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Becoming a Psychotherapist in Two Years or Less

By Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 18, 2004; 4:23 PM

Do you love working with people? Are you not interested in doing research or attending medical school? Would you rather devote yourself to developing your clinical skills and beginning a career in therapy as soon as possible? You may want to consider pursuing a master's degree. An array of master's degrees provides the requisite preparation for psychotherapy. Some of these include a master's in social work, counseling, psychiatric nursing or even pastoral care. Those with master's degrees work in a wide range of settings, including community mental health, hospitals, psychiatric clinics, administration and private practice.

Psychiatric Social Work

Social workers can specialize in both clinical and non-clinical roles. Those who choose the clinical route are trained in different kind of treatment modalities like family counseling and group therapy. The courses are devoted to learning how to provide counseling; the focus is very applied and emphasis is on developing therapeutic skills. Social work students also are required to do several clinical placements. Typically, most social work programs are two years long. In most states, social workers are eligible for licensure.

Psychiatric Nursing

What if you have a background in nursing but want to pursue a career in psychotherapy? Another practical degree is a master's degree in psychiatric nursing. Nurses with BA's can take this path. To prepare for this step, nurses take a series of courses in psychiatric nursing and engage in a number of training experiences in psychiatric settings. In many states, psychiatric nurses are eligible for licensure.


Are you interested in a career in counseling? In many states, counselors with master's degrees can be licensed for independent practice. They are trained in techniques for both counseling and psychotherapy. To gain experience, you should participate in numerous internships. In many states, master's-prepared counselors are eligible for licensure.

Pastoral Care

If you want to work with people on their journey for self-discovery, you may want to consider a career in pastoral care. This path may be the right one for individuals interested in blending religion, spirituality and counseling. Although there is no official licensure for pastoral counselors, they can be licensed as counselors in many states.

Lynn Friedman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Bethesda, Maryland. She specializes in worklife and organizational consultation and psychotherapy.

Editor's note: This article by Lynn Friedman, Ph.D., was acquired by washingtonpost.com in April, 2003.

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