Thinking About Becoming a Therapist?
Six reflection prompts to help you consider if this is the right path for you.
Posted May 9, 2019 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
As the demand for trained therapists continues to rise,[i] [ii] [iii] there seems to be a parallel in prospective interest in the field as well. Like many other professions, a substantial investment is required to commit to becoming a therapist. This venture requires not only time and money but also a great deal of emotional and mental energy.
If you’re considering this career you may find yourself doing the obvious research such as assessing the job market, discerning what programs to apply to, and managing how to finance your education. While these aspects are undoubtedly important, there may be some key aspects to explore that you are ignoring simply because you are not a therapist just yet. To help bridge that gap, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself before beginning your journey as a therapist.
Take a moment to step back and think about how you arrived at the conclusion that you desire to be a therapist. Perhaps it was a combination of different things. Maybe you were intrigued by a psychology course or admired a therapist you once saw on TV. It could even be the thought, “I want to help people.” Although that’s an excellent rationale, a lot of wonderful careers are dedicated to helping others, so again, why be a therapist?
While this prompt might seem broad and inundating, it is an important reflection to help you infuse intentionality in your decision-making process. In attempting to answer this inquiry, you might find yourself tempted to search for a listicle about all of the alluring reasons to select this career path, or perhaps you may try to interview a therapist about their own reasoning. While these attempts certainly have merit, they circumscribe the one opinion that matters the most in this scenario, your own. In the future, you would be helping others align their goals with purpose, so to start the journey, it only makes sense that you start with your own process of reflection.
What type of therapist?
A common misconception about becoming a therapist is that there is a singular, straight path. As the field expands, the term therapist has undeniably evolved over time. Across the globe, helping professionals who also identify as a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, and social worker may refer to themselves as a therapist. Even specifically within the United States, this term is protected under regulations in some states, but not in others. Debate exists pertaining to who qualifies to utilize this term, but for a therapist-to-be, it can be more helpful to focus on learning about the differences and choosing a path that aligns with you rather than becoming overwhelmed by the philosophy of who has a rightful place in psychology.
Typically, becoming a therapist requires a graduate degree, continued supervision, and a license to practice. However, this varies per location, and in some countries individuals with a bachelor’s degree identify as therapists. Do your research to consider what requirements exist for the variety of disciplines in your area.
Remembering the why from above will help you to discern which type of therapist you wish to become. For example, are you hoping to utilize a medical model and offer prescriptions to individuals in need? Then you have likely narrowed down your selection to becoming a psychiatrist. Do you get excited at the idea of working with couples, rather than individuals? Knowing this may help you to refine your path to becoming a couples and family therapist. While many therapists are brought to the field by their passion to help, they differ in who they specifically wish to assist, and how. Knowing this proactively can help you to sift through to find the right therapy that fits you.
Where do you see yourself?
Now that you have considered the why and have reflected on what type of therapy suits you, let’s continue the visualization. Where do you envision yourself working? Do you see yourself in a hospital? A community agency? Perhaps you are drawn to therapy as a second profession and currently work as a teacher. If you enjoyed your time helping students and wanted to make a different impact, a school setting may be a good fit for you. Knowing this could help you narrow your choices to a school counselor or psychologist. If you want to help learners on a wider scale, you might consider educational psychology instead. Of course, you may not truly know until you are at that point in your path, but at least consider it. Reflecting on who you are can help you to discern your finish line, and this information can help you to train accordingly.
What do you believe about mental wellness?
Before starting your path to becoming a therapist, it is essential to assure that you actually believe in therapy. Related reflections include what you know about psychology, what you believe about human change, and even what you know about your mental well-being. Before committing to a training program, and ultimately a career, illuminate what about the field is appealing. Immerse yourself in the literature, take a foundational course, talk to people within the field. Ideally, a passion would become ignited in this exploration that would serve as fuel throughout your journey. Recollecting this passion in the days to come can also prevent burnout. On the other hand, contradictory beliefs that you may hold about change, the human mind, and helping others may simply mean you are selecting a field that will leave you perpetually frustrated and dissatisfied.
Do you have the skills?
While a quality training program will assist you in developing the skills you may need to be an effective therapist, many essential skills are not exclusive to therapy. It can be helpful to consider if foundational qualities of a therapist align with who you already are prior to training. Here are some prompts to help you begin that reflection:
- Are you emotionally intelligent?
- Do you have good listening skills?
- Are you able to be nonjudgmental?
- How do you hone your self-awareness?
- Do you excel in problem-solving?
- Are you trustworthy?
- Can you maintain healthy boundaries?
While you can anticipate learning how to improve these skills, among others, in future training, knowing if you are already talented in these foundational areas can help you decipher if this path is for you. On the other hand, if you not only lack but struggle in these areas, your future education, supervision, and practice experiences may be quite difficult.
Are you committed to your mental well-being?
While in session, a therapist’s job is to maintain the focus on the individual seeking treatment. However, fostering mental wellness is not limited to a clinician’s caseload. A key aspect of being a therapist that exists prior to, and continues long after, training is the commitment to fostering your own mental well-being. While there is a debate on whether all therapists need therapists of their own, the essentiality of self-awareness, self-care, and self-reflection is unanimous. There is no magic training that buffers the secondary stressors that you experience from clients’ sharing their stories with you. Not to mention, having a life of your own means that you have your own set of direct influences that may impact your practice.
You may be thinking, a lifelong commitment to mental well-being should be everyone’s responsibility. You may onto something, but compared to other jobs, a career as a therapist will consistently test and affect your ability to maintain your mental wellness whereas others may serve as a distraction or escape from your concerns. Unfortunately, becoming a therapist does not equip you with superpowers to shield deterrents in mental wellness (wouldn’t that be awesome though?). A quality training program will encourage self-exploration and emphasize the importance of continued personal wellness, however, the onus of the lifelong commitment lies within you.
Selecting a career path can be an overwhelming experience. The purpose of these prompts is to assist in your career decision-making. In no way is the intention to dissuade you from an amazing experience as a helping professional. Instead, they were formulated with the intention of helping you to discern if your interest in an incredible field is also matched with awareness, passion, intention, preparedness, compassion, and commitment.
If your reflection leads you toward a path as a therapist, your next steps depend on how you answered these questions. From there, do your homework. Explore your options, read about the discipline, chat with professionals, and maybe even see if you can work in your setting of interest. Above all, bear in mind that as you explore, the only person who will truly know if this field is right for you is you.