Becoming a therapist or counselor requires specific licensing and educational components. One begins by earning a bachelor’s degree in either psychology or counseling.

Post-bachelor’s degree, potential counselors and therapists can enroll in a related master’s program. However, to practice as a therapist or counselor, professionals must pass state licensure exams and supervised work hours in the state where they want to practice. 

This guide summarizes some of the typical criteria applicants must do to qualify for licensure or certification.

Counseling vs. Therapy

The terms psychologist, counselor, and therapist are typically used interchangeably; however, they vary widely in requirements and opportunities. As for clients, though, each of these professionals provides close to the same service.

Psychologists, also called psychotherapists, typically hold a doctorate. They go on to serve people facing severe mental or emotional challenges, and they often work hand in hand with psychiatrists. Some states allow psychologists to prescribe medications after completing further training.

Counselors, sometimes called marriage and family therapists, customarily hold a master’s degree and help clients with their relationships, behavioral and emotional issues, often through talk therapy or other such interventions.

While a counseling degree typically takes 2-3 years, a doctorate in psychology often takes 5-6 years.

Degrees Needed to Become a Therapist or Counselor

Becoming a licensed therapist, counselor, or psychologist starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, or human services. A counselor typically needs a master’s degree, while a psychotherapist will need a doctorate.

If students want to accelerate their career paths, aspiring counselors that already have a bachelor’s degree can choose to earn a master’s degree and get licensed as a counselor. However, students without a degree may want to start with a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

Students should carefully consider their career ambitions and use that to decide which path to pursue. And keep in mind, some accelerated counseling degrees lead to licensure, but many do not.

Bachelors Degree in Counseling

While bachelor’s programs feature different courses, admission requirements, and structures, learners can encounter similarities. Students can typically earn their bachelor’s within four years of full-time study in a 120-credit program.

Undergraduate psychology degrees typically include courses in personality and social processes, research methods in psychology, and scientific reasoning in psychology. Numerous colleges offer more flexible online formats that allow learners to continue working while simultaneously seeking a degree.

Those with a bachelor’s degree can typically obtain entry-level counseling and therapy jobs. Completing an undergraduate program also prepares one for advancement into a master’s-level program.

Graduate-Level Counseling Information

Those who want to advance their education and expand their career opportunities can pursue a master’s in counseling degree. At the graduate level, one typically enrolls in specializations or concentrations to align their degrees with their career goals. Common disciplines include marriage and family therapy, and addictions or school counseling.

Master’s programs typically emphasize clinical components to provide degree-seekers with practical training through practicums or internships on top of coursework. Courses include theories of counseling and psychotherapy, ethics and legal issues in counseling, and assessment of counseling. Ordinarily, it takes about two years of full-time study to receive a master’s.

Some schools offer online counseling degrees with accelerated tracks that enable enrollees to take more credits each semester to graduate sooner. Graduates can then explore licensing opportunities to practice as counselors or therapists working with specific patient populations.

Keep the End in Mind

No matter which way you decide to go, our final tip is to try and make your decision with the end in mind, as where you want to end up will directly influence where you should begin.