Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
How to Choose a Therapist
Published Oct 5th, 2020 & updated on Jun 23rd, 2022
Do you remember the exact moment you decided to go to therapy? It was probably around the time that you started opening up to your friends about your feelings and letting them in on the emotional struggle. It was also likely around the time you realized you’re not the only one who feels emotionally drained or irritated by little things or too tired to get out of bed. We’re guessing this is also around the time you realized that there’s actually nothing wrong with you…that these feelings affect many other people, including your friends. Regardless of how you arrived at the Google machine, plugging in how to choose a therapist, you’re here now and we’re so proud of you.
Life is tough. Some days you might feel invincible, and other days you may feel paralyzed by all of the challenges being thrown at you. Learning how to maintain your mental wellbeing throughout these hills and valleys is tough, and you are strong for searching for help.
Are you excited to talk therapy with us? Let’s dive thru…
What Are the Different Types of Therapists?
You must have a million questions about therapy and this one is likely at the top of the list! We agree it’s a great starting point — with a dozen different titles used interchangeably, it can get pretty confusing. Don’t worry, we’re swooping in to help.
According to the Canadian Psychological Association, psychologists study how people think, feel and behave and then apply their knowledge to help people understand and/or change their behaviour.
While some psychologists focus primarily on research and work with universities or government organizations, others work as practitioners in hospitals, schools, clinics, or other facilities. It’s not weird if you find a psychologist involved in both research and practice as most of them do both.
In Canada, to become a psychologist you must complete a master’s and/or doctoral degree in psychology (PhD or PsyD). This ranges between 6 and 10 years of university, a time during which you’ll pick an area to focus on and specialize your training in. A doctoral degree basically means extra training and research, which also comes with a “Dr.” title.
So that’s cool…but how can they actually help you with your mental health? Psychologists who work as practitioners are trained to “assess and diagnose problems in thinking, feeling and behaviour.” They’re experts in a variety of mental health problems, with a great understanding of aspects that determine your behaviour. They can diagnose the role of psychological factors in your life and help you understand them too so that you can solve problems with clarity.
They’re basically superheroes who come into your life to help you identify what the problem is and then help you overcome it. Wait, no, you’re the superhero — they’re your Yoda, your Splinter, your Jarvis, your Gandalf, your Woody, your Dumbledore!
But they’re not the only ones who can help…keep reading.
According to the Canadian Psychiatric Association, psychiatrists are medical doctors who have extensive training in mental health and mental disorders — that includes the causes, the diagnosis, the treatment and the ongoing care of mental disorders.
These folks have training that allows them to prescribe medication, provide psychotherapeutic treatments, and work with patients directly. Sometimes you’ll see psychiatrists and psychologists work hand-in-hand as they try to find the best treatment and care for their patients.
The difference between the two is that psychiatrists prescribe medication to help their clients manage their mental disorders, and typically don’t provide counselling or psychotherapy. In some cases, medication is very necessary and that’s where psychiatrists will step in. The best way to get a recommendation to see a psychiatrist is to visit your family doctor first and speak with them about your concerns.
Psychotherapists are health-care professionals that work mostly with talk-based therapy to help people on their mental health journey. Under this term, we can include social workers and counsellors. In Canada, not every province has the same counselling/psychotherapy regulations but one certification you can look for is CCC (Canadian Certified Counsellor). This designation is recognized by the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), which is a national professional body in Canada.
Similar to psychologists and psychiatrists, psychotherapists need to complete certain education requirements before they can receive a CCC designation. A PhD is not required, so psychotherapists will usually hold a master’s in counselling. The thing to remember about this title is that it’s an umbrella term that could cover a range of roles. Always dig for more specific details, like their schooling background and their particular area of practice.
Counsellors & Social Workers
Another umbrella term, “social worker” could mean several things. The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) defines social work as “concerned with individual and personal problems but also broader social issues such as poverty, unemployment, and domestic violence.” Depending on the facility or setting where social workers work, their focus and area of therapy expertise will vary.
In the United States, you’ll see titles like LCSW (licensed clinical social worker, fully licensed and credentialed) or LSW (licensed social worker, provisionally licensed). Because regulations vary from province to province, and state to state, it’s up to you to check the educational background and certification of the social worker you are thinking of working with. In Canada, CASW monitors and sets standards of practice for social workers.
Things to Consider Before Going In
The process of choosing a therapist becomes even more intimidating when you learn there are more than 60 different types of therapy…is there a way to know what therapy and what therapist are best for you??
Yup. Here’s your checklist! Before you book your first session, have a phone consultation with your potential therapist and go through these items. Ask any and all questions that come up for you and don’t be scared to probe for more details.
1. Approach to Treatment
While this is a super simplified version of theoretical approaches, it will give you an idea of what to look for. Ask the therapist you’re hoping to work with what their theoretical orientation is. What that tells you is their philosophy as it applies to understanding you, and identifying and solving problems. Their theoretical orientation will inform the overall focus of your sessions and guide the session goals.
The American Psychological Association lists the following approaches of psychotherapy:
It’s worth noting that different modalities are best for treating specific challenges. For example, someone who has a borderline diagnosis will likely do well with DBT therapy, rather than psychoanalytic.
Another resource we’ll recommend checking out is the Canadian Psychological Association’s fact sheets that dive thru mental health issues in detail. These fact sheets break down complex issues in a way that is easy to understand. If you’re looking for information you can trust, this is a great guide.
2. Credentials & Education
We’ve already mentioned this but we’re going to say it one more time. It’s important to check the credentials of any therapist you’re hoping to work with. The words “therapist” and “counsellor” are unregulated terms so don’t rely on those words as your guarantee.
Mental health professionals dedicate so much time and effort to their education because they know that’s what it takes to help someone when it comes to their mental health. To check their credentials, simply ask them to detail their qualifications and explain what that means in terms of schooling. You can also contact the professional body they’re a member of and verify the information that way.
3. Good Fit
Depending on what you’re hoping to dive thru with your therapist, you should consider if they are the right “fit” for you. Are you at a place right now where you need someone who is more supportive? Are you needing someone more direct who will ask the tough questions?
Another aspect to consider is gender. You should be comfortable with your therapist and feel like you can trust them with your personal thoughts and feelings. If you do feel a strong aversion to working with one gender, don’t be ashamed to choose another. We all have past experiences that may in some way be related to gender and that’s not something to be guilty about. Choose what’s best for you.
The same goes for age and sexual identity. These two factors might also be considered when choosing your therapist if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Here are some other questions to ask when choosing a therapist:
- What is your area of expertise or your specialty? What’s your approach to treatment?
- Have you worked with people that have gone through similar issues to mine?
- What are the most common concerns you usually work with?
- How would you evaluate our progress in therapy?
- Are you now or have you ever been in therapy?
- How long are sessions and what is the typical charge for one session?
- Do you have different payment structures available? (sliding scale/fixed cost/subsidized by gov’t)
- Are there any resources that would help me with the cost?
- Do you offer support in between sessions?
- Do you assign homework or exercises in between sessions?
Where Do You Find Therapists in Your Region?
YAY for the advent of the internet and the way it has helped us reach things faster and easier. We’ll be giving you a few resources that will make choosing a therapist a breeze.
First up, if you’re in Canada you can use the CCPA database to find a certified counsellor. The search box gives you a ton of options to filter and narrow your search to exactly what you need.
If you’re not reading this from Canada, we’ve still got your back. Take a look at Psychology Today’s database of verified therapists available around the world. It’s super easy to filter down based on types of therapy, types of issues, and even price.
Psych Central also has their own database that can help you find the right therapist for you.
7 Tips From a Therapist, About Finding a Therapist
**gets off soapbox and hands the mic over**
It’s time to hear from one of our superheroes. Our in-house mental health professional, LCSW Natalie Asayag, wants to give you some tips on how to pick a therapist:
1. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and communicate your reservations or worries about therapy. If the therapists you are vetting are unwilling to answer your questions or seem impatient, this is not a good sign.”
2. “Each therapist is so different. Ask the therapist what sessions are like — are they strictly structured, does the patient guide the session, etc.”
3. “Inquire about the type of therapy practiced by the therapist. If needed, tell them to break it down in layman’s terms.”
4. “It usually takes about three sessions to start building a rapport with your therapist. It can be really uncomfortable to be open and vulnerable and it’s so admirable that you are putting yourself out there!”
5. “If it feels safe to do so, talk to your friends and family. Word of mouth can be one of the best ways to find a quality therapist. “
6. “If someone doesn’t seem quite like the right fit or they don’t have any openings, inquire if they can offer you referrals.”
7. “Communicate what you would like from your work together. Would you like an open space to vent and cope with daily life? Would you like to get to the root of an issue? Or would you like to change a specific behaviour? It’s helpful for a therapist to have some insight regarding your goals. If you don’t quite know, that’s okay. You can say that and then you can both work together to determine what works best for you.”
You’ve Had Your First Session, Now What?
Well, the first question we’re going to ask you is how did it make you feel?
What thoughts and feelings and sensations came up during the session? Did you feel heard? Did you feel like your boundaries were respected? At any point in time, did you start to feel uncomfortable or awkward or uncertain? Did any red flags or potential ethical issues come up?
Grab a notebook and take the time to reflect on the experience! You’re about to make an important decision that will shape out the course of your therapy. Make sure you have answers to all these questions above before you decide to continue with your current therapist or consult someone else.
Also — congratulations on the decision to seek out therapy. We think that’s pretty f*cking badass.