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Who Trains to Be a Psychotherapist?

Supervision GroupAre you thinking that you might be interested in training as a psychotherapist or a counsellor? Wondering if this is the kind of work you might enjoy? Or if it’s for you?  One of the questions people often ask is,  “who trains to be a psychotherapist?”  They also want to know if people who apply come from a particular background, or employment history.  I will answer this last question first.  Whilst it can help to have previous experience in working with people in some kind of helping role, it is not essential.  Training to be a psychotherapist is as much about the kind of person you are, and mindset you have, as it is about having previous relevant job experience.  Let me talk you through some of the qualities we look for when we are accepting applications on to our training programme.

Having an Enquiring Mind

Curiosity, and having an enquiring mind are important qualities of being a psychotherapist.  Are you interested in people, why people think, feel and behave in the ways they do?  Do you want to understand ways of making sense of human behaviour?  Behaviour is so often a result of the underlying thoughts and feeling we may have about a situation. Sometimes those thoughts and feelings can be just outside of our awareness.  Or they can be more deeply buried in our unconscious.  As a psychotherapist one of your tasks is to facilitate people in uncovering their deeper thoughts, feelings and motivations regarding their behaviour.  So, it helps to be interested and curious in people because part of the role is to question and enquire about such things. Are you interested in asking questions like how and why?

Self-Directed Learning.

Other qualities that are important in who trains to be a psychotherapist is self-motivation and enjoyment of learning.  Training to work as a psychotherapist involves the acquisition of theoretical knowledge, practical experience in working with clients and self-development and awareness.  Because each person begins training with their own history and experience, each person’s journey will be different.

Secondly, as you set out on the training you will discover areas of the work that interest you more than others. You may develop a specialism in working with a specific group of clients, or want to work in a particular way.  Because of this, being willing and interested in developing your own learning journey is an important part of the training.  You will want to seek out and find your own sources of learning.  This might be in the form of additional training, with a supervisor with a relevant area of expertise, through research and reading. Therefore, you will need to be self-motivated and proactive.


The next area I am going to talk about is that of self-development.  You will need to have a keen interest and be committed to your own self development.  These are important qualities in who trains to be a psychotherapist.  A very big part of training as a therapist is about self-knowledge.  This is because therapists need to have enough emotional competence and internal resources to engage with the demands of the training and the work of psychotherapy.

Emotional competence is about understanding feelings.  It is also about how to express feelings appropriately and use them to inform your thinking.  Internal resources are about being ok with people who may be distressed.  It is also about recognising when you need help yourself.  How can we help others to know themselves if we do not understand ourselves?  So, most training will include a requirement for personal therapy.  Therefore, it is very important that you are willing to explore all aspects of yourself.  This includes your less positive attributes and qualities.  You can also use therapy to build more emotional competence and your internal resources.

Non-Judgemental Stance

Working as therapist will bring you into contact with a very wide range of people from different circumstances and backgrounds.  You do not need to know all about different cultures, religions and contexts.  To be a competent therapist you will need to have some awareness and sensitivity in relation to the political, socio-cultural and religious or spiritual contexts of people’s lives and how different they can be.  As well as this sensitivity you will also have some awareness of prejudice and the many forms it can take.  You will also need the ability to respond openly and without judgement to questions of race, gender, age, sexual preference, cultural difference, and diversity for example.


The final quality in this post about who trains to be a psychotherapist, is that of self-reflection.  Part of the task of the therapist is to think about their work, their clients and themselves because this is one of the ways we can learn about our work and practice and improve it.  Reflective practice is a skill that can be developed.  It is attended to during training in a variety of different ways; journaling, discussions and supervision are examples of reflection in practice.

Next Steps?

If you have found this a helpful post and want to take the next step then you can:

Sign up to our Five-Day Email Challenge.  Starting in January, we will be sending you an email a day for five days with a series of question and tasks based on this post.  Click here to sign up for the challenge.

Contact us for an interview for entry on to our next intake of students in September 2019.

Book on to the next TA101 course.  The TA101 is a great way to find out more about studying a psychological model.  It is also a personal development course so will be a great way of understanding yourself and others better.

Contact us for an informal discussion of career options.

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