how to become a marriage and family therapist, how to become a family therapist

Counseling Degree: How To Start Your Own Practice – So Simple That Anyone Can Do It

Psychology is an academic and applied science used for the in-depth investigation of human behavior and different kinds of psychological processes. The specialists of this direction are usually engaged in the scientific discovery of the human psyche. Their main task is to investigate the situation happening on an emotional level. In such a way, they find out the people’s actual needs, recognize the behavior ineffective “patterns,” help to get out of the circle of repeated mistakes, and then change their lives in general.

How to Become a Licensed Counselor: First Steps

All in all, there is no unique answer to the question “What do mental health counselors do?” and nobody can reply to you immediately and without any hesitation. Why? – You see, the matter is that counseling practice is a set of some essential directions, and none of them should be missed or forgotten. Let’s discover each one in detail.  

Indeed, the very first thing you need to do is to get primary psychological education. You may obtain it at college or university. It is only up to you to decide what to choose. However, under any conditions, the level of education should be substantial. The specialized courses in psychology are not good enough even under the situation you will get excellent marks for them.

There are some essential steps to become a psychologist, and profile education is a basis. Following the specialists’ points of view, this basis can be different. However, one way or another, the chosen direction should correspond to what a person wants to do next. In general, there are three main types of counseling degree: a clinical psychologist, a teacher-psychologist, or a social psychologist.

The Necessity of Additional Education

If you want to know how to be a counselor, you should not forget about the second important step required to achieve it. It is an opportunity to obtain additional education. For this purpose, it is necessary to choose the corresponding educational institution, which can give a serious level of knowledge to the potential counseling therapist. There are some directions. For example, you can give preference to cognitive-behavioral therapy or a gestalt approach, or psychodrama, or understanding therapy, or psychoanalysis, or an existentially humanistic direction, etc. 

Be careful, it is essential to choose not only the educational institution itself but also the specialist who teaches there. Before making a final decision and start a studying process, you may need to obtain a specific volume of knowledge. Try to do it through all the ways available. Some people prefer to listen to many recommendations from various kinds of specialists who are already in this profession. Others go to a seminar and attend numerous conferences. You may combine both before making a final choice. Accordingly, as in the step mentioned above, you need to learn carefully, pass a required exam, and get a particular certificate.

Practice and Training

As you, perhaps, understand, there is no simple answer to the question, “How to become a therapist?” As a rule, this direction requires much more time than it may seem at first sight. Thus, now let’s come to the second step and look through the additional moments you need to know for the reply to “How long does it take to become a counselor?”

As a rule, the second step implies that the future counseling psychologist must undergo a certain amount of personal therapy, supervision, and, of course, training. Unfortunately, in some countries, these conditions are not always kept. They are not obligatory, but if you want to succeed in this sphere, it will be better to pay attention to every detail. Sometimes it happens that the activity of counseling psychologists is practically unregulated by the existing laws. 

However, following the experts’ points of view, it is not recommended to the neglect of these requirements. Various counseling degree programs, as well as different kinds of pieces of training, make counseling and psychotherapy professional and safe. This sphere is rather delicate and personal. Following the experienced workers of the destination, the mistakes in this sphere are usually very harmful to both the psychologist and the client.

How to Begin the Practice

The beginning is always difficult. Na matter where it is: in choosing the future career, in getting an education or in starting a business. If you are going to get the full answer to the question “What degree do you need to be a therapist in psychological counseling?” here is the third step you should follow. The third step is called the beginning of the practice. Following the experts, you may do it in different ways.

The most typical ones are getting a job as a trainee (you may do it on the helpline, in various kinds of city services, in local schools, in centers of professional development or even in the dispensaries for addicted people) or just starting working with clients. The second variant may seem complicated and dangerous, as nobody can have great success from the very beginning. However, what about work for free for some time, or can you start working under the supervision of the specialists. 

On the one hand, it is tempting to start your own business. On the other hand, it has its difficulties: to take place as a psychologist and to make a career. You will have to work on yourself daily. As a rule, it means that you need to continue your studies and combine them with practice. You will need to read a lot of professional literature, participate in various communities, search for and formulate your professional interests, and critical topics. Some people start to work with addictions. Others give preference to deal with men and women in crises. Some therapists manage to find a common language with children.

Trying to find an answer to the question “How to become a licensed counselor?” the potential specialists should be ready that education is not a single step they should do. They need to study their psychological strengths and weaknesses (self-reflection + periodic resumption of personal therapy), give lectures at conferences, and conduct master classes. Moreover, it is recommended not to forget about writing professional articles for famous periodicals. 

Besides, it is continuously necessary to engage in the formation of private practice (advertising, marketing, personal relations and attracting customers) and to maintain a certain level, to improve qualifications, to learn something new from what works and to be engaged in particular therapy and supervision all the time. 

The answer to the question, “What degree do you need to be a therapist?” is not as easy as it may seem. A perfect specialist usually combines a mental health counselor and a psychotherapist. It is necessary to understand that the very fact of its acquisition is only the first step, which says almost nothing. Following contemporary experts, a successful psychologist is more than a person who works in this sphere. This guy or lady is an instrument or a tool that must be kept in good condition and upgraded continuously. The necessity of a medical background depends on the area in which the specialist works. There are medical psychologists, clinical and psychotherapists who work in psychiatry, in various clinics, and there the requirements for education may be slightly different.  


Fuselier, G. D. (1988). Hostage negotiation consultant: Emerging role for the clinical psychologist. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice19(2), 175.

Hill, N. (2007). Wilderness therapy as a treatment modality for at-risk youth: A primer for mental health counselors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling29(4), 338-349.

Leong, F. T., & Blustein, D. L. (2000). Toward a global vision of counseling psychology. The Counseling Psychologist28(1), 5-9.

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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