The job of evaluating, diagnosing, treating and preventing mental and emotional disorders is a fascinating one, where no two days are ever the same. Helping people overcome their challenges and improve the quality of their lives is enormously rewarding – and one the top reasons psychotherapists cite for entering the field.
However, it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to qualify as a psychotherapist, and, sadly, not every client can be helped. If you’re considering embarking on this fulfilling yet challenging career path, it’s important that you weigh up all aspects of the job, positive and negative:
PRO: It offers great job satisfaction
As a psychotherapist, you will help people to reflect on their lives and relationships and give them the tools to manage those aspects that are causing them anxiety, sadness, anger or pain. The ability to assist others to be more balanced, happy and at peace with themselves is incredibility rewarding and, unquestionably, one of the best perks of the job.
CON: It can be emotionally demanding
People turn to psychotherapy because they feel “stuck” – stuck in patterns of behaviour and feelings that are causing them to suffer and that they feel unable to change or deal with. The psychotherapy process requires patients to openly confront pain, stress and emotional suffering in their lives, which can be extremely draining for both them and you. You will also have to be emotionally available to clients who are often angry and disrespectful. It’s imperative, then, that you have thoroughly dealt with your own emotional “baggage” in order to be able to remain committed and objective.
PRO: It provides multiple employment opportunities
Psychotherapists can find employment in hospitals, inpatient or outpatient care centres, private practices, schools, mental-health clinics, to name but a few. And not just locally either – a good qualification from a reputable learning institution can open up job prospects all over the world. Psychotherapists can also choose from a number of different areas in which to specialise, such as depression counselling, marital counselling and family therapy, loss and bereavement therapy – the list goes on.
CON: It takes time and hard work
Brace yourself! You’re in for the long haul. To become a counselling or clinical psychologist you’re looking at a minimum of five years’ full-time formal education in psychology. Before you can enter a directed Master’s degree programme, you will need a four-year Bachelor of Psychology degree, or a three-year Bachelor’s degree majoring in psychology as well as an Honours degree in psychology. You will also have had to successfully complete a full-time approved internship of at least 12 months’ duration and, in order to practice in South Africa, you’ll have to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). And it doesn’t stop there! After becoming licensed, your training in psychotherapy will be ongoing with yearly courses required for as long as you practice in the field.
PRO: It can be well paid
While psychotherapy is not a job to do for the money, it does provide a decent wage, especially for those working in the private sector (qualified clinical psychologists in South Africa earn, on average, R660 an hour, or from around R290 000 a year for those entering the field to upwards of R750 000 for those with 20 years’ experience, according to PayScale Human Capital). If you’re creative, you can also build the job around what you are passionate about – diversifying into lecturing, writing books and articles, consulting or running workshops – which will all add significantly to your bottom line.
CON: Setting up your own practice is challenging
Building a business from the ground up can be a daunting job. You will need to think about basic tasks such as finding office space, buying equipment and, above all, establishing a client base. Additional issues that you need to consider include things like malpractice indemnity, health insurance, billing practices, document management and tax obligations. You may be a great psychotherapist but how good are your business skills?
PRO: You can have flexible work hours
Although many psychotherapists work long hours, if you have your own practice you can basically set your own schedule. This means that you can have a rewarding career and still have time to spend with family and friends. While psychotherapists who work in hospitals or mental-health centres may not have work schedules that are as flexible as their self-employed counterparts, there are still plenty of opportunities to set hours that work with your life and family demands.
CON: Your work schedule can be erratic
Even though you can set normal work hours for yourself during the day, you may find that many of your clients can only meet after hours due to their own work commitments. In addition, there are times when you will be required to be on call – and crisis situations can arise at the most unexpected (and inconvenient) of times. Because of this, flexibility is an important skill for any psychotherapist to develop.
PRO: You will get to meet lots of different people
As a psychotherapist you will have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, be it children, adults, married couples or families. No matter what age or population group you work with, your exposure to diverse people will broaden your professional perspective and fine-tune your ability to relate to and empathise with others so that you can effectively help them find their own ways of “being” in the world. And of course, there is also the benefit of teaching others about psychotherapy and watching as they, too, grow and prosper.
CON: It can be a lonely profession
Although, as a psychotherapist, you will be exposed to many different people, for the most part, is a very solitary job. Apart from couples or group therapy sessions, you will always be on your own with your clients, and it will always be about them – it’s their space. The one-directional nature of the therapeutic process can be stressful for the therapist and, although the support of colleagues in the same profession may prove enormously helpful, confidentiality requirements will prohibit you from discussing some aspects of your work. It will, therefore, be important to actively develop your friendships in order to ensure that you, too, have an emotional and social outlet.
If, after having carefully weighed up all the pros and cons of the job, you still feel you have what it takes to be a psychotherapist, why not consider studying at SACAP? The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a range of courses in psychology, including a BPsych degree, which will provide you with an internationally recognised pathway to obtaining your Master’s Degree in Psychology and, ultimately, becoming a qualified psychotherapist. For more information, enquire today.