The term therapist is often used as an umbrella term to refer to an individual who assists others in battling mental disorders and diseases. In reality the term therapist applies to a wide range of career fields that while similar, are still very different and come with different responsibilities. Due to the different requirements of each career field within mental health, there is no one therapist degree that provides the proper education for all the possible mental health careers available within the health care field.
There are a number of different therapist degrees that an individual can pursue at the undergraduate and graduate level that will allow them to work in the mental health career field. The type of degree an individual chooses to pursue will be based upon the field within therapy they are interested in working in. Assessing one’s career goals and interests is the first step in choosing a therapist degree that is right for them. The following are just some of the ideas an individual should consider before deciding upon a degree program:
- Do you enjoy working with and helping children?
- Do you prefer to work with adults and couples?
- Would you enjoy helping others overcome substance abuse problems?
The answers to these questions will help guide an individual toward a therapist degree program that is right for them. Before making the final decision to pursue a degree in therapy, individuals should realize that the journey will be long. While Bachelor’s degree programs exist, they are often not satisfactory for many fields within therapy and will only open the door to low-level career opportunities.
Once an individual has answered the above questions and thought about how far they are willing and able to go in school, there next step should be to consider a specific career within therapy. Some examples of therapist career fields include:
- Clinical Psychologist
- Substance Abuse Therapist
- Rehabilitation Therapist
- Licensed Professional Counselor
- Licensed School Psychologist
- Licensed Social Worker
The specific career field an individual targets will then determine the type of therapist degree program they should pursue. As mentioned earlier, a Bachelor’s degree is often not sufficient to become licensed to work in mental health. It is however a required stepping stone for those wishing to pursue a graduate level therapist degree. The best undergraduate degree an individual can pursue, in the eyes of many graduate level programs, is a Bachelor of Psychology (or Bachelor of Science in Psychology). However, some programs do admit students with Bachelor’s degrees in other fields as long as they have completed some of the following courses as an undergraduate:
- Education courses
- Health Science courses
Many individuals will find that state guidelines will play a large role in determining what type of degree they will pursue. Each state determines their own guidelines for licensing therapists in different mental health fields. The requirements for licensing cannot be subverted, so if an individual wants to work in a particular field within mental health they will need the required therapist degree to do so. A Master’s degree is often sufficient to work in some of the following therapy related career fields:
- Licensed Psychologist (Master’s in Psychology)
- Licensed Professional Counselor (Master’s in Counseling)
- Clinical Social Worker (Master’s in Social Work)
- Psychiatric Nursing (Master’s in Mental Health/Nursing)