Psychotherapy Degree Program Overviews

Oct 20, 2021

Psychotherapy Programs: Essential Information

Throughout the master's and doctoral programs, future consultants, psychoanalysts, professors, and researchers explore psychoanalytic theories and clinical evaluation techniques. Students need a bachelor's degree to apply to a master's psychotherapy program. Although candidates from all academic backgrounds may be accepted, those with prior coursework in psychology are preferred for entrants to psychotherapy degree programs. Some schools may include the option of a graduate diploma of psychotherapy as a first step towards applying for a master's, such as the Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy Studies - AUT (Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand). Students can choose specializations such as marriage and family counseling, school counseling or art therapy. A master's program consists of a mix of classroom study, internships, and research projects. A student can finish a master's degree program in about two years.

Some doctoral programs will admit applicants who have earned a bachelor's degree, but others require a master's degree or the completion of graduate-level coursework sufficient for a master's degree. Candidates whose degree was in a subject other than psychology generally need to supplement their degree with psychology courses. Dissertations address multiple case studies or a single case study, explore new theoretical dimensions of psychotherapy, or develop new applications of theory. It takes about five years to graduate with a doctoral degree in psychotherapy. Qualified candidates might pursue voluntary counseling certifications. Aspiring private practice psychologists must earn doctoral degrees and obtain licensing.

Master's Degree in Psychotherapy

Because psychotherapy defines a philosophy of treatment, master's programs related to mental health are more likely to address psychotherapy within the context of a psychology or counseling psychology program rather than as a separate degree field of study. A master's in psychotherapy trains students to analyze the ideas a patient expresses, as well as the behaviors and emotions they exhibit during a therapy session in order to discover unresolved subconscious conflicts underlying their illness. Psychotherapy master's programs are built around a set of core courses that directly address psychoanalytic theory, such as human development, psychopathology, and comparative psychoanalysis. Typical courses include:

  • Fundamental psychoanalytic theory
  • Analysis techniques
  • Neurophysiology
  • Abnormal psychology and child psychology
  • Mental health and multi-cultural considerations
  • Clinical evaluation and treatment

Doctoral Degree in Psychotherapy

Doctoral degree programs in psychotherapy are relatively rare; however, the psychotherapy PhD programs available are likely to emphasize a particular school of thought or orientation toward psychotherapy. Students explore psychoanalytic theory, take part in clinical research, participate in supervised clinical practice, and choose a dissertation topic. The curriculum in a doctoral program is devoted to classroom learning, researching, and writing a dissertation. The coursework is typically organized into required courses and electives. The following are some psychotherapy courses:

  • Freudian psychoanalysis
  • Jungian psychoanalysis
  • Psychoanalytic research
  • Case management

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The following table shows median annual salary and projected job growth (2019 - 2029) for two categories of mental health care workers.

All Types of Mental Health Counselor
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 25%
Median Annual Salary (2019)* $46,240
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 3%
Median Annual Salary (2019)* $80,370

The first category, which includes substance abuse, behavioral disorder and other types of mental health counselors, have a median annual salary of $45, 240 but a very high expected job growth rate of 25%. Psychologists have a much higher median annual salary of $80,370 but a much lower expected job growth rate of 3%.

Continuing Education: Psychotherapy Certificate Programs

The National Board for Certified Counselors offers voluntary national certification in counseling specialties, including mental health counseling. Some states will accept this certification in place of their own certification exam; however, licensing to work in an independent practice as a psychologist requires a doctoral degree.

Is a Career in Psychotherapy Right for You?

Studying and practicing psychotherapy requires a specific set of characteristics. A person well suited to a career in psychotherapy will be:

  • interested in people, their behavior, communication, and concerns
  • a good listener and communicator
  • organized
  • ethical
  • willing to creating individualized treatment plans
  • patient and optimistic
  • committed to staying current on the latest research in the field

Individuals potentially interested in a career in psychotherapy can assess their personal goals and characteristics against these to help determine if this is the right career choice for them.

psychotherapist meets with patient

Alternative Degree Programs

Depending on your goals, you may decide to pursue an alternative degree. For example, individuals with a desire to treat mental illness might choose to purse a Master's in Advanced Psychiatric Nursing. Students with an interest in helping children with family or behavioral challenges might consider an advanced degree in Social Work.

  • Master's or Doctoral Degree in Psychology
  • Master's Degree in Social Work
  • Master's Degree in Advanced Psychiatric Nursing
  • Master's Degree in Counseling

As specific psychotherapy degrees are rare, those individuals interested in the field can also acquire masters and doctoral degrees in psychology with specialized coursework. Although it is not possible to obtain a psychotherapy degree online, students may pursue a related online degree like psychology. Certification in psychotherapy is available, but some requirements may vary according to state.

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