Psychotherapist Career: Job Description & Requirements

Find out what a psychotherapist does and how to become one. See what the education, training, and licensing requirements are. Get career prospects to help you decide if this field is right for you.

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Career Definition for a Psychotherapist

Psychotherapists use a variety of psychological techniques to help clients overcome psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, addictions or obsessions. Psychiatrists may perform psychotherapy as part of their medical practice, and other careers that use psychotherapy include psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, occupational therapists, and various counselors.

Required Education Typically, a master's degree in psychology or a social science and the completion of a post-graduate internship
Job Duties Include helping clients overcome psychiatric illnesses
Median Salary (2015) $70,580 (all clinical, counseling and school psychologists)
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 20% growth (all clinical, counseling and school psychologists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Psychotherapists typically have a master's degree in psychology or one of the social sciences and complete a post-graduate internship. Some psychiatrists, with a medical degree and a license to prescribe medications, also perform psychotherapy, but the majority of psychotherapists are not medical doctors.

Licensing Requirements

After completing a degree program and an internship, a psychotherapist must obtain a license in psychotherapy or one of the therapeutic fields, like marriage and family therapy, licensed professional counseling, or clinical social work. Psychotherapists typically need to be licensed in order to qualify to accept medical insurance payments from their patients' carriers.

Skills Required

Good verbal and listening skills are required, as the bulk of psychotherapy is a dialog between therapist and client. A psychotherapist must be skeptical as well as insightful, to see through the layers of clients' defenses and set therapeutic goals. Persistence is also useful, to overcome the clients' resistance to meeting those goals.

Career and Economic Outlook

Jobs for clinical, counseling and school psychologists, the leading psychotherapy practitioners, will grow at a rate of 20% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, and prospects will be brightest for psychologists with doctoral degrees. The median annual salary among clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in May 2015 was $70,580. Additionally, the states with the highest employment levels were California, New York, and Texas.

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Alternate Career Options

Here are some examples of alternative career options:

Social Worker

Social workers help people cope with day-to-day problems such as illness, divorce or job loss. They may work with clients to establish goals and identify steps toward meeting them, help arrange for services like food stamps or Medicare, or facilitate adoptions. Those who are licensed clinical social workers provide therapy for clients experiencing mental health issues.

Aspiring social workers seeking entry-level or direct service work can obtain employment with a bachelor's degree in social work or a closely related field, although some employers prefer a master's degree. Licensed clinical social workers must have a master's degree in social work, work experience, and a state license. The BLS reports that social workers can expect 12% job growth from 2014-2024; the agency also reports that social worker jobs paid median wages of $45,900 in 2015.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor

In this occupation, counselors assess clients who suffer conditions like alcoholism, gambling, and eating disorders to identify their readiness for treatment and what those treatment options are. They work with clients and their families to modify behaviors and learn new coping skills. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors often work with related mental health care professionals and can provide services through individual or group sessions.

Education requirements can vary by employer, job responsibilities, and state requirements; they can range from a high school diploma to a master's degree. Private practice requires a state license; qualifications include a master's degree, work experience, and a passing score on an exam. State licensing and certification requirements for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors who aren't working in private practice vary. The BLS predicts that this occupation will see 22% job growth from 2014-2024; the BLS also reports that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned median pay of $39,980 in 2015.

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