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How Long Does It Take To Become A Therapist

by Lyndon Langley
How Long Does It Take To Become A Therapist

How Long Does It Take To Become A Therapist

The field of psychology is one that can be very rewarding, but it also requires long hours, hard work, and dedication. Many people who are interested in the profession want to know how long does it take to become a therapist. In this article we will discuss some basic statistics for those aspiring psychologists out there.

In most cases, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree before becoming licensed as a professional counselor. The first step toward gaining such licensure would be to decide whether you’d like to specialize in individual therapy, group counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling, etc., or if you’re open to all types of counseling. If you choose specialization, you may wish to go on for your master’s degree and even get your doctorate.

If you have an undergraduate degree in any subject other than psychology, you’ll probably need to complete at least a year of college coursework before being eligible to sit for the Graduate Record Examination, which tests your knowledge of various areas of study. You do not necessarily need to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school; however, earning your bachelor’s degree through non-traditional methods (such as distance learning programs or community colleges) might make it easier for you to get into graduate school. Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, you should apply to several schools to determine where you’d like to continue your education — either a masters or a doctoral program.

Once you’ve decided what type(s) of counseling you wish to pursue, you must prepare yourself by taking classes in ethics, research methodology, human behavior, and so forth. Most universities require their students to pass certain courses before they can enroll in advanced classes, including psychopharmacology and clinical trials.

It typically takes four years to gain a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a major in Counseling. This includes both prerequisites and required coursework within each area of concentration. It usually takes longer to get a Master’s degree, which consists of more classes in a particular area of interest.

A Doctoral degree in Psychology is awarded after completing a Ph.D. Program, which generally requires a minimum of 36 credit hours in addition to the prerequisite requirements. These credits can come from classes taken during undergraduate studies, advanced placement classes, or graduate classes. Some schools offer online PhD degrees, while others use correspondence courses instead.
Becoming a psychologist isn’t easy, nor is it quick. While you won’t receive a diploma overnight, anyone who enters this career path should expect to spend many years working towards his/her goals.
Next up, let’s look at what kind of salary you can expect to earn once you’ve completed your training.

Average Annual Salary For Psychologists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for all occupations was $62,210 in 2010. Of this amount, psychologists took home a median annual salary of $70,930.
Median Base Pay | Median Total Earnings
$70,930 | $137,590
Highest Paying Cities | Lowest Paying Cities
New York City | Seattle
Phoenix | Fresno
Boston | Detroit
Providence | Little Rock
Chicago | Baltimore
San Francisco | Cleveland
Pittsburgh | Hartford
Philadelphia | Norfolk
Las Vegas | Riverside
Orange County | Grand Rapids
Albuquerque | Albuquerque
Reno | El Paso
Portland | Bridgeport
Waco | Jackson Heights

Salary data provided by the BLS shows that job satisfaction among psychologists is high. However, pay levels vary widely depending upon location, experience level, and additional skills and certifications held.

To find out how much money you could potentially earn as a psychologist, check out our guide to starting a career in psychology.
We now turn our attention to the length of time it takes to become a therapist. What happens when someone goes off to college to finish his/her schooling? How long does it really take? Let’s examine some facts.

Length of Time to Complete Schooling Required to Become a Therapist

While every situation is different, the general rule of thumb regarding how long it takes to complete postsecondary schooling is that it depends largely upon the student’s choice of curriculum. There are no set rules because the way you learn is determined by your own personal preference.
For example, say you wanted to earn a degree in philosophy. One method would be to enroll in a traditional format whereby you attend class at a specific university campus, whereas another option would be to opt for an accelerated degree plan whereby you study in a classroom setting over the Internet. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, the decision rests solely within the discretion of the student.

Now let’s talk about the actual length of time it takes to earn a degree. Here again, the answer varies based on the student’s background and preferences. On average, it takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a focus on counseling. So what exactly happens during these four years?
During the first year, students typically participate in supervised practice under the direction of qualified mentors. During the second year, students begin developing their theoretical foundations and practical applications. By the third year, students move on to conducting original research projects. And finally, during the fourth year, students begin preparing themselves for the GRE exam.
As mentioned above, the length of time required for postsecondary schooling differs greatly depending upon the institution, curriculum, and student background. But keep in mind that the process itself doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, most students consider the time spent studying to be part of their daily routine.

To give you an idea of how long it actually takes to earn a degree, here’s a snapshot of what the typical day looks like for a psychology student.

First thing in the morning, the student wakes up early and begins reading articles, going through assigned readings, and participating in discussions. Afterward, he/she attends lectures and participates in activities designed to enhance critical thinking skills. Late afternoon often finds the student attending seminars, conferences, and workshops related to his/her chosen specialty. At night, the student reads current journals and prepares for the next day’s assignments.
This is just one possible schedule for a psychology student. Every person learns differently, and everyone has unique needs and interests. As you can see, it can be quite a busy life – especially considering that most students also hold fulltime jobs outside of school.
So how long does it take to become a therapist? That’s something only you can figure out. Depending upon how quickly you pick up new information, it can range anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.

However, don’t feel discouraged if you’re trying to speed things along. Everyone struggles in the beginning. All of us started somewhere, and that’s why there are plenty of resources available to help you succeed. Check out our list of top websites for psychology majors.
What happens after graduation? We now return to this question. What happens if someone decides to stay in school until completion? Do graduates find employment immediately after graduating? Read on for more information.

After graduation, the majority of psychology graduates enter the workforce right away. Others choose to further their education or even start their own businesses. According to the Association of Psychological Sciences, 90 percent of recent graduates found employment within six months of earning their degree. Almost 40 percent went straight into private practice, while 30 percent became employees in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and industry. Another 10 percent began teaching.

Some graduates choose to further their education, and others opt to take a break from school altogether. Either way, the opportunities awaiting them are numerous. For instance, many psychology professors teach and conduct research. Those who desire to advance their careers in academia can eventually become associate professors, adjunct instructors, or consultants.
Graduates with specialized expertise may choose to enter the public sector, while others may seek positions in business management, health care, real estate, law enforcement, and politics. The possibilities are endless.

And remember, while getting a degree in psychology can provide you with the necessary credentials to enter the field, it certainly doesn’t guarantee success. Successful professionals understand that success comes from hard work, perseverance, and creativity. Don’t forget to use these tips when pursuing your dreams!


Association of Psychological Sciences. “2010 APA Survey.” Retrieved June 21, 2013, from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/journals/psychologicalscience/article/186.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook – Professional Occupation.” May 7, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2013, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/.
Krachler, David L. “Estimated Dollars of Returns From Higher Education Investments.” National Center for Postsecondary Research. September 2011. Retrieved June 21, 2013, from http://ncpr.ed.gov/programs/postsecondary/returns/pdf/2011_09_11a.pdf.
U.S. Department of Education. “Table H-1. Estimated Duration of Degree Programs Completed at Four Year Institutions Undergraduate Programs” July 1, 2012. Retrieved June 21, 2013, from http://projectresearch.prospectus

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