As a therapist, your job is to provide mental and emotional support for your patients using the skills you have been taught in your degree studies. This includes evaluating the client’s experiences as they share them with you, which can be done verbally through ‘talk therapy’, or with the aid of drawings or other creative mediums, as when dealing with young children who aren’t yet able to verbalize as well as adults. You are also responsible for diagnosing and treating the mental and emotional disorders of your clients, which can be hard and fascinating work. No two days are ever the same as a therapist, which can be quite exciting for someone who doesn’t want to be stuck in the same routine. While it does take some time to study and get certified, the effort you put in is worth it when you can look at a client and see the improvement that has been made in their lives because of your intervention. If this sounds like a career you would find interesting, having a look at the following pros and cons can help you make that decision.
Pros of becoming a therapist
It’s a satisfying career
The satisfaction that you get from a job well done in this career is two-fold: not only do you have a challenge in unraveling the mystery that is each client’s particular case, at the end of it all, you will have helped someone in need. As a therapist, you need to figure out how to communicate with each particular client and get them to open up to you. Your clients need to be comfortable speaking to you about trauma, anxiety, and depression, and the relationship needs to be painstakingly built over time in order for them to trust you with their innermost secrets, which can be a challenge.
This work requires effort and consistency over time from both you and the client. It can be tremendously satisfying to see someone who came in heavy laden with emotional burdens transformed into a healthier version of themselves through your efforts.
It provides multiple employment opportunities
As a psychotherapist, you are not tied to the typical therapist’s office. Your qualification and the need for your services in different areas of society opens you up to many diverse work settings. Many hospitals and clinics employ at least one therapist on staff to deal with incoming cases that may require the aid of in-patient psychotherapy, such as in hospitalization due to a suicide attempt. Government institutions such as prisons, juvenile detention centers, and drug rehabilitation centers usually keep at least a part time therapist on staff.
If you would like to go the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) route, there are thousands of NGOs all over the world that deal with trauma, disability, abused women and children, war veterans, and PTSD. Others provide shelter and support for the homeless, housing for parolees, low-cost nursing homes for the aged or disabled, and homes for at-risk youth. All are in need of someone equipped to deal with the particular issues of those they are trying to help.
Psychotherapists also have the option of focusing on a specific group of people to help, depending on where their interests lie. You may choose to engage married couples who need intervention through marital and family counselling, or work with children as a children’s therapist. If your focus is on grief, you can become a bereavement counsellor, or a depression counsellor if you would like to help people battling this specific disorder.
You can continue to add to your skills
Once you have finished school and are working in the field, it is possible to branch into different, related fields by upskilling yourself. Whether that is in the form of formal academic classes, online sessions, reading up on current research and interventions, or attaching yourself to different units in your or other organizations, this will keep your techniques relevant and help to improve your employability by supplementing your skills.
You will meet different people
If you have an interest in people, you probably chose psychology because it offers you a theoretical window into why people think and behave in the ways that they do. Working as a psychotherapist gives you the opportunity to put the theories you have learnt into practice, as you engage with clients from all manner of age, ethnic, cultural, social and economic backgrounds.
You might deal with a high-powered CEO who has outbursts of anger and is in need of coping skills for her stress levels, or a middle-aged man who was abused in his youth and has difficulty forming intimate relationships as a result. You could find yourself counselling a young boy who lost his leg in an accident and has to adjust to life in a wheelchair, or you could have a client who has suffered multiple miscarriages and whose marriage is failing as a result. The list of possibilities is endless, and each scenario is unique to those individuals, so while you may encounter some of the same problems in different clients, your approach will not necessarily always be the same.
You will also learn about cultural differences in thinking and how that shapes the behavior of a person, as well as how easily they communicate with you about sensitive issues, which can give you a much wider worldview and, in turn, better equip you to help your clients.
It can be a high-income profession
Most people don’t go into this career for the money, but it certainly is a positive aspect of working as a therapist, more especially if you enter private practice. The higher your qualification, the more you are able to charge as well.
Another way to add to your income through your knowledge of therapy is to diversify. Whether that’s through organizing workshops, writing books, or giving lectures, there are many ways for you to leverage your experience into other income streams.
You can determine your own hours
This one mainly applies to those who go into private practice, where you are able to schedule your appointments in a way that is most comfortable for you. You have a degree of control over how to plan your days and divide your time between seeing clients, keeping up to date with notes, and reading up on what is currently going on in your field. This is great if you plan to study further while you work, towards a PhD for example, as you can carve out specific hours for your research.
Although many psychotherapists work long hours, if you have your own practice, you can basically set your own schedule. This may be slightly trickier for therapists working in mental institutions or hospitals, where the client to doctor ratio may be low, so take this into account if having lots of free time is a priority for you.
You will never stop learning
Nothing quite compares to the rush of your first few months on the job, where you may feel the acute anxiety of having to put into practice what you have learnt in the role-playing scenarios of your years of study. Psychotherapy is the kind of career where you will grow a little each day and learn something new with each client. You will never know everything there is to know about people, and surprises can still walk into your consultation office after decades on the job. That is the beauty of choosing a career that is so people-orientated: as much as you will be equipped with the skills you need during your years in school, your real-world experience will never stop teaching you even more lessons.
You can help yourself
The skills you gain during training can also help you to improve your own life. Whether you have habits and thought patterns that are destructive, or unhealed trauma from the past, applying what you have learnt is going to help you grow as a person. It can also have a positive impact on your relationships with friends and family, particularly where there is conflict or unresolved issues.
Cons of becoming a therapist
It can be a lonely profession
Therapists spend most of their office time alone or consulting. The nature of the work makes open plan office settings a bad idea. This can lead to a sense of loneliness and isolation if you enjoy engaging coworkers in intermittent conversations or would like to have an open-door policy.
Your work schedule can be erratic
Flexibility is an important skill in this profession. Clients may only be able to meet after work or on weekends, some may have emergencies that come up at the last minute and need to reschedule. As a result, your schedule can become quite erratic with missed appointments, cancellations and postponements, and you need to be prepared to deal with this.
It takes time and hard work to get certified
Between getting your undergraduate degree in psychology, postgraduate studies, training, and an internship, prepare yourself for at least ten years of schooling before you can begin to think about working as a certified professional. This means writing countless essays and constant exam preparation for years on end, which requires a tremendous amount of determination and resilience in order not to burn out.
Setting up your own practice is challenging
Just as in any occupation or field, building your own firm can be challenging. You need to find rental space or purchase an appropriate building in the right area where clients can easily find you, furnish it with all the necessary equipment, advertise and hunt for new clientele, work hard and provide great service in order to retain them, and hire employees or outsource for the work you can’t do yourself such as accounting or filing taxes. This can take quite a bit of time and money before you even get the business off the ground, and the stress of keeping afloat can remain perpetually on your shoulders.
It can be emotionally demanding
This is a job that requires you to consistently be emotionally available to your clients. You will need to be present with each individual case, regardless of the fact that you’re meeting at the end of a long day and are tired, or are going through a rough patch in your personal life. Between meeting the emotional needs of your clients and maintaining relationships with loved ones, this job can be taxing.
Some patients can be difficult
Unfortunately, not every patient can be helped. This can be a very hard thing to understand and is often learned the hard way. Some cases may present as too complex for you to treat in your early years of practice or require more specialist treatment, requiring you to refer them to someone else and let them go as a client. Others will be difficult to deal with as human beings, whether that is due to plain rudeness or some other factor. You will have patients who never arrive on time for a session, or repeatedly book sessions and never show up. This is all part of the job, and will require much patience from you.
Exposure to trauma
One of the hardest parts of the job is the exposure to different kinds of trauma. Dealing with other people’s disturbances and listening to different traumatic experiences can stay with you if you aren’t careful to leave it at the office when you go home each day. This is easier said than done, and some days will take more out of you than you knew you had to give. Be prepared for that.
Endless pages of notes
An inescapable part of this profession is the necessity of keeping meticulous notes, which will help you identify key areas that need to be dealt with in each client’s case, as well as what progress has been made. If you find this tiresome or have trouble keeping accurate records, it could make your job unnecessarily harder.
Private practice comes with risks
Going the private practice route has its benefits, but it also comes with income fluctuations as many different factors come into play. An increase in your monthly rental or a need to hire more staff may eat into your profits, or you could find yourself losing clients due to a downturn in the economy. This is why it is important to have a safety net, although even this can end up being consumed by debt in the event things take an unprecedented turn for the worse.