We sat down with Rasha Salama, Relationship Counselor/Therapist and founder of The Re to explain exactly what should one do to become a therapist. She also talks about the best ways to build your client base and what you should expect right after graduating.
What do you need to do to become a therapist/psychologist?
It’s a plus if you have a psychology background, but you do need to do your Masters, that can be postgraduate if you’d like. If you’d like to pursue a career as an academic psychology professor then you’ll need to do your Ph.D. If your interests are more in dealing with patients directly, either in hospitals or clinics then you should go for a PsyD. It’s the same as the Ph.D. but more practical, as the Ph.D. is more philosophical than practical.
There is a lot of specialties and divisions one can pursue. A Clinical Psychologist, for instance, is one who works in hospitals with severe cases. There is also the Relationship therapist, and as the name suggests, they work with couples. There is also Child Psychologist or Child Therapist that work with children, and you even have an Adolescent Therapist.
Therapists, in the end, can’t diagnose medication. If a patient needs medication, they need to go see a Psychiatrist as they are graduated from Medicine School. They are the only ones that can prescribe medication as they studied anatomy, neurology and they can understand how a mental disease can change in one’s brain chemistry causing a defect. So, they prescribe medication to fix whatever is wrong with the patient’s brain chemistry. Medication can cause side effects, that’s why if a case doesn’t require medication it’s preferred not to give any. However, some dire cases do need it. Therapy depends more on talking, and even that also changes the brain chemistry to help the patient combat their mental disorder. The thing is that therapy takes longer to change brain chemistry, but it does it without any side effects.
Will you get clients as soon as you graduate?
Funny you should ask that because when I finished my Master’s degree I thought I was going to find a long line of clients waiting for me. That wasn’t the case. The thing is that while studying I had so many people come up to me and ask me for help with their relationships. I of course politely declined because I couldn’t give them any advice professional while I was still studying, it wouldn’t be ethical.
Also, I was technically still under training so whatever information I give, could be incomplete, resulting in more damage than help in the relationship.
I got my shock when I finally got my Master’s and was eligible to practice that there was no line of clients waiting for me. I actually ended up staying at for 6 whole months before I got a client. During that time, I started a facebook page about psychology and awareness as a way of sort of promoting my practice, and still nothing, I was getting no clients.
What I finally realized, is that this occupation is solely based on referrals, that’s it. Just like when you get sick and ask your friends for a good doctor to go to, the same goes for therapists. But, with us, it’s basically our only way of getting clients. So, after 6 months I got one client, then after 3 months they were 2 and after 6 months they were 4 clients.
It takes a long time to build your client base, a really long time. I spent hours driving to a client’s location just to give a session. I got a lot of sessions without getting a monetary return just for the experience of being there. It takes patience and hard work.
Speaking of clients, what are the best ways to reach out to clients?
- Rely too much on social media
- Rely on too much word of mouth, because some people still feel shy to admit they are seeing a therapist.
- Link yourself with a credible center that people trust.
- Focus on gaining clients that trust you, because when you build a trustworthy relationship with them, they’ll trust you enough to refer you to others seeking therapy.