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What do I need to become a psychologist or mental health professional?

I want to know what kind of degree is needed to become a psychologist. I have searched the internet for answers to this quite a few times, and the answers range anywhere from a 4 - year Bachelor's degree to a M.A. or even a PhD.

I would also like to know what kind of degree is generally preferred by employers when they hire a mental health professional. I would like to be a therapist, not working in a hospital, either a private - practice or an online/office hybrid therapist that videochats with patients and or makes housecalls or has office visits.

#psychology #psychologist #psychotherapy #clincial-mental-health #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthprofessional #mentalhealth

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Subject: Career question for you

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Vivian’s Answer

Hi Allison! It's great to hear you're considering a career in the mental health field. The license required will vary by state. In Ohio, your options are the following:

  • LPC(C) - Licensed Professional Counselor (Clinical) - the extra C is if you want to do clinical/mental health specific work
  • LSW/LISW - Licensed Social Worker / Licensed Independent Social Worker - the LISW will allow you to work independently (e.g. in a private practice)
  • MFT/IMFT - Marriage & Family Therapist / Independent Marriage & Family Therapist - ditto the above
  • Licensed Psychologist

The educational requirements for LPC(C), L(I)SW, and (I)MFT are a masters degree, whereas for a licensed psychologist you need a PhD or PsyD. A Bachelor's degree is not license eligible.


Preference depends on the type of employer, although it does not matter as much as some may make it out to be. All types of licenses provide great therapy skills, and each has unique things that they can do (for example, psychologists can do advanced assessments like the Rorschach inkblot test). If you are interested in learning more about the requirements for each of these licenses, check out http://cswmft.ohio.gov (for masters level licenses) or http://www.psychology.ohio.gov (for psychologists).

Thank you comment icon This was super helpful, thank you! Emmanuel
Thank you comment icon Thank you for your response! Upon further research - I have found that my specific career area and major of study is not clincial, and it transfers more into media and communications psychology which I actually prefer! Allison
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Nathaniel’s Answer

There is a 'heap' for mental health care providers, based not on which kind is best for any particular person--that is a very personal and situational matter and expounding on how to decide that is a whole 'nother matter--but based on who can charge the largest fees, operate in the broadest landscape and provide or prescribe the widest range of treatments. I am only describing the 'heap,' not assessing it. This is NOT a guide to choosing a mental health provider, only information for possibly deciding which kind to become.

Psychiatrists are at the top of this heap, generally receive the highest fees, can prescribe medical as well as other therapeutic treatments, can admit people to hospitals. To become a psychiatrist requires a B.A., an M.D. and generally three years of practice as a resident in a psychiatric teaching facility, which takes more than a decade and is immensely expensive. Some psychiatrists have an entirely medicalized view of mental health, others have a more psychological or psycho-social perspective.

Some psychiatrists go on to become psychoanalysts, they undergo their own psychoanalysis under a training analyst and practice in any number of parallel psychoanalytic traditions. Over the past 40-50 years, there have developed psychoanalytic training programs for non-MDs that require candidates enter with masters or doctorate degrees in psychology or allied fields. People who matriculate from these programs have the skills and prerogatives of psychoanalysts, but not those of psychiatrists, say, to prescribe medication nor admit to hospitals.

Psychologists top the heap amongst non-medical practitioners. They require at least doctoral level qualifications--which generally involve 4-7 years to complete--as either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. The two programs are fairly equivalent, the first perhaps slightly more intellectual, the second perhaps slightly more clinical. Psy.D.s, for example, write doctoral dissertations, but they may not be as strongly research-oriented as a Ph.D. s in addition, states license psychologists based on examinations and supervised residencies and internships, hours providing clinical treatment either during or immediately after academic training under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. This can add another two years to a psychologist's training. In few if any states can licensed psychologists prescribe medications, but they can bill through a wide range of insurance plans that may not be open to people with less extensive qualifications.

In the second rank of medical practitioners are Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners and Psychiatric Physicians Assistants. These are generally people with masters level training, though some nurse practitioners hold PhDs. They are able to prescribe medications, bill insurance and work independently, though generally under the supervision of an MD-Psychiatrist, which may be loose or strict. Mental Health professionals at this level have typically completed 2-3 years of post-baccalaureate academic and clinical training .

In the second rank of non-medical providers there are a host of generally masters level titles ranging from Licensed Social Worker, to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, to Licensed Professional Counselor. These persons are state licensed, cannot prescribe medication and have varying access to insurance billing. They practice the widest range of therapies from bodily-centered, to psychotherapeutic 'talking' therapies, to behavior modification, to hypnosis.... They are typically the most available in the community and often work at municipal-, county- and state-run agencies, as well as in private practice.

The general term therapist is not licensed in most jurisdictions and can be claimed by anyone. Similarly behaviorist is not a licensed term, though if either is employed by a hospital or agency, say, the institution might have loose or strict definitions regarding academic qualifications and/or clinical training. I once managed a psychiatric ward in a so-called Skilled Nursing Facility with no formal qualifications, though I had a deep academic background in psychology and psychotherapy and quite a bit of training in leading various kinds of therapeutic and behavioral change groups. None of that was wanted in any case, manage was the operative term. I was expected to keep 29 people with diagnoses of low-functioning psychoses compliant and untroubling to the staff. When I began assisting them to make social connections with each other--and therefore, to become troublesome-- was promptly fired.
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