10 Types of Therapy Degrees (Plus Tips for Choosing One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're considering pursuing a career in the psychology field and hope to become a therapist, having a degree can help increase your career opportunities. There are several types of therapy degrees at all levels of higher education to consider. Understanding more about the different degree options available can help you make a more informed decision about the level of education you want to pursue. In this article, we list several types of therapy degrees and provide tips for choosing the right degree for you.

What is a therapy degree?

A therapy degree is an academic credential that a university awards a student upon the completion of their course of study in psychology or a related field. Getting one of these degrees shows that a student meets the educational standards for the field, whether they're earning an associate degree, a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or an even higher degree. Having a degree from an accredited institution is often a requirement for individuals who are interested in becoming a therapist, and many medical facilities require prospective therapists to have multiple degrees.

10 types of therapy degrees

Here are ten of the most common types of therapy degrees:

1. Associate of Science in psychology

An associate degree can be a good option for individuals who are just starting out in the mental health field or are interested in pursuing a career in psychology. Students can typically complete this degree in two years, depending on the program. With this degree, students can begin their undergraduate studies and gain introductory knowledge of the psychology field while learning more about basic topics.

Courses might include topics like the history of psychology, the science of learning and perception and behavioral psychology. An individual with this degree might find employment as an entry-level youth counselor, family advocate, social services assistant or mental health technician. Home health care aides are also common positions for individuals with this degree.

Related: Is an Associate Degree Worth It?

2. Bachelor of Science in psychology

A bachelor's degree in psychology can be a useful degree for individuals with an interest in focusing on the applied science of psychology and learning more about the human mind and behavior. This degree typically takes four years to complete and often includes courses in research methods, social psychology, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology and ethical principles.

Depending on the program, students may study a specific area of psychology that interests them. An individual with this degree often seeks employment as an educational counselor, social worker, family therapist, psychiatric nurse or creative arts therapist.

3. Bachelor of Arts in social work

A Bachelor of Arts in social work typically takes four years to complete. Students who pursue this degree typically learn how to best serve individuals, groups, families and diverse communities and get a broad foundation in social work. Students often study social welfare policy, human behavior, social justice, research methods and social work practices.

Graduates often find entry-level positions in areas such as child welfare, substance abuse and public health. Some find positions as family or child therapists, while others work in schools and communities as school social workers and community health workers.

4. Master of Social Work

A Master of Social Work is a useful degree for individuals with an interest in continuing their education in social work. This degree program typically lasts two to three years, and it differs from a bachelor's degree in that it often includes practical experience, either through an internship or a practicum.

Students increase their skills in the field and take graduate-level courses in human behavior, social work and social welfare. Typically, graduates with this degree find employment as clinical social workers, substance abuse counselors, prison social workers, mental health therapists or community advocates.

Related: Social Work Degree Types (With Tips To Help You Choose One)

5. Master of Arts in clinical psychology

A Master of Arts in clinical psychology lasts about two to three years. It includes courses in human behavior, advanced research, scientific ethics and psychotherapy techniques, and some programs may also require lab work and the completion of a master's thesis.

Many programs also allow students to specialize in a specific area of the field, such as pediatric psychology. Opportunities available for individuals with this degree often include positions for clinical psychologists, experienced family therapists, organizational psychologists, mental health counselors or clinical social workers.

6. Master of Science in clinical psychology

The Master of Science in clinical psychology closely relates to the Master of Arts and often includes the same courses and lab work, with additional scientific rigor. Some programs may also offer courses in clinical neuropsychology and behavioral neuroscience.

The M.S. requires the completion of a master's thesis, typically within a particular area of specialization, such as adult mental health or substance abuse. Individuals with this degree often find employment as forensic psychologists, physician assistants, marriage or family therapists, learning disabilities specialists, general psychologists or child psychologists.

7. Doctorate of Philosophy in social work

A doctorate-level education allows many individuals to specialize in a specific area of the field that interests them and assist more directly with research. Typically, it takes between four to six years to complete a Ph.D. in social work.

Two years involve completing coursework in quantitative scientific methods, public policy issues and behavioral science, while the other years involve the completion of a dissertation or research project. Many individuals with a Ph.D. in social work become senior social workers, nonprofit directors, clinical services directors or researchers, while others may pursue a career in academia.

Related: What Is a Doctoral Degree? (With Requirements and Tips)

8. Doctorate of Social Work

A Doctorate of Social Work focuses on social work practice and applied research and typically takes two to three years to complete. Courses typically involve using existing data and research and advanced theory to address an important social issue in the field.

Many programs also offer opportunities to specialize in specific areas of the field like criminal justice or public policy. Individuals with this degree can work in a variety of human services organizations and social work agencies. Many choose positions as social work administrators, child welfare workers, social work professors, advanced practice social workers or experienced therapists in a variety of institutions.

9. Doctorate of Psychology

Individuals with an interest in eventually opening their own private practice often choose to pursue a doctorate of psychology. The doctorate degree takes four to seven years of study to complete and coursework might include psychological theory, psychopathology, professional development and behavioral assessments.

Graduates with this degree typically work in a variety of different settings. Positions available for this degree typically include addiction counselors, clinical psychologists, professors, school psychologists, mental health clinicians, marriage and family therapists and applied researchers.

10. Doctor of Medicine

Earning a medical degree with a specialty in psychiatry or family practice can be a useful option for individuals interested in advancing into more specialized positions and learning more about how the human mind works. The M.D. degree usually lasts four years and prospective physicians who specialize in psychiatry typically take clinical electives that relate to the field. Students complete a clinical rotation in a hospital or medical facility, where they can shadow physicians and gain experience with patients.

After earning their M.D., physicians complete a residency that lasts about three to eight years. After finishing residency, a physician interested in psychiatry might choose to earn board certification as a psychiatrist. They can then treat patients at public or private psychiatric hospitals, medical centers, schools and universities, government instructions and private practices.

How to choose a therapy degree

Here are a few steps you can take to earn a degree related to the therapy field:

1. Determine which type of therapy interests you

There are many types of therapy, from cognitive to behavioral therapy. Some may require more advanced degrees than others. Determining which type of therapy most interests you is a useful first step to earning the right degree. Think about the types of patients or settings you're most interested in and research the specific issues you feel you may be best at treating.

2. Research the level of education required

After deciding on the type of therapy that most interests you, research the education necessary to become a certified therapist, including the recommended degree for your area of interest. A more advanced degree in psychology, medicine or social work may provide you with additional opportunities to specialize and treat patients. While many therapy positions require a graduate degree, others may simply require a license. Regardless of the requirements, having a degree can give you the skills necessary to earn your license and even obtain additional certifications.

3. Look for programs that offer the degree you want

You can look for undergraduate or graduate programs in psychology or social work online. Before choosing a program, it's useful to research your career options, financial aid and scholarships options and the program's admission requirements. You may also want to see if any faculty in the program specializes in your specific area of interest. For master's and Ph.D. programs, it's useful to contact the prospective program adviser and see if they're willing to accept new students before you submit any materials.

4. Begin applying to programs

Individual application requirements may differ, depending on the program. If you're pursuing an advanced degree in psychology or social work, the program you're applying to may require you to complete a standardized test as part of your application. It may help you to take practice tests and courses before you apply to programs. This way, you can become more familiar with key concepts. Graduate schools and doctorate programs also may require you to submit work experience, as well as letters of recommendation.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About How To Become a Therapist

Tips for choosing the right therapy degree for you

Here are a few tips to help you choose the right degree for the type of therapy that most interests you:

Research the format of the degree program

When choosing a degree, consider whether you want to take classes online or in person. Online classes may offer you additional flexibility and can make it easier to complete your degree from home while you work. If you're interested in interacting more directly with faculty and researching issues that relate directly to the field of therapy, you may prefer to enroll in a more traditional program.

Think about your long-term career goals

What you plan to do after graduation can influence the program you end up attending. It's important to think about what you ultimately plan to do with your degree and what type of therapist you hope to become. The mental health field allows for plenty of specialization, so it's useful to consider the individual specializations that each degree program offers.

Consider the reputation of the program

Be sure to read reviews of the programs you're planning to apply to and look for student feedback. Consider the credentials of the faculty and whether faculty members are actively involved in research. You may also want to see the program's job placement rates.

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