How to become a psychotherapist, counsellor or psychologist

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

In my opinion the best way to get a job in the field of psychotherapy is to train as a clinical psychologist--the University of Toronto counsellors can tell you how to do that. 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. However the psychologist training, besides the greater depth that it provides, has the advantage of admitting you to a regulated profession in which there is (potentially, at least) some attempt to match the number of people graduating to the amount of work available. (You can see a list of Toronto psychologists at Psychologist Toronto.)

If you are interested in private practice rather than working for an employer, again I would recommend becoming a clinical psychologist, because nobody is even counting how many people are graduating from other training programs, and an oversupply seems to have developed in recent years. If you decide not to become a psychologist, though, I would recommend that you join the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists.  The OSP carefully reviews the qualifications of those to whom it awards clinical memberships, and requires adherence to high ethical standards, so a membership will help you to establish a reputation, not to mention the opportunities offered for continuing education and collegial relationships.

Clinical membership in the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists requires that you have done significant personal therapy--a protection for your clients as well as your own mental health. You can take this kind of training at private psychotherapy schools, of which there are at least two in Toronto. They may require that you first have a Master's degree in psychology.

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 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 less relevant for doing psychotherapy.

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


Update, 2014: Some time this year, psychotherapists in Ontario will be licenced and regulated. This will likely lead to insurance coverage being available to psychotherapists, not just to psychologists (and in some cases social workers) as is presently the case. As psychologists' fees tend to be significantly higher, regulation might divert some work away from psychologists towards psychotherapists in the future.

Copyright 1998 M. Mares


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