Category Archives: Psychiatry

So You Want to Become a Therapist?

3D white people. PsychologistI did everything “right” as a student. I went straight from high school to university and proceeded to complete a master’s degree in journalism. By the ripe age of 23, I had two degrees under my belt and was working full-time. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized I’d been so narrow-focused in gaining an education that I hadn’t even stopped to ask if I liked what I was doing.

To make a long story short, I eventually discovered my calling: psychotherapy. Finally, my curiosity about human behaviour could be directed somewhere and my search for a fulfilling, intangibly rewarding career could end. Now, I’m happy to report that I’m a Master of Science student at the University of Guelph taking Couples & Family Therapy.

But how on earth did a journalist like me with zero psychology credits under my belt break into the field? This post is for any of you who have considered a career in this field—and what steps you might need to take to make that happen.

 1.  Know the difference between being a psychiatrist, psychologist, and psychotherapist in Ontario.

These are all actually very different things, particularly in terms of the educational requirements and duties you can fulfill:

  • Psychiatrists are unique in that they can diagnose clients with mental illnesses and prescribe medication in addition to offering talk therapy. Visits to a psychiatrist are also covered by OHIP. To become a psychiatrist, one needs to attain a degree in medicine before completing psychiatry-specific training as well. It is only once their training is complete that one is able to become a member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which enables him or her to be called a psychiatrist while also ensuring that they’re maintaining a particular set of ethical, professional, and legal standards.
  • Psychologists are also able to diagnose mental health issues but are not allowed to prescribe medication. Typically, one pays for a psychologist privately as these services are not covered by OHIP. (Keep in mind that some workplaces offer specific services in this area though.) To become a psychologist, one needs to attain 5,000 hours of clinical training and obtain their Ph.D. in psychology. Upon meeting the appropriate criteria, they’ll be certified with and regulated by the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
  • Psychotherapists are not able to diagnose mental illnesses or prescribe medication. Instead, they primarily use talk therapy to help others navigate their psychological and emotional issues. Like psychologists, they are not covered by OHIP. To become a psychotherapist, a masters degree in the field is required and the requirements designated by the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario, such as having 800 direct client hours, must be met.

Each governing body (i.e. the College of Psychologists of Ontario) has their own set of requirements that must be met in order for someone to receive the corresponding designation, so give their websites a look-see if you want more specific information!

2.  Specify your goals.

What do you see yourself doing when all is said and done? If your main interest is to provide talk therapy, becoming a psychotherapist is sufficient. However, if you would like to be able to diagnose mental health issues, then you’d have to become a psychologist. If you’d like to eventually become a professor of psychology-related subjects and/or conduct research, you’ll need a Ph.D.

For some, it’s important to know that only a psychiatrist and psychologist can receive the title “doctor”; a psychotherapist cannot. As a psychotherapist you’d be called a Registered Psychotherapist.

3. Figure out how much time and money you’d like to devote to schooling.

To apply to medical school or masters/doctoral programs, you need to have a four-year undergraduate degree. From there:

  • Psychiatrists must write the MCAT to apply to medical school, go through four years there, complete a five-year residency thereafter, pass an examination, and then apply to the appropriate college so they may become certified. You’re looking at a time commitment of 13-14 years from the time you start your undergraduate degree to the end of your residency (assuming that everything goes smoothly from day one).
  • Psychologists must complete a Ph.D., which typically takes between 5 – 7 years. If you include the start of your undergraduate degree, that’s a total of 9 – 11 years.
  • Psychotherapists must complete a masters program, which typically lasts 2 – 5 years, for a total on 6 – 9 years if you include your undergraduate degree.

 4. Do your research on which schools meet the requirements for different designations.

Not all schools and programs meet the necessary requirements for becoming a psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. For example, the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO) has a list of recognized education and training programs so that people know the specific degree they’d need to get to receive the title of a Registered Psychotherapist. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you complete a degree, and find out later that the program didn’t meet the appropriate requirements!

5. Narrow down schools by identifying their admissions requirements.

The admission requirements greatly vary from school to school. Most importantly, some programs require that you send them marks from particular entry exams like the GRE—a standardized exam needed to apply to some graduate programs.

Rest assured, however, that some schools do not require marks from the GRE. If writing exams is not your forté, you’d want to stick to schools that don’t require these test scores. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, OISE offers a Masters of Education program in Counselling and Psychotherapy that does not require GRE scores, nor does the program I’m enrolled in at the University of Guelph.

Note that some schools also require minimum marks in particular courses, such as a 70% minimum in statistics.

Finally, many schools ask for relevant work experience. Go through the website to unpack what “relevant” means at each school. I chose to volunteer with a suicide hotline for a year and a half, which I was told from multiple schools is a great form of “work” experience.

It took me a full year just to prep my application; I needed to take two online psychology courses to meet Guelph’s admission requirements and spent the year volunteering to gain the relevant experience. During that time, I also completed schooling to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist as I’ve always been fascinated in the overlap between mental and physical health. It took a lot of work, but it was all worth it once I was accepted into the program I’m in now. Currently, I only have a year and a half of schooling left. I will be receiving my very first client at a clinic next week and I couldn’t be more excited!

By: Kristina Virro  

Kristina Virro is an intern therapist at the University of Guelph’s Couples and Family Therapy Centre as she attains her Master of Science in Couples & Family Therapy. She’s particularly interested in the connection between physical and mental health and uses her background as a journalist and Registered Holistic Nutritionist to write a blog about everything mental- and physical-health related, Fresh-Insight.