Everything you need to know about how to become a therapist

Updated 21 September 2022

Understanding what it's like to become a professional therapist can help you choose whether the career is right for you. People are more open to seeking appropriate treatment, and this has turned counselling into a lucrative career. You can join the profession as a therapist and help people identify problems in their lives so that they can make the steps for change. In this article, we'll discuss what you need to do to become a therapist and the skills you need to succeed.

What does a therapist do?

A therapist, or a counsellor, works to help people overcome many forms of emotional issues. They can handle children or adults and typically meet individual patients, couples, families or other groups. Their primary aim is to help troubled individuals reduce stress and improve their mental well-being.

Your work as a therapist will entail listening to clients actively, giving them time, respect and empathy as they talk about their problems. You help them eliminate doubt in their lives, increase their ability to cope with the issues they face and change their lives for the better. You can hold counselling sessions on topics such as bereavement, divorce or relationship difficulties, unemployment, illnesses or anxiety.

Therapists need to be non-judgmental and impartial while offering a confidential and safe environment for clients to share their stories. You may also need to support clients to reflect on their past behaviour and decide on how to change their lives. Sometimes, this might require you to challenge their beliefs to help them have a different point of view.

Duties and responsibilities of a therapist

The day-to-day duties of a therapist include:

  • Assessing a patient and giving them a therapy schedule that will handle their unique issues.

  • Working with the client to assist them to grow skills that will enable them to accomplish their therapy goals.

  • Communicating with a client's close friends or relatives, should the need arise.

  • Taking notes to document therapy sessions for future reference.

  • Providing educational materials and other necessary resources for unique experiences or conditions.

  • Attending supervisor and training course duties.

  • Liaising with other individuals and agencies such as general practitioners, health centres and communities to help make changes geared towards improving patients' mental health.

How to become a therapist in the UK

Although the UK has no compulsory training requirements for therapists, formal education alongside membership in a relevant professional body shows employers you meet the set educational standards and abide by an ethics code.

Here are the steps to becoming a therapist:

1. Take an introduction course to counselling

This is the introductory course that allows you to gauge whether therapy is an appropriate career for you. The course will allow you to learn basic counselling skills and give you a general view of the entire training. You may get to know a lot about the course and what it entails before you can commit fully. You can register for a course at your local Further Education (FE) college or Centre for Adult Education. The introductory training should take 8-12 weeks.

2. Certificate in counselling skills

This is a four-year degree course that allows you to sharpen your counselling skills by learning about counselling theories, self-awareness and ethics. The course might also turn out to be beneficial if your job involves helping or advising people, even when you don't plan on being a professional therapist. You can find a counselling or psychology course in your local college.

3. Core practitioner training

The minimum form of core practitioner training should be a Diploma in Psychotherapy or Counselling. However, you could also take a bachelor's or master's degree or even a doctorate. The training should offer in-depth knowledge of the field and meet quality and competence standards that are internationally recognised. It sets the pace for your competent, reflective and ethical career as a therapist.

The core practitioner training should include:

  • Knowledge-based education. This includes things such as human development, philosophy, psychological theories and their practical application, ethics and the law, common medications, supervision and functioning of groups.

  • Therapeutic competencies. This includes things such as monitoring and evaluation, reflective practice, communications, self-awareness, relationship-building, use of supervision and strategies and interventions.

  • Research awareness. Mainly involves critical awareness of findings from research, research methods and practical applications.

The course should take at least one year if you enrol on a full-time basis or two years if you enrol for part-time tuition based in a classroom. It should also incorporate fundamental, supervised placements that last a minimum of 100 hours. Such allow you to work in an organisation and sharpen your skills by practising with clients under a supervisor.

4. Attaining professional accreditation

Several professional bodies offer membership and accreditation after you finish a number of the approved courses they have certified. This includes the British Association for Counselling and psychotherapy (BACP), the National Counselling Service (NCS) and the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).

You should register with the organisation that accredited your course. Some organisations, such as UKCP and BACP offer student membership, meaning that you can apply to join them before you even finish your training. However, you need to apply for full membership before you can start serving clients.

Types of therapists

Once you complete your core practitioner training, you can specialise in a field of therapy that interests you. The following are the main specialities that you can choose from:

Child therapy

It involves helping children grow more healthily. You can assist the children to perform better at school and have a better wholesome life by helping them navigate some emotional issues they struggle with at home or school. You could also diagnose and treat mental health conditions manifesting in children and collaborate with parents and teachers to offer wholesome support.

Related: How To Become a Speech Therapist

Recreational therapy

This speciality involves helping individuals with physical or mental diseases improve their quality of life. You can take a physical rehabilitation or behavioural health course to make yourself more competitive in this field.

CBT therapy

This field entails helping people overcome negative behaviours by focusing on thoughts and thought patterns. This speciality might require you to obtain additional qualifications in CBT techniques.

Family therapy

This speciality entails helping marriages and families with conflicts that threaten to split them up. The individuals involved may have some interpersonal issues or mental conditions that you will deal with to mend their relationships.

Occupational therapy

This field involves working with individuals who are physically or mentally challenged to have more independence. You will seek to promote their dignity and accord them a sufficient standard of life. The job could also involve helping the client's caregivers or family members know how best to help the client in their day-to-day activities.

Addiction therapy

This speciality helping individuals with alcohol and substance abuse problems recover from addiction. It can incorporate some other forms of therapy, such as CBT and family therapy.

Grief therapy

This field involves working with individuals who have undergone an enormous loss in their life. It could be the death of a family member or close friend or a calamity that causes deep sadness and anger. Such individuals need help to cope with the feelings of bereavement and ensure they can resume their normal life.

Essential skills for a therapist

You will need a set of soft skills to complement your education and be successful as a therapist. Below are some qualities you should work on as you grow your experience in the industry:


Being empathetic involves being able to identify a client's feelings, even when you do not feel the same way. You can better understand a client when you can place yourself in their place or situation. The quality helps you to think more objectively and improve your emotional intelligence to better assist clients.


It is common to get clients who are shy or defensive and do not want to talk about certain topics. Such a situation demands that you apply your advanced communication skills to know the topics that a client wants to avoid and those they are eager to spend time on. You can then adjust your communication style to make the patient feel more comfortable and ready to share, even on the topics they want to avoid.

Active listening

As a therapist, you need to pay attention to all that your clients say to respond appropriately. Responses can include asking relevant questions that guide clients to reveal more about particular topics. You can also repeat what they say to show them you have totally understood them or to confirm whether they have understood you. You also connect better with a client if you can remember key pieces of information from their stories, and you can only achieve that through active listening.

Related: Essential Occupational Therapist Skills

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