Becoming a Christian Psychotherapist

What is Christian Psychotherapy?

Christian psychotherapy is similar to Christian counseling and therapy, but it tends to be more specialized. It takes the idea of using conversations and “talk therapy” and combines it with scriptures, prayer, and religious studies. The goal of a psychotherapy session or sessions is for the patient to identify the problem and resolve that problem through changing a behavior, belief, thought, or compulsion. Psychotherapy focuses on making changes to oneself and on handling long-term behaviors or emotions rather than dealing with everyday problems like counselors may do.

Profile of a Christian Psychotherapist

A Christian psychotherapist, unlike a Christian counselor, almost always has a degree in therapy along with a strong devotion to their religion. This is because they make use of various therapeutic techniques that require years of study. Christian psychotherapists must learn how to psychoanalyze patients from their thoughts, dreams, and other unconscious cues. They also have to understand behaviors, interpersonal dynamics, existential beliefs and thoughts, and more.

It is important to note the distinction between counseling and psychotherapy. Anyone can serve as a counselor—many ministers and other ordained church leaders provide pre-marital counseling and other services to those in the church. However, they often are not equipped to deal with advanced issues. Those who are in need of greater help will often turn to a psychotherapist because they have advanced training and knowledge.

As far as religion goes, many Christian psychotherapists will see patients who are having religious crises and difficulties with their faith. To assist these patients, the therapist will need to have a strong religious grounding and be familiar with many aspects of their faith, including scriptures. Some Christian psychotherapists hold leadership positions in their churches, while others are simply very active in their religious community.

Christian psychotherapists may help their clients work through a number of issues, including the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety/Phobias
  • Compulsive Behaviors
  • Cultural Issues
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders
  • Anger Issues
  • Co-dependency
  • Marital/Intimacy Problems
  • Panic Disorders

Therapy sessions are often done one-on-one, but couples and families may also benefit from going to sessions together, especially if the couple is having problems or if the children are in need of help. Some group therapy sessions may even be held for those who are all struggling with the same type of issue, such as people who are having doubts about their faith or are dealing with PTSD. In this setting, the psychotherapist may function more like a facilitator, letting the members of the group play off and even help each other.

A Christian psychotherapist may open and run their own independent practice, while others may actually work through a church-funded center or other organization. Some may be for-profit businesses, while others may volunteer their time outside of their full-time job or may work for a non-profit agency.

Requirements to Become a Christian Psychotherapist

Becoming a Christian psychotherapist requires earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, especially if you plan on opening your own practice. If you are planning to become a licensed counselor, you will need to complete additional steps to meet the licensing qualifications of your state. Listed below is a brief outline of the minimum requirements to enter the field, followed by an in-depth look at each requirement:

  • Have a Strong Faith
  • Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology or a Related Field
  • Earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, Therapy or Clinical Psychology
  • Complete at Least Two Years of Supervised Clinical Training
  • Get Licensed and Certified

Religious Requirements

To truly help people through their issues, especially their religious problems, from a religious point of view, you are going to need to have a strong faith yourself. It takes more than simply being a Christian—you need to be very familiar with scripture, religious parables, and the reasons why you are a Christian. Some psychotherapists and others in the area of Christian counseling actually find themselves questioning their own faith from time to time, so it is important to be willing to face such an occurrence.

You do not need to be ordained through your church to be a Christian psychotherapist.

Education Requirements

The first step to becoming a Christian psychotherapist is to get an undergraduate degree in psychology, psychiatry, sociology, or a related field. You will want to look for a program that will prepare you for a graduate program in psychotherapy. Some universities do offer a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychotherapy or Therapy, but most do not. Instead, you will want to get a degree that focuses on communication, counseling techniques, relationships, diagnosing issues, and behavioral problems.

Here are a few of the programs you may want to consider:

  • Psychology – Studying mental behaviors and the techniques of psychology is a must. The goal of psychology is to understand individuals and their behaviors, which is what a psychotherapist does on a regular basis. Courses include behavior theory, how to deal with behavioral issues, research methods, and how to diagnose patients.
  • Sociology – This is the study of social behavior. Sociologists look at how people interact, why they act as they do, and why they take those actions. Some of these courses overlap with psychology, but sociologists also study statistics. Sociology may not be as useful to a psychotherapist as psychology, but some of its courses may be helpful.
  • Psychiatry – Psychiatry prepares students to become psychiatrists, which is more of a medical profession. It focuses more on mental disorders and how those disorders can be treated. Courses focus on the diagnosis and on learning which types of medication are useful for specific illnesses. As a psychotherapist, you will not be able to prescribe medication, but there may be a few psychiatry courses that would be helpful to take.
  • Religion – While you will not be required to take any religious classes to graduate, you may want to take them to learn more about religion and how it can be used to help people. Many who go into Christian psychotherapy do take religion courses, and some even double major in religion. Taking these courses is more than just studying scripture—for many, it is a way of examining their beliefs and becoming stronger in their faith.

The Importance of Accreditation

When considering a degree program, it is very important to enroll at a university that is fully accredited. If you do not, you may not meet the minimum requirements for licensing in your state. The accreditation process is conducted by an independent third party that evaluates the university’s programs, teachers, how prepared its students are for their careers, and other factors. Generally, bachelor’s degrees are not evaluated individually—the entire university is given accreditation. Graduate programs, on the other hand, need to be accredited by specific organizations in that area. For psychotherapy and related degrees, that organization is the American Psychotherapy Association. This association follows standards such as those created by the American National Standards Institute and by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Earning a Masters Degree

A Master’s Degree in Psychology or in a related social science is necessary to become a psychotherapist of any sort. Even though you will mainly approach issues from a religious point of view, Christian psychotherapists need to know all of the many different techniques of psychotherapy. A graduate program is important in that it teaches these different techniques in-depth. Students will learn advanced listening and communication skills, which is perhaps the most important part of being a psychotherapist. They will also learn ways of drawing out a patient’s true thoughts and emotions even when the patient does not really want to confront them.

Master's Program Objectives and Goals

These programs focus on giving students the best education and training possible for those going into the therapy industry. Because students typically use nothing by their training when working with patients, it is important that they be prepared to do so. They will need to thoroughly understand how to analyze patients without the help of any resources since it is difficult to stop a therapy session to go look up something. These programs will prepare students to provide as much help as possible during a therapy session.

Earning Practical Experience

Before entering the licensing process, a psychotherapist will need to do a post-graduate internship. These internships will give them practical experience under the watchful eye of a licensed psychotherapist. Typically, you will want to do your internship under the guidance of a fellow Christian psychotherapist, but this is not actually a requirement.

In order to become a licensed psychotherapist, you will need to work in one of these positions for several years. Most state licensing boards require a minimum of two years’ experience in the field before you can be licensed to work on your own without supervision.

Psychotherapist Licensing and Certification

After gaining practical experience in the industry and completing all of your educational requirements, you will be ready to receive a license in psychotherapy. This license comes from the American Psychotherapy Association. Each state has its own licensure and certification board, and the requirements may slightly vary from state to state. You can become a licensed professional counselor, an associate licensed counselor, a licensed professional counselor of mental health, or gain a similarly titled license—again; this varies from state to state. To transfer your license to another state, generally all that is required is providing a proof of license to the board.

Organizations Who Support Psychotherapists

In addition to providing accreditation and overseeing the licensing of psychotherapists, the American Psychotherapy Association provides professionals with support in the form of advocacy, continuing education, resources, peer-reviewed journals, networking, and the promotion of high workplace standards. Other notable organizations who provide support for psychotherapists are listed below:

Organization/AssociationContact Information

American Academy of Psychotherapists

1450 Western Avenue, Suite 101
Albany, New York  12203
(518) 694-5360

American Group Psychotherapy Association

25 East 21st St, 6th Floor‎
New York, NY 10010
(212) 477-2677

American Counseling Association

6101 Stevenson Ave.
Alexandria, VA 22304
(800) 347-6647

Association for Psychological Science

1133 15th Street, NW
Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 293.9300