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How to become a psychotherapist in ireland

Are you a good listener? Perhaps you’re the person in your group of friends that others turn to when they have a problem or need to vent? If so, then maybe you’ve thought of becoming a counsellor or therapist at some point.

But just what is involved in becoming qualified to administer ‘talk therapy’ and is it enough to be a sympathetic shoulder for others to lean on?

The short answer is no, it’s not.

Getting qualified to give others advice on how to live their lives takes time, money and commitment.


To start with, you have to decide what kind of therapist do you want to be – a counsellor, a therapist, a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist?

“Ultimately, all four of those professions work towards supporting and helping others with mental-health issues,” says Jade Lawless, head of counselling and psychotherapy at PCI College in Dublin and a board member with the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP).

“The easiest one to understand is the classic psychiatrist – this person is a doctor with a medical degree as well as specialised qualifications in psychiatry which allows them to focus on mental health from a medical point of view. They may look at things in a similar way to a psychotherapist but they can also prescribe medication.

“Many of them will also be happy to refer patients for talk therapy outside the psychiatric model if they feel that will be beneficial.”

A psychologist, on the other hand, according to Lawless, performs a similar role to the psychiatrist, but their work isn’t necessarily underpinned by the same medical model. While they do traditionally come from a scientific background, there are lots of different branches of psychology out there.

The four main ones are counselling, educational, forensic and clinical, but anyone who describes themselves as a psychologist should have done a three-year degree, a master’s degree and usually a doctorate in their chosen speciality. “Counselling psychologists are the people who most often talk to people about their problems and help them understand and move past them. Educational psychologists usually work with kids to identify learning difficulties such as dyslexia or conditions like autism,” says Lawless. “Forensic psychologists work on challenging behavioural problems in prisons and so on, and finally you have clinical psychologists who are more aligned with the psychiatric model and who work with the diagnoses from the DSM.”

‘Bible’ of mental disorders

The DSM is the ‘bible’ of mental disorders, a sizable book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, currently in its fifth revision. It contains the generally agreed-upon criteria for diagnosing mental-health issues. “It’s an amazing job. There is no other role where you get to be with people and be one of the only or maybe the only person they trust to be vulnerable in front of. Your job is to hold that space and it’s extremely fulfilling,” says Lawless. “Many people don’t have any other outlet in their lives to talk about their feelings. It’s so important that there’s actually something called the ‘dose effect’ in therapy. This describes the fact that no matter what kind of therapy you offer, most people get what they need from the first couple of sessions. That’s down to the relationship.”

You need to have a good analytical mind and the capacity to carry out research to make a good therapist

Both counsellors and psychotherapists specialise in talk therapy – treatment consists of sitting and talking about the client’s issues and their understanding of how they’ve arisen and why. There’s no medical diagnoses and no medication – it’s just talking and listening in a supportive environment.

“There is quite a bit of disagreement in the field as to what constitutes the differences between a counsellor and a psychotherapist or psychologist. The main thing, though, is you absolutely need a qualification to give advice to the general public,” says Ian O’Grady, president of the Psychological Society of Ireland. “Counselling historically was a bit more supportive rather than in-depth or exploratory, although the lines have blurred over the years. Overall, though, you need to have a good analytical mind and the capacity to carry out research to make a good therapist.”

Seven years

To qualify as a counsellor or psychotherapist takes at least seven years, with additional time required for accreditation by a governing body. The usual route is a three-year university degree followed by a masters degree, followed by a doctorate degree.

But that’s not where it ends. For example, if you want to become accredited with the IACP, which is the largest accrediting body in Ireland, then you have to do an additional 450 hours of supervised client work on top of your academic qualifications. “Most people take between two and five years to complete that, so seven years to qualify and be accredited would actually be very fast,” says O’Grady.

“You need to be able to assess people and their problems, figure out how to get to the bottom of their issues and assess whether the therapy you’re giving is working. It’s not enough for the client to say they feel better, you need to be able to tell if your work has improved function, lessened anxiety and improved quality of life.

“You need to be able to work with evidence-based therapies, where big research studies have been done to prove their effectiveness.”

The psychotherapeutic profession is a separate scientific profession. Accreditation as a psychotherapist generally requires at least seven years of training comprising a primary degree, and four years part-time training in one of the psychotherapeutic disciplines. Professional trainings are provided in both the training institutes and Universities in Ireland.

The Irish Council for Psychotherapy  acts as an awarding body on behalf of the European Association for Psychotherapy, conferring the European Certificate of Psychotherapy (ECP) in Ireland. The criteria for the awarding of this Certificate form the minimum training requirements and entry criteria for all modalities of psychotherapy.

We are currently in the process of accrediting our existing practitioners in relation to the European Certificate and ensuring that all training courses in Ireland are meeting the European standard. The criteria for accreditation of training courses in Ireland can be found in the TAC document.

Download TAC Document

European Certificate of Psychotherapy

The ICP has been involved in the development of the European Certificate of Psychotherapy in conjunction with the European Association for Psychotherapy. The European Certificate stipulates that the total duration of the training for psychotherapists is 3,200 hours spread over a minimum of seven years. This seven year period comprises an initial under-graduate component, or equivalent, followed by a specific psychotherapy training. Over 450 of the ICP members to date have been awarded the European Certificate. Many more applications are in process.

The European Association for Psychotherapy promotes the recognition of common standards of training for psychotherapists throughout Europe, and will ensure their mobility across member states. While the European Association for Psychotherapy does not have power to legally implement the certificate before it is adopted by member states, they have recommended it to the national co-ordinators of member states and welcome it as an initiative in establishing joint platforms which will facilitate the employment of migrants within the European Union.

Read about the European Certificate of Psychotherapy. Download Strasbourg Agreement Document

How to Apply for An ECP 

cottonbro / Pexels

Source: cottonbro / Pexels

​​​​​​When I went to college to major in psychology at the University of Connecticut in 1988, I was pretty naïve. I thought that this degree led to a career as a “psychologist” and I thought that “psychologist” was synonymous with “therapist.”

Boy was I wrong! It turned out that the field of psychology was enormous and had just as many areas that focus on pure research in the behavioral sciences as there are areas that relate to therapy at all. In fact, at the end of the day, I ended up going a route that was purely research-based, getting a degree in experimental psychology (with a focus on social and personality psychology) that led to a career as a researcher and teacher at the university level. Eighteen-year-old Glenn had no idea that this all was even a thing!

In my work as a university professor, I take my role in advising students very seriously. In fact, I even wrote a book, Own Your Psychology Major! A Guide to Student Success, designed to help students know the things about the field that I only wish I had known when I was a psych major back in the day.

2 Common Misconceptions about Becoming a Therapist

When I ask psychology students what they want to be when they grow up, a good number of them, just like 18-year-old Glenn, simply say that they “want to be a psychologist.” And, also just like 18-year-old Glenn, they all seem to think that the words “psychologist” and “therapist” are synonymous. I’d say that this is probably the most common misconception about becoming a therapist: Students often conflate the concepts of “psychologist” and “therapist.”

A second common misconception about becoming a therapist pertains to the fact that students often don’t realize that there are multiple paths toward careers related to therapy. Often, I’ll hear students say that they not only want to be a psychologist, but also that they think that they need to get a doctoral degree in psychology in order to do so. In fact, if a student actually wants a career as a therapist, there are multiple master-degree-level paths that quite effectively lead toward this goal. Students are often surprised to learn this.

5 Paths Toward a Career as a Therapist

As addressed in my book, there are more than five different paths toward careers in therapy! But here are five of the most common paths that lead to such careers.

1. Mental Health Counselor (Master’s Degree Required): Degrees in mental health counseling are offered broadly at both state and private universities. These degrees, which usually take about 2-3 years to complete, typically will lead to state licensure to practice therapy and they provide students with intensive coursework and internship experience in a broad array of issues surrounding mental health and therapy. Mental health counselors have many job opportunities these days and they work for a broad array of public and private organizations.

2. Clinical Social Worker (Master’s Degree Required): Degrees in clinical social work are often offered as part of an MSW program. These degrees, which usually take about 2-3 years to complete, are offered across the U.S. at various private and public universities and they usually lead to state licensure to practice as a therapist. Licensed clinical social workers, often with undergraduate backgrounds in either psychology or sociology, practice for various public and private organizations, and the job market these days is generally quite strong in this field.

3. Clinical Psychologist (Doctoral Degree Required): Clinical psychologists have doctoral degrees and intensive training in mental health and therapeutic practices. Ph.D. programs in this field include intensive research-based work along with extensive internships. Psy.D. programs, which are also doctoral degrees, tend to focus more strictly on practice rather than research.

These degrees, which generally take about five years to complete, typically lead to state licensure and often lead to a more diverse set of opportunities compared with degrees at the master’s level. These degrees are offered typically at relatively large public and private universities. Clinical psychologists with PhDs (but typically not those with PsyDs) are also well-positioned for full-time academic careers as faculty in psychology and related departments at colleges and universities.

4. Psychiatrist (M.D. Required): Psychiatrists, who typically hold M.D. degrees, receive intensive training in both the psychopharmaceutical approach to dealing with mental health issues as well as additional therapeutic techniques. Psychiatrists, whose degrees generally lead to state licensure, are able to prescribe psychopharmaceuticals in their therapeutic approaches. They vary in terms of how much they offer additional kinds of therapy such as classic forms of talk therapy, which may be offered in combination with psychopharmaceutical treatment. Training in this area is intensive, typically including at least five years of medical school as well as intensive residencies.

5. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (Master’s Degree Required): Psychiatric nurse practitioner degrees are offered at various public and private universities. These degrees are degrees in nursing and include the intensive coursework and internship experiences that are found in nursing degree programs in general. These degrees typically take about three years to complete and they require all the pre-requisite course work for admission that is found in master-level nursing programs across the board. This degree usually can lead to state licensure. Further, the therapeutic offerings in this field allow for the prescribing of psychopharmaceuticals as well as various other forms of psychotherapy.

Importantly, note that there are several other kinds of degrees and paths that lead to careers that connect with therapy. Such other degrees relate to fields such as applied behavior analysis, counseling psychology, school psychology, and school counseling, to name a few.

The Future of the Field

These days, the mental health industry is growing. On one hand, this is problematic and a bit sad because it speaks to a growing rate of mental health problems, especially in industrialized nations such as the US (see Strivastava, 2009). This said, this trend also means that there are lots of career options in the field of mental health. So there are lots of opportunities for psychology majors to make a positive difference as they advance in their careers.

To work in a career that includes therapy, you don’t necessarily need a doctoral degree. And you don’t necessarily need a degree that is formally in the field of “psychology”—in fact, students usually find that there are more career options on this front than they tend to realize.

Hopefully, this post has been helpful in providing guidance toward the various careers related to therapy. If you’re a psychology major, from New York to California, or anywhere in between, I say work hard, take advantage of opportunities offered by your school, work toward the common good, and good luck! And don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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