While one of my goals in creating Wellness Wednesday was to assist people in their self-help wellness journey, there are certainly times when a bit of guidance can help you get over bigger hurdles or provide a fresh set of experienced eyes towards your situation. Deciding to speak to a mental health professional can seem daunting, with many people struggling to know where to begin and how to find a therapist that fits their needs.
It is completely normal to want to shop around to find the right “therapist” for you. Finding the right fit is often like finding the right pair of jeans, sometimes you have to try on a few, but once you find a pair that fits right you don’t stray from that brand. Finding the right therapist can be a delicate balance between giving yourself and a therapist sufficient time to get to know each other, while also following your gut to find therapeutic relationship that feels comfortable.
It’s important to understand that the first few sessions are about developing a relationship and forming an understanding of your needs and how the therapist can assist you in reaching your goals. You cannot expect big changes to happen in these first few sessions, but you usually will be able to tell whether the therapist is the right fit for you. Be mindful that feeling nervous and awkward during the first couple sessions is completely normal. The first session itself is usually just an opportunity for the therapist to take a history of your concerns, symptoms, background and goals/areas of focus. While they may propose a way forward after that first session, even that may be deferred for session two so the therapist can truly consider all that you have brought to them.
One thing you might want to be aware of is the difference between different types of mental health care providers:
Social Workers and Psychotherapists: In Ontario, Social Workers and Psychotherapists are both approved to provide psychotherapy for a variety of complex social, behavioural, and emotional concerns. They will assess your emotional status and needs, but do not provide a formal diagnostic label (e.g. you may hear that you are reporting many symptoms of depression, but they will not label you as having a depressive disorder). In Ontario, many private extended health plans cover services by Social Workers and Psychotherapists.
Psychologists: Like their social work and psychotherapy counterparts, Ontario Psychologists (sometimes referred to as Psychological Associates) generally support a wide range of social, behavioural, and emotional concerns. In addition to their provincial approval for psychotherapy, most Psychologists are also approved to provide diagnostic services. The additional qualifications of Psychologists can provide value for complex cases where a more succinct diagnosis is warranted or when a diagnosis is required for accessing other services (e.g. academic or work accommodation; disability supports). In Ontario, nearly all private insurance plans provide some coverage for psychological services. Psychologists are not covered by OHIP.
Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors that completed their medical residency in the specialization of psychiatry. Like psychologists, psychiatrists can provide therapy and diagnosis, though few tend to offer regular therapeutic services. Instead, the majority of psychiatrists manage the medical side of mental health support through medication or other alternative treatments. Psychiatrists are covered by OHIP, but their wait lists and a low OHIP reimbursement rate for therapy often lead them to focus on medication management rather than the provision of psychotherapy.
It is also important to be aware of unregulated providers. People who do not list credentials after their names, or write “therapist” “counsellor” or “coach” are individuals who are not verified and policed by a regulator. This does not necessarily mean they are an unsafe choice, but it does require increased diligence on your part. New Ontario laws also prohibit unregulated professionals from providing therapy for complex or serious conditions.
How to find a therapist
Starting with asking your family doctor for a referral or looking at referral websites like Psychology Today are great places to search and compare therapists of different qualifications and refine by region. It is also acceptable to call up different clinics/professionals and ask a few questions about their population of focus, main concerns that they specialize in, their fees, and their therapeutic orientation/approach. FLEX Psychology, the clinic where I work, provides a good overview of different therapy styles. While one approach may catch your eye, it is important to seek the advice of your treatment provider for what approach will likely be more efficacious for you or how different approaches can be adapted and integrated to meet your needs.
While it certainly can seem daunting to find a mental health professional that is within your area, your budget and a good fit for you, it generally only requires a little research and taking a chance by booking that first session. Hopefully these tips help make this search a little bit less overwhelming.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.