How to Become a Therapist

The need for therapists is more prevalent than ever, as more and more people are leaving the profession. Thankfully, the career paths to becoming a therapist are nuanced and rewarding. The most natural course for aspiring therapists is to first acquire a bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s degree and possibly a doctoral degree, before applying for certification within their state of residence. This can enable a person to become mental health counselor, a marriage and family therapist, a licensed therapist in private practice, or more.

People in the mental health field are clinically adept, empathic, and have excellent active listening and communication skills. It is also worth noting that therapists can often have overlapping responsibilities with psychologists and counselors. As such, as WebMD points out, the three terms may incorrectly be used interchangeably. Psychologists can be therapists, but not vice versa. Counselors generally can’t practice therapy. Furthermore, different fields of therapy - like cognitive behavioral therapy or family therapy - can be applied to various situations, helping people overcome a variety of mental health or substance abuse issues.

Consider an online counseling program: Bachelor's holders can prepare to become a licensed professional counselor online. With no GRE scores required to apply, the 24 month online MA in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine allows you to advance your career and be a catalyst of change. Learn more.
MA in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine
Search More Schools

Different Types of Therapists and How to Become Them

Therapy is not a one-sized, fits-all model. Indeed, there are many different types of mental health professionals. Therapists have many different licensure requirements and practicum. As a result, there are a variety of ways to enter therapy or a related field. 

Marriage and Family Counselors

Becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) means that you will work with families and children, helping them manage a variety of relationship problems. To become an LMFT, a person will need a master’s degree, two years of supervised work, and to pass a licensure exam. 

Social Workers

Clinical social workers do not have to work for a social work agency. Indeed, many social workers can work directly with patients to address a variety of mental health issues or addictions.


The requirements vary from state to state. However, prerequisites usually involve educational attainment, clinical work, licensing exams, and clinical hours. For example, in New York, a person must earn a Master of Social Work, complete required training, apply for a social work license, and complete three years of supervised experience. 

Clinical Psychologist

A clinical psychologist is someone who is formally trained to provide a variety of mental health assistance and talk therapy. They may use a variety of modalities to help someone recover from a series of behavioral disorders, including substance abuse, depression, anxiety, or more. Furthermore, someone who practices clinical psychology can go into many types of practice, including private practice, school counseling, or more. They will conduct therapy sessions for many behavioral disorders and help a patient develop a treatment plan that will enable recovery. 

Consider a Featured Online Counseling Program

☰ For detailed degree information, view the guides to:
Online CACREP Accredited programs | Online MPCAC Accredited programs

How to Become a Therapist Online

For many people, a traditional school simply is too burdensome. Fortunately, when it comes to how to become a therapist, there are many online options. Depending on the robustness of these programs, you can often earn a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. A well-structured bachelor’s or master’s program will also be able to help you find employment, guide you to fulfilling licensure questions, and enable you to gain necessary clinical experience. 


In many cases, individuals who want to learn how to become a therapist will already be in school. Thankfully, online counseling programs can help a person become a therapist with an appropriate degree of flexibility in their schedule. 


College Majors to be A Therapist

Fortunately, a variety of potential majors can help someone learn how to become a therapist. These majors come with a variety of coursework, state licensure, and education requirements. The right education and licensing requirements can ideally prepare someone for a full-time career in therapy or health care. A good therapist should also keep in mind that a graduate degree is necessary for many therapy careers. As such, a major is only the start of learning how to become a therapist. Robust graduate programs are also necessary.



A major in psychology is extremely common for many professional counselors or people who go into psychiatry. Psychology is the study of the human mind. It examines how the mind works, how it should work, and a variety of mental illnesses. This is the most common degree for mental health professionals. 


Sociology involves the study of individual relationships with each other, large institutions, or society at large. It is an intensive examination of relationships - as well as the time spent examining the way the mind works - provides an excellent background for many professional counselors. 


Biology is a less common major for becoming a therapist and is often more useful for becoming a medical doctor or psychiatrist. However, a major in biology can help someone learn more about neurochemistry and how that impacts the brain and mood. This can provide an excellent background for therapy.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Therapist

There is no set answer about how to become a therapist. It ultimately depends on the types of therapy you want to practice, how long it takes you to get your undergraduate degree, and what kind of career opportunities you want to pursue. Other factors that will influence how to become a therapist include the degree program you complete, as well as the various licensing requirements of your state. 


The range to become a therapist varies greatly. If you include college, it can take anywhere from 4-11 years. This can obviously be a major time commitment, and this is why it is so important that you know the most efficient way for you when it comes to how to become a therapist. Thankfully, a variety of educational programs - including online school - can help you make this determination. 

Counseling Career Guide

Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.