Careers in Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is an umbrella term for different approaches to care within the field of psychology and it is often referred to as talk therapy. Therapists work with patients through a variety of researched and tested methods to help them with daily challenges and struggles, mental illness, or life events by understanding, changing, or modifying certain behaviors or thought patterns.
Methods and theories of psychotherapy are used to treat patients with a wide range of challenges and illnesses, with the goal of helping patients lead more fulfilling, centered, and independent lives.
A variety of types of practitioners within the helping professions can provide psychotherapy to patients and in a range of formats and contexts. And for those looking to grow their career within psychotherapy, it’s important to understand the different approaches, methods, and aspects of psychotherapy. We will talk about what a career in psychotherapy entails and walk through the different types of therapies within the field to help you find the right fit for your career.
Working in psychotherapy
Within the field of psychotherapy, psychologists, psychoanalysts, social workers and counselors can all provide psychotherapy, with differences in training, certification, and the ability to prescribe medication. Practitioners often use a mix of different therapies and methods, based on their own approach and the needs of the patient. The most obvious example of this is with medications. Providers will often find the best combination of therapy and medication to treat a patient.
Psychotherapy can occur in different formats, from one-on-one sessions to group therapy, and care can be short-term, to help a patient through a particularly difficult event or period of time, or care can be provided over the course of many years.
For those exploring the career options of psychotherapy, it’s important to mention that patient-focused care is not the only path to consider. The field of psychotherapy research continues to grow and one of these areas may be of more interest to you. Some of the leading areas of research include developmental, educational, health, forensic, and experimental psychology. Working with patients is a popular career choice for many within the psychotherapy field, but they rely on the researchers who continue to move the industry forward.
Lucky for you, there’s work available
Fortunately, for those seeking work in psychotherapy, there is an increased demand for practitioners, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the employment rate is anticipated to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, with job opportunities for those with a doctoral degree being especially promising.
“There are so many people suffering from mental health afflictions and not getting the help that they need. I was always curious about the human brain and how it works, especially abnormal psychology. It’s a fascinating line of work that provides the chance to make a difference, most people can’t say that about their job.” – Dr. Carrie Singer
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, “Almost three-quarters of licensed psychologists who treat patients for anxiety disorders report[ed] an increase in demand since the pandemic began.” And now therapists find it difficult to offer care to everyone looking for it.
What does psychotherapy treat?
Patients seek out therapy for various reasons, sometimes maybe not understood except for the realization that they want to feel better or find a way to make everyday life easier. Here are common reasons patients want psychotherapy:
Relationships, resolving conflicts or improving interpersonal skills
Coping with major life events or challenges
Manage unhealthy reactions
Recovery from abuse
Relieve anxiety, whether it is temporary or from an illness
Depression or bipolar disorder
When it is time to begin exploring career options, it’s important to understand what type of training, certifications, and licenses are needed within your chosen profession. Familiarizing yourself with industry associations like the American Psychological Association can help guide your decisions in finding the right fit for you.
As mentioned earlier, there are numerous therapies under the umbrella of psychotherapy and practitioners have expertise and training in particular approaches. Although there are overlapping definitions and methods, here are the primary approaches used by practitioners:
Psychoanalysis & Psychodynamic
With this approach, the therapist and patient work through unconscious meanings and their experiences to understand the patient’s behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. Through conversation, the patient learns about themselves with the support of the therapist.
Behavioral therapy is related to learning or relearning behavior, such as classical conditioning introduced by Pavlov or desensitizing one’s fear through exposure. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is also common, which uses the same approach to both thoughts and behaviors.
Cognitive therapy takes the perspective that thoughts guide and control behaviors and emotions, therefore working with and changing how a patient thinks is the primary method of treatment for any dysfunctional or unhealthy behavior.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
This is a type of CBT therapy to help patients manage and regulate their emotions, particularly for individuals with suicidal thoughts and personality and eating disorders.
This approach focuses on the interpersonal relationships of a patient and how they relate to others, such as family, friends, and coworkers. Patients often work toward improving their interpersonal skills and relationships, and this therapy is also helpful for those dealing with grief.
Humanistic therapy works with patients to assist them in making choices and reaching their full potential. Methods of treatment within humanistic therapy include client-centered therapy, gestalt therapy, and existential therapy.
Supportive psychotherapy focuses on helping the patient manage stress and cope with difficult situations. The therapist often acts as a support system for the patient.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
This type of therapy helps patients commit to making life changes and accepting their thoughts and feelings, as well as helping them adjust to changing or difficult situations.
As you have probably gathered in these descriptions, there are crossovers and multiple types of therapy to treat certain conditions and challenges, which is why practitioners often use a combination in their work, depending on the patient. Research continues to evolve, as well as medication that can be used as part of treatment, therefore continued education and involvement with industry associations is a significant part of a career in psychotherapy.