How to become a psychotherapist, counsellor or psychologist

Updated November, 2016

Dr. Kim answers a question from a University of Toronto student who asks how to become a counsellor or psychotherapist in Ontario:

You could train as a clinical psychologist, usually by doing a PhD. Alternatively, a Masters of Social Work or an M.A. in psychology can teach you basic counselling skills if you pick the appropriate courses, and might get you a counselling job. Also, now that psychotherapists are regulated in Ontario, training in a psychotherapy school approved by the College of Psychotherapists of Ontario is another option, but there are few jobs; perhaps this will change somewhat as a result of regulation, but at this point almost all psychotherapists are in private practice.

If you are interested in private practice rather than working for an employer, be aware that there is an oversupply (relative to the number of people who can afford therapy, certainly not to the need). This could mean that you spend more time on marketing (which typically involves maintaining a website) than on counselling. (See as an example of the most basic psychotherapists' website. Most run to at least five pages, and those that can be found in a Google search are usually much longer.) The oversupply is probably worst for psychotherapists, as there is no limit to how many people can be trained, whereas universities tend to have some limits on enrolment. Also, extended medical plans pay a few hundred dollars per year towards the cost of psychological services and in some cases counselling with a social worker, which makes them more attractive to clients. The insurance plans will likely extend this to psychotherapists in their own good time, but don't hold your breath.

Another option if you would like to be self-employed without needing to worry about marketing and the availability of work is to become a medical doctor. This can lead to being a GP psychotherapist or specialist training as a psychiatrist. However most of the training you will get is in medicine, which is essential if you are dealing with physical problems such as dementia, but not a good preparation for doing psychotherapy. Which is why it is conceivable that at some point the Ontario government will stop funding new GP psychotherapists.

A university program will not by itself prepare you to do analytically-oriented therapy; so if you want to work at that level you need an analytical training as well. It takes many years. First you go through analysis yourself, and then you analyze clients under supervision. Most people would find this too demanding to do while attending university full time, so that would be for later.

Best wishes for your very worthwhile ambition.

Copyright 1998 M. Mares


Back to home page Counselling and therapy