Dear Dr. Romance:
Please could you give me some guidance on how to become a psychotherapist. 

My brother,  had a stroke four years ago.  It makes me sick what a stroke can do to someone.  Before  the stroke he was making a six figure salary and spending most of it. He lived in a large house and was a member of a beautiful country club.  He has a wife and two sons.  When he had his stroke, his wife left him.  He had to quit his dream job of working for himself.  They both refuse to get a divorce. She would rather whine and complain and be the "victim". He had to sell his house.

My parents are the primary caretakers of my brother now. My parents live near me.  My brother is in his early forties.  He is paralysed on his left side.  His wife's entire focus now is on her two twin year old boys. She has not helped his healing at all!  She has moved in her parents house, forcing her dad to get remarried and move out.  It makes me sick how this can happen to him, his wife, his children; her family, and me and my family.  I can't fix them; yet this is the reason I am interested and so inclined in becoming a psychiatrist. I would like to specialize in Jungian or Gestalt therapy.

I would like to know if you were advising someone how to become a psychotherapist these days, what type of bachelor degree would you recommend? Thank you for your feedback and guidance.

Dear Reader:

Your brother's situation is truly a tragedy, and I am sorry for everyone involved.  I can hear your distress and grief in your letter, and suggest you (and perhaps most of your family) get some counseling to help you handle the emotional pain of this situation.  I believe every therapist should begin with his or her own personal work, so that would be a good place to start.  "Guidelines for Finding and Using Therapy Wisely"  will help you find a counselor.

Before I telll you how to become a psychotherapist, I want to explain some terminology.  A psychiatrist is not a psychotherapist, and does not normally do counseling.  Psychiatrists are medical doctors, with a specialty in psychotropic medicine.  They interview patients to diagnose a problem, and then prescribe medication.

There are several choices if you want to do Gestalt or Jungian therapy.  You could be a psychotherapist (often called a family counselor) a psychologist, or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW.)  Laws vary by state, but in California, where I am, a psychotherapist must have a master's degree in clinical psychology, which includes certain courses required by the California State Board of Behavioral Science Examiners (BBSE).  Then, you must have 3,000 hours of counseling under the supervision of a licensed person, and sit for a state licensing exam administered by the BBSE.  LCSWs follow a similar process, but their Master's Degree is in Social Work.  Psychologists must have a doctorate, then 3,000 supervised hours and a licensing exam.

Your bachelor's degree can be in either psychology or sociology, but the Master's Degree or Doctoral Degree must conform to your state's licensing body rules. You can get more information from your state's licensing body,  The American Association for Marriage, Family Therapists  or the American Psychological Association about rules in your state. 

It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction will show you how I use various modalities with clients.

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For low-cost phone counseling, email me at

Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.