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How to become a therapist

Wondering how to become a therapist? We've created the ultimate guide, giving you the lowdown on qualifications, skills and salaries.

A therapist chats to her client in an office

Taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health, particularly in today’s world. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we’ve seen the demand for therapy grow in recent years, with a 21.5% rise in the number of people accessing talking therapies between 2021 to 2022. 

As people look for treatment and support to deal with life’s challenges, a career as a therapist has become more attractive. If you want to learn about how to become a therapist and help make a difference in people’s lives, then you’ve come to the right place. 

In this article, we’ll cover what a therapist does, the skills required, how much you can earn, and much more, so you can start guiding people towards healing, growth, and a better quality of life.

What does a therapist do?

The role of a therapist is incredibly diverse and depends on the area of therapy you specialise in. However, no matter what path you take, the main part of your job will be to support people and guide them through their most vulnerable times. 

You’ll work with a range of people including individuals, couples and families, helping to improve their mental wellbeing. You’ll be required to work closely with clients to make sure they receive the appropriate counselling using an approach that’s best for their needs. 

Your aim is to make sure you support them in getting to a better place mentally and coping with the challenges in their life. 

Some of the common reasons people seek therapy include:

It’s important that therapists remain impartial, making sure anything that’s discussed between them and their patient is confidential. You need to create a safe environment where people feel like they’re able to be completely honest and open up. 

Some of the different environments and workplaces you may end up working in include:

  • Hospitals
  • Local clinics
  • Health centres
  • Community settings

What qualifications are required to become a therapist?

In most cases, the qualifications you’ll need include a relevant undergraduate degree and/or being a qualified healthcare practitioner, such as a psychologist or mental health nurse.

Typically, training will take four years once you start your degree, combining study (three years) with supervised training sessions. This means you’ll be able to develop in-depth knowledge and gain practical experience treating people, whilst meeting the recognised quality and competence standards. 

You’ll also be expected to take charge of your own personal development to improve your self-awareness and ability to help others. Potential employers will always specify which qualifications they’re looking for when you apply for a job. 

If you don’t want to get a degree, you have the opportunity to become a counsellor by completing an accredited and licensed course in conjunction with additional work experience. However, it’s important to check whether you gain membership with an accredited association once you’ve qualified – and remember, a counsellor isn’t quite the same as a therapist.

Therapist skills: which ones are essential? 

To be a successful therapist, there are certain skills that’ll come in handy both in your training and career. Some of the ones we’ve listed below, you’ll develop over time, but it’s worth being aware of these:

  • Empathy and awareness of people’s behaviour
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Good listening skills and ability to relate to a diverse group of people
  • Able to work independently
  • Adaptability
  • Professionalism and responsibility
  • Emotional intelligence and maturity
  • Self-awareness
  • Openness to continued self-development and learning
  • Willingness to work with other counselling professionals and agencies

How many years does it take to become a therapist?

As we mentioned previously, training will usually take four years. However, the time it takes to become a therapist will depend on several things, like whether you study full or part-time, the area of therapy you specialise in, the criteria for a specific job, and how much additional training you want to complete on top of the minimum requirements.  

A sensible timeframe to keep in mind would be four to six years from start to finish. 

Therapist salary: how much could you earn?

This will depend on the country you live in, the specific role, and whether you work for an organisation or are self-employed. For example, in the UK, if you work for the NHS then your salary will follow the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scales.

During your training, you’ll usually be paid at band six (£35,392), before climbing to band seven once you’ve completed your training. Band seven pay will depend on your experience:

  • Experience below 2 years – £43,742
  • 2 to 5 years – £45,996
  • 5+ years – £50,056

For employers outside the NHS, your expected salary will vary depending on who you work for. Indeed estimates that the average therapist’s salary in the UK is £37,068.

Other average salary expectations for therapists from around the world include:

What careers are available as a therapist?

When you first begin life as a therapist, you’ll likely specialise in one of the following areas:

  • Child therapy – involves helping children to perform better at school, overcome behavioural issues, and tackle mental health problems. Often requires collaboration with family members and teachers.
  • CBT therapy – focuses on thoughts and thought patterns to overcome negative behaviours.
  • Recreational therapy – helping individuals to overcome mental and physical illnesses that have an impact on daily life.
  • Family therapy – working with families and couples to deal with conflicts. All about relationship building.
  • Occupational therapy – working with individuals who are experiencing physical or mental difficulties to have more independence.
  • Grief therapy – focuses on helping people suffering from loss and needing help with emotions such as sadness and anger.
  • Addiction therapy – helping people recover from addiction. Can include alcohol and substance abuse, as well other addictions like gambling.

The more experience you gain, you can then go on to branch out into other areas of therapy. This may involve training therapists-to-be, mentoring, setting up your own practice, academic research, or specialising in therapeutic-based counselling.

You’ll also get the opportunity to move into more senior and specialised roles within your chosen field, which will, of course, come with additional responsibilities and learning requirements. 

How to become a therapist: additional learning

Becoming a therapist is a transformative journey that allows you to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. While the therapy profession can be demanding and you may find yourself in some high-pressure situations, nothing compares to the reward of being able to help those in need. 

As issues around mental health and wellbeing continue to rise, you could play a key role in helping to shape the future of society.

If this guide on how to become a therapist has captured your attention, then why not check out the range of psychology and mental health courses we offer at FutureLearn? With our help, you can kick-start your career as a therapist and make a life-changing impact. 

Online therapy courses at FutureLearn

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