is the right career path for you.

What is a therapist?

A therapist is a professional trained to provide mental health and behavioral treatment, rehabilitation, and support for those who need it. “Therapist” can be used to describe a broad range of careers, including psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, and even life coaches.

Therapists are most commonly licensed mental health counselors who provide treatment through talk therapy, using psychological methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy or existential therapy. 

In most cases, therapists need a license to practice their services. Requirements for licensure will vary from state to state.

A licensed therapist could focus on a specialization, such as recreational therapy or marriage and family therapy. They may work one-on-one with clients in private practice or on their own (in an office or remote setting), in a hospital, a school, or as part of a social service agency.

Learn more: Master of Psychology: 2022 Degree Guide

Types of therapy

Different types of therapists will use a combination of techniques and methods in their practice. When considering becoming a therapist, there are several types of therapy to choose from. 

Some therapies have a specific focus area:

  • Addiction therapy

  • Child therapy

  • Marriage and family therapy (includes couples therapy)

  • Occupational therapy

  • Physical therapy

  • Psychotherapy

Other therapies center around an activity that helps patients or clients deal with stress, anxiety, and other behavioral or mental disorders:

  • Art therapy

  • Dance therapy

  • Music therapy

  • Recreational therapy

  • Spiritual therapy

  • Yoga therapy

This article will primarily focus on psychotherapy, which uses different types of therapy to treat behavioral disorders, stress and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, and more.

What does a therapist help with? 

As a therapist, you will help clients who need counseling. You’ll be required to listen to their problems and help them come up with coping strategies. Rather than offering your opinion, you’ll ask them probing questions to enable them to identify ways to overcome their challenges. 

Here are a few common mental health issues:

  • Anxiety disorders (PTSD, OCD, generalized anxiety disorder)Autism

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Depression

  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia)

  • Family trauma or parenting issues

  • Marriage or relationship problems

  • Personality disorders

  • Postpartum mood disorders

  • Substance abuse

  • Schizophrenia

Therapists can also help people deal with universal stressors, like:

  • Grief or loss

  • Insomnia

  • Job stress

  • Life changes like moving, changing jobs, or divorce

  • Relationship problems

  • Sexual issues

If you suffer from work-related stress, check out: Work-Life Balance: What It Is and How to Achieve It and How to Recover from Burnout

FREE classes from Yale University

Take advantage of Coursera’s free classes in the realm of psychology and well-being. You may be interested in Introduction to Psychology or The Science of Well-Being, both offered by Yale University.


Therapist salary and job outlook

Salaries for therapists have a wide range that reflects the variety of career paths available. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors can make a median salary of $48,520 per year [2]. However, this is based on having a bachelor’s degree at minimum, whereas plenty of mental health counselors in the top 10 percent earned over $77,980 [2]. 

For licensed therapists, salaries may vary depending on location, education level, licensure, and specializations. Some niche focus areas could garner a higher salary due to scarcity while earning a master’s degree or doctor of psychology (Psy.D) can elevate your career and salary.

For mental health counselors, the expected job growth rate between 2021 and 2031 is very promising at 22 percent [2]. For psychologists, the job outlook is 6 percent but has a higher median salary of $81,040 [4]. Psychologists tend to have either a master’s or doctorate degree. 

Skills needed to be a therapist

To become a therapist, you’ll want to develop your skills and deepen your knowledge in the following areas: 

  • Empathy: As a therapist, you’re required to put yourself in your clients’ shoes. By developing empathy for their situations, you can ask the right questions that allow clients to reframe their mindset and develop healthy behavioral patterns.

  • Active listening: When practicing active listening, you’ll want to be able to paraphrase and listen without judgment. These techniques ensure that you are truly retaining what your client is saying, as well as clarifying that you heard their words and read their body language accurately.

  • Effective communication: In addition to listening, you’ll want to speak to clients calmly and respectfully. Practicing effective communication means speaking with clarity and thoughtfulness.

  • Knowledge of frameworks and methods: As for technical skills, you’ll be responsible for knowing psychological frameworks and methods so you can help clients develop strategies for navigating through disorders or treatments. 

How to become a therapist

You may want to consider becoming a therapist if the above skills come naturally to you, and you have the desire to help people navigate through tough times or disorders to improve their mind, body, and overall well-being. Here’s how to get started.

1. Choose a specialization.

Therapy is such a broad career field that it is helpful to choose a specialization or two to pursue. Think through what types of therapy may have been most beneficial for you, or that you could envision excelling at. For example, if you’ve gone through couples therapy, you may want to incorporate family and marriage counseling into your future therapist toolbox. 

Or, you could be interested in a specific type of psychotherapy, such as CBT, and center your practice on helping clients overcome stress, anxiety, and depression. Perhaps you’d like to cater to neurodivergent individuals or women’s issues. Knowing what you’d like to specialize in can help narrow down your training or education options.

2. Get a master’s degree.

Most licenses to become a therapist require at least a master’s degree. To get into a master’s program, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree to start. Majors that could prepare you for a career as a therapist include psychology, education, communications, and sociology. However, you don’t necessarily need a degree in a related field to get into graduate school for counseling. 

When you’re ready to apply for a master’s degree, you’ll want to seek out degrees in social work, psychology, or counseling. If you have a specialization you’re especially passionate about, it would make sense to pursue a school that offers that concentration, has a notable counseling program, or has renowned professors you’d like to learn from.

In total, it’ll take approximately four years to complete a bachelor’s degree and one to two years to finish a master’s in the US. In other countries, such as the UK, a bachelor’s typically requires three years and a master’s can range from one to two years.

Online vs. in-person degree programs

Say you’re pivoting into counseling from another career or simply want to craft a flexible schedule while pursuing your master’s degree. An online master’s program could be a great fit.

It might help to seek programs that feature live online lectures and discussions, so that you can have both the freedom to learn remotely and an engaging classroom experience. While in-person programs certainly deliver a traditional experience, as with most things, what you get out of the program depends on the effort and spirit that you put into it.


Read more: Master of Social Work (MSW) Degree: A Guide

3. Obtain a state license to practice.

Once you’ve earned a master’s degree, which tends to include supervised clinical work, you’re ready to start the state licensing process. Typically, your degree program will arrange practice therapy sessions with clients. Then, you’ll need to take a licensure exam and pass it before you can start practicing therapy. 

The following licenses require a master’s program:

  • Licensed professional counselors (LPC)

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

  • Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

  • (Licensed) Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)

  • (Licensed) Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

4. Gain experience and grow your client base.

Congrats! You’ve earned your state license and are certified to practice therapy. Now what? There are several paths you can take to begin.

You could start working with a private practice or clinic to work with clients right away. It makes sense to do this because it’s difficult to gain credibility when you’re just starting out. But if you’re feeling confident in our post-pandemic tele-friendly world, then you could register to be on platforms such as Amwell, Teledoc, MDLive, Zocdoc, and Headway, to get listed and start working with clients online.

If you’re more interested in working in a school or health care setting, then you can work on teams that could include a school nurse or other specialized counselors in a hospital. 

5. Advance your career.

Maybe you’ve been practicing therapy for a few years and want to embark on becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist to advance your career. Maybe that was your plan all along. Either way, you’ll need to complete more years of school.

To become a psychologist, you’ll need five to seven more years of education and clinical experience to become a PsyD or PhD. This may be attractive if you are interested in incorporating or contributing to research in your practice. 

To become a psychiatrist, you’ll need to complete four years of medical school and four years of residency to obtain an MD or DO. Psychiatrists must be board-certified and can prescribe medications to patients.

Learn more: What Is a Psychiatrist? 10 Steps to Become One

Learn strategies to enhance your mental health

If you are embarking on a path to becoming a therapist, or simply interested in enhancing your own mental health, the Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health from the University of Sydney might be a good choice for you. With this course, you’ll learn different kinds of mental disorders, what makes up good mental health, and develop positive strategies—including exercise, creativity, psychiatric medications, and the role of loving relationships.

Article sources


CNET. “Amid the Great Resignation, these are the top searched jobs on Google,” Accessed October 5, 2022.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.