6 First Steps in Becoming a Mental Health Therapist

You’re interested in becoming a therapist (THAT'S AMAZING) but what are the steps? How do you become a therapist? Well the truth is that there is no “one way” to become a therapist/ counselor. There are different paths you can take depending on your personal interests. Here are some suggestions on how to become a therapist.

1. Make sure it’s something you really want to do

  • Make sure that being a therapist is something you really want to do. If you know before college that you want to become a therapist, I suggest studying either psychology or social work. These two majors are the typical areas of study for those who are interested in becoming therapists or counselors. 
  • People want to be therapist because they LOVE helping other people. If this is something that causes you stress or discomfort, you might want to reconsider a different major. However, you can always go into the research aspect of psychology and social work if you are interested in studying the human mind.

2. Brainstorm about your career goals

  • Next, you want to make sure to have some vision of your future career. Where do you want to live? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What are your career goals? What are your personal goals? These are all questions to consider when thinking about becoming a therapist.

3. Research your program

  • If you are a high school student or have your GED: research about the psychology or social work programs at various universities. Are the courses something your interested in? Do they have good reviews of their program? Are there opportunities after graduation?

  • If you are an undergraduate/a post-graduate: something that I was caught up in when applying to a graduate program, was “which program is the best” and  “which program is more prestigious”. Now I would appear very ignorant if I did not state that, yes, there are some psychology programs that are viewed as more prestigious than others. However, these prestigious programs may not be the best program for you. When looking at graduate programs, consider your commute, living situation, location you hope to work in the future, specific concentrations within the program, academic plan, and courses. A big reason I picked my graduate program is because the school allowed me to pick a 3 year track over the typical 2 year track. I was able to work full-time (trying to pay for school) and go to class in the evenings. 

4. Ask schools about their programs

  • It never hurts to contact schools you are considering and then ask to speak to someone in the psychology department who could answer your questions. While admissions counselors are often helpful, individuals working in the department of psychology can answer many, if not all, your questions.

5. Apply to a university

  • Tests: a couple years ago when I applied for grad school (2019), I had to take the GRE. Other schools required other types of tests. I suggest researching the requirements of the schools.  

  • Recommendations: If you are currently an undergraduate or postgraduate thinking about applying to a grad program, think about 4 to 5 people (the more the better) who could write you a letter of recommendation. Each program is so different with their process for collecting recommendations. Some schools accept a letter from your reference, while others will send your reference a form to fill out. Either way, make sure you have good references! When I was applying to grad programs I wish I could have built relationships with more professors/bosses/faculty members so that I could have asked a variety of people for my 6 or so applications. I was asking the same 2 to 3 references to do 5 or 6 different recommendations. I strongly recommend getting on top of this right away!
  • Transcripts: transcripts are usually pretty easy (hopefully!). You usually just have to go to your high school or undergraduate counseling office website and then you can have the office send your transcripts to schools. The only bummer about transcripts is that sometimes (usually) they cost a couple bucks each. The cost can start piling up if you are applying to several schools (keep this in mind). 

  • Essays: All of the graduate programs I applied to required some type of essay. I will likely make another post solely on essays, but my advice is to make sure you are telling the recruiters why they should accept you. The whole point of the essays is a) to judge your writing skills and b) to see if you have the skills/experience/passion for the field you are going into. 

  • Application: aside from all of the components listed above, you also need to fill out an application for the program which is usually telling the school information about yourself. Applications typically cost money. When I was applying to grad school in 2018, the cost to submit an application was anywhere from $0 to $80 (one of them was free because I was an alumni). 

  • Interview (grad school): Typically, there are 2-4 rounds of the admission process. First is the application process. Next is typically an interview. I personally believe the interview is the most challenging part of applying to grad school. I spent months and months, hours upon hours doing the first round process of applying to grad school. I then spent only a couple hours preparing for the interview. I wish I would have spent more time preparing for interviews!

  • I strongly suggest seeking a mentor to help you prepare by participating in mock interviews. The interviewers typically will ask you questions about your knowledge of psychology, your experience in a helping profession, and your knowledge of their program (funny enough!). I thought it was funny when interviewers asked me questions about their programs… I was like… well I don’t know your program because I’m not in it. But what they are really looking for is that you are not only passionate about psychology and helping people, but you are also passionate about their specific program. After the interview, the program usually lets you know in about 2-3 weeks if you are accepted into the program. Every program is different and they may have nuisances, but from my experience with applying to schools, the application process usually looks very similar. 

6. Choose your program! 

Once you are accepted into programs, you get to chose which one you want to accept! Consider different aspects of each program and make a pros and cons list. Which program is the best fit for you? If you do not get accepted to any programs this time around, you can always apply for the next semester/year; however, before applying again, asked a qualified individual what you can do differently next time to applying to schools. 

As I mentioned before, these steps are just the beginning stages of what it looks like to become a therapist. After getting accepted into grad school, there is so much more to look forward to in stepping into your career. Let me know if you want more steps in becoming a therapist! I know you are going to do great things!

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