Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Therapist (Mental Health)

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

character development, occupations, writing a novel, creative writing

Occupation: Therapist

Overview: A mental health therapist provides support and help for those who are struggling with mental or emotional problems. A therapist may open their doors to any clientele or they may focus on an area of specialization (marriages and families, substance abuse, grief, life coaching, etc.). They may own their own business, be part of a practice, or work out of a specific location, such as a hospital, prison or detention facility, detox center or halfway house, church, or school system. Online counseling is also becoming a popular option for those seeking this kind of help.

Many mental health occupations are mentioned synonymously, but there are distinct differences. It should be noted that while Psychologists may provide therapy, many of them choose to work in academic or research settings. Likewise, a Psychiatrist also holds a higher degree and has the distinction of being able to prescribe medication.

Necessary Training: A four-year degree is required in the US, with certain kinds of therapy also requiring a master’s degree. Many clinical hours are also necessary to achieve the needed on-the-ground training before a therapist can hang their shingle.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Empathy, ESP (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, reading people

Helpful Character Traits: Analytical, calm, cooperative, curious, decisive, diplomatic, discreet, efficient, empathetic, friendly, gentle, honest, honorable, intelligent, kind, merciful, meticulous, nurturing, observant, optimistic, organized, patient, perceptive, persistent, persuasive, proactive, professional, responsible, sensible, studious, supportive, tolerant, wise

Sources of Friction: Being unable to find the solution that works for a client, a client who is unable or unwilling to open up and be honest about their situation, a client’s dysfunction escalating while in one’s care (them committing suicide, abusing a child, killing someone, etc.), misreading or misdiagnosing a client, becoming romantically involved with a client, harboring prejudice against a client, needing to break confidentiality to protect someone but knowing it will impact trust with the client, tempers flaring in a group therapy session, working with an inept or incapacitated partner, a client with uncooperative family members or caregivers who undermine progress, alienating loved ones through one’s constant psychoanalysis, bringing one’s work home (being unable to keep one’s mind from obsessing over a client or the difficult life circumstances one hears about on a daily basis), seeing clearly how to help others but having blind spots in one’s personal life, a client in crisis interfering with one’s personal life, being stalked or attacked by an unstable client or someone close to that person

People They Might Interact With: Clients (children, teens, couples, inmates, veterans, the elderly, etc.), the client’s family members or caregivers, other mental health practitioners (social workers, psychiatrists, etc.), medical doctors, school officials, administrative personnel (a receptionist, janitors, an office manager)

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Esteem and Recognition: Not every therapist can help every client, but a professional who has more than their share of failures may begin to doubt their capabilities—even if the fault isn’t theirs. The therapist may also suffer a lack of esteem if their choice of clientele (pedophiles, serial killers, etc.) brings them low in the eyes of others
  • Love and Belonging: It’s said that some therapists follow this career path out of a desire to fix themselves, but this is easier said than done. If a therapist is deeply wounded, they may have difficulty getting along with others or connecting in healthy ways on a personal level. Their need to “fix” others can also cause problems when they consistently try to do this with loved ones.
  • Safety and Security: If a therapist’s practice takes them into an unsafe place, such as a dangerous neighborhood or high-security prison, their safety and security may be threatened on a regular basis.

Common Work-Related Settings: church, community center, courtroom, hospital (interior), juvenile detention center, parking garage, police station, psychiatric ward, therapist’s office, university lecture hall, university quad, waiting room

Twisting the Stereotype: In stories, therapists tend to play the mentor role. But what about a therapist villain, who is out to emotionally destroy others, or a therapist love interest who creates unusual sources of conflict for the protagonist?


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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7 Responses to Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Therapist (Mental Health)

  1. Pingback: Writing Links 1/15/18 – Where Genres Collide

  2. J.A. Richardson says:

    Like Erika Hayes I’m also outlining a story with a phychiatrist.

  3. ERIKA L HAYES says:

    FANTASTIC! I need this entry! I am just about to write in a therapist in my novel! Timely and spot on! Thank you!

  4. Good job with this description! I would add that differences among degrees include that psychologists have a PhD or PsyD and psychiatrists have a MD (medical doctor). Psychiatrists are less likely to do talk therapy these days and focus more on medication management. Masters-level licenses vary by state, but include licensed social workers that have a MSW, professional counselors that have a LPC, and marriage & family therapists that have a MFT.

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