How to Become a Psychotherapist

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People drawn to a career in psychotherapy typically care deeply about the well being of others.

Perhaps you have a talent for guiding friends through dark times in their lives. Maybe you have fought victoriously in your own battles and now want to help others.

We all face questions about the meaning of life. Some people are better equipped to handle life than others. Do you know anyone who truly lives a perfect existence? How well do you really know them?

How to become a psychotherapist

To be a psychotherapist is to guide other people along their journey toward self-awareness to living more authentic and happy lives.

Training to become a psychotherapist will enable you to focus compassion, empathy, care and support into scientific techniques for penetrating the mysteries of the mind to relieve the mental and emotional suffering of your clients. That’s a noble calling.

As a psychotherapist, you provide a safe space and the professional skills for helping clients reflect positively on their lives and develop their own skills to empower and heal themselves.

In short, you get to help people evolve into the best version of themselves. With training and certification, you’ll also make a good living as a psychotherapist while enjoying all of the personal and professional satisfactions that come from helping people through life’s greatest challenges.

We’re excited to share the ins and outs of the psychotherapy professional path. Here’s what you’ll learn in this chapter on becoming a Psychotherapist:

  • How Much Can You Make
  • Training and Certifications
  • Professional Groups to Join
  • Career Options for Psychotherapists
  • Finding Clients
  • Plus Helpful Tips for New Psychotherapists

How Much Can You Make?

Psychotherapists can make an annual salary from the low $40,000s to over $100,000. The average annual salary in the United States is currently $56,837. The average applies to a mid-career psychotherapist with 5-9 years of experience. Salaried positions involve employment at public and private mental health facilities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those with a master’s degree earn $12,000 more in average annual salary than individuals with a bachelor’s degree.

A psychotherapist working independently in a private practice can make as much money as desired, depending on a steady stream of clients receiving regular counseling and treatment. Working independently does come with some expenses, including leasing office space and insurance.

how much can you make as a psychotherapist

Training and Certifications

A bachelor’s degree, typically in psychology, is required before you can begin training for a career in psychotherapy. You may be able to find employment as a counselor or social worker with a bachelor’s degree, but in most cases the education requirement is a master’s degree in psychotherapy or a related field. Earning a doctoral degree in psychotherapy is also an exciting option, but not necessary to begin a practice in psychotherapy.

Degree requirements depend on what type of counseling you wish to practice. For example, to become a counselor in substance abuse therapy you would take specialized courses on the psychological and physiological aspects of substance abuse.

Here is a full list of schools, training, and certification programs for psychotherapists.

Psychology Degree maintains a searchable website of accredited U.S. colleges and universities where you can study to become a psychotherapist. Keep in mind that by attending a program as an in-state student, your tuition expense will be a fraction of the cost to complete a degree at an out-of-state school. Currently, the average tuition costs for a master’s degree at a public school are as follows:

In-state residents: $8,640

Non-residents: Just below $20,000

Psychotherapist training and certification

Fundamentally, psychotherapists during their training and education learn how to help people overcome their problems. These can include behavioral disorders, interpersonal problems with family or co-workers, substance abuse problems with drugs or alcohol and behavioral disorders.

If you have any questions about psychotherapist licensing requirements, this state by state directory is a great resource..

Professional Groups to Join

There are many professional groups that support psychotherapists and their profession. The prominent organizations in the United States are listed alphabetically below with links to their respective websites. You may wish to join more than one, depending on your area of specialization. The average cost of annual membership dues in these organizations is around $200. All offer continuing education opportunities and the ability to network and exchange ideas with other members.

For more resources, check out this listing of psychotherapist industry associations and psychotherapist Facebook groups.

Career Options

Healthcare systems employ psychotherapists for departments devoted to mental health. There are also any number of private therapy practices that have available openings. You can also find job openings for psychotherapists at private mental health facilities, public school systems, and state and local government agencies. If you are in the military or have a military background, psychotherapy opportunities can be found in the branches of the armed forces as well as the Veterans Administration.

Finding Clients

If you’re running your own private practice, it’s up to you to find clients.

Because of the broad spectrum of counseling services a psychotherapist can offer, focusing on a specialty can help you build your book of business rather than trying to serve everyone. While it might seem counterintuitive to concentrate on a niche, when you identify the specialty that most interests you then you will be able to find the ideal clients for your practice. 

finding clients as a psychotherapist

Use your memberships in professional organizations to build a social network. Connecting with other professionals enables you to share marketing tips and ideas.

Many professional organizations also offer online directories of their members so potential clients can find a therapist in their area. If directories are available, be sure your practice is listed.

Let other professionals in the community know you’re available for referrals. Clergy, doctors, and even other therapists (who may have full caseloads) can be good for referrals.

You’ll also need a website with good information about you, your services, and your approach. List your business name, address, city, state and phone number on every page at the top. Claim your Google My Business listing, search engines such as Google will recognize your website as a match for people searching for a therapist in a specific area of the city. Run a search for “psychotherapists” and the name of your city, then check the results. See who’s listed at the top, then visit their websites to determine what they’re doing. If they’re coming up at the top of search results (but not in a paid advertisement), whatever they’re doing, it’s working.

Website content should focus on what clients can expect to gain from therapy. It’s okay to highlight your achievements and education – and you should, because this establishes your credentials – but the website shouldn’t be all about you. Fundamentally, anyone shopping for a product or service is seeking an answer to one question: “What’s in it for me?” Answering that question successfully puts you in a better position to attract more clients.

If you accept insurance, say so on your website. If you don’t, make it clear that clients are responsible for services (or you can go over your fees during an initial consultation).

Finally, your marketing and your website should include a clear call to action, to get your audience to do what you want them to do, which is get in touch with you. Here’s one approach to a call to action: “Contact me today. I can help.” Make sure to include either an online lead form and/or an online booking button to ensure you capture prospective client information and make it easy for them to see your availability to book you.

At some point in your private practice, you’ll want to decide whether to accept insurance. Some therapists do, others do not. There are tradeoffs with either decision. By accepting insurance, you are likely going to increase the pool of available clients you can service. On the downside, you may have to accept a lower fee for insurance companies to work with you. Plus, there’s paperwork. Therapists who do not accept insurance get paid on the spot; there’s no waiting for an insurance company to cut a check.

helpful tips for psychotherapists

Helpful Tips for New Psychotherapists:

Psychology Today offers a list of 11 constructive tips that help psychotherapy clients get the most out of each session. Suggestions include making a list of issues to discuss in advance of the appointment. You can adapt this list for your own practice and distribute it to your clients so they’ll be ready to get started and be productive right from the beginning of each session.