How to Find a Counsellor in BC, Canada | Tips and Resources

Written by Nicole Laoutaris
Last updated on: Feb 29, 2024

Finding a good fit with a counsellor is one of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success. Numerous studies have shown that a good therapeutic relationship built on trust, confidence and honesty leads to better outcomes. 

There are a number of resources in British Columbia for finding counsellors, but it can be difficult to know where to start. 

There are some directories available on BC’s professional counsellor associations’ websites: the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC) or the British Columbia Psychological Association (BCPA). If you have health insurance, insurance providers sometimes have a list of counsellors who meet their criteria for coverage.

First Session is committed to making this search easier by connecting Canadians to counsellors that fit their needs, goals and circumstances. Search First Session’s directory for qualified BC counsellors, filter for your preferences and needs, your city (view our Vancouver therapist list), and watch videos to get to know each therapist before reaching out.

Remember that finding the right counsellor may take some time and effort, but finding the right person who you can trust and feel comfortable with is a big part of overall success.

Understanding Your Needs

The first step when looking for counsellors in BC is to understand the distinctions between regulated and unregulated counsellors and therapists in Canada.

First, the term “therapist” is general and can apply to a range of professionals with different backgrounds; in terms of mental health, the word “counsellor” or “counselling therapist” is the more commonly used title in BC for mental health professionals who offer therapy. Each province and territory is responsible for regulating their mental health care professionals, requiring them to meet training and education minimums. 

The mental health professionals that are regulated in BC include psychiatrist, psychologist, registered social worker (RSW) or registered clinical social worker (RCSW). In BC, counselling therapists are not regulated by the government. However, credible and qualified counsellors will be registered with a self-regulating professional association, such as the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC).

Here are some key differences between the types of mental health professionals in BC:

Psychologist: regulated

  • Qualifications: A PhD level education in psychology and hundreds of hours of supervised training. They are regulated and will be registered with the College of Psychologists of British Columbia (CPBC).
  • Training: Extensive training to assess, diagnose and treat mental health conditions and disorders. 
  • Services: conduct assessments, diagnose conditions, oversee treatment
  • Cost: Typical costs for a one-hour session can be upwards of $200-$300.

Social Worker: regulated

  • Qualifications: A master’s degree or, at least, a bachelor’s degree in social work. They are regulated and will be registered with the British Columbia College of Social Workers.
  • Training: Registered Clinical Social Workers (RCSW) require a master’s degree and additional clinical training. RCSWs are unique as they can diagnose mental illness (diagnosing is usually restricted to psychologists and psychiatrists).
  • Services: Some practice in organizations or systems like schools, or hospitals, but many offer one-on-one counselling for individuals.
  • Cost: Social workers can range in cost. A typical one-hour session is likely around$90 to start.

BC Counsellor: not regulated

  • Qualifications: Counsellors in BC are not regulated by law. There are over a dozen associations in the province that provide membership and self-regulate their professionals.
  • Training: Counselling therapists in BC typically have a master’s degree in psychology or a related field, and hundreds of hours of supervised training to qualify to register with those associations.
  • Services: They offer therapy services to individuals, couples, and families to help manage a wide range of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, etc.
  • Cost: Average costs for a one-hour session vary, but can start as low as $70+ per session.

Online vs. In-person Therapy

After choosing the type of professional you think will work best for you, you might wonder where you’re going to meet them. Therapy is now very readily available virtually (phone, video chat, text message), as well as for in-person sessions. Data is showing that online vs. in-therapy appointments are generally equally as effective.

The advantages of online therapy, for some, include privacy and comfort in remaining at home, greater schedule flexibility and reduced commute times and costs. For some, the ability to communicate differently than in-person (text, off-video and not face-to-face, etc.) is more accessible or more comfortable.

The key considerations for choosing between in-person vs. online therapy are:

  • Accessibility: Your ability and preference to travel to a physical location or remain at home for online sessions will depend on your transportation capabilities, available time, and schedule. 
  • Privacy and security: For some, remaining at home provides greater privacy and psychological safety. For others, the home is not the ideal space for privacy or security when it comes to mental health support.
  • Mobility: You may find yourself out of town, on vacation, or moving to another city, and you want to remain connected to your current counsellor. Online counselling can allow for continuity of care in these circumstances.

Searching for a Counsellor in BC

For in person therapy, it’s helpful to look for a counsellor who is in your local area. When looking for a BC counsellor on First Session, you can filter by-province and click the “show in-person therapists” button to view local BC counsellors closest to your city, town or neighbourhood. 

Filtering by your insurance coverage can also help narrow your search. If you have workplace health benefits, review the coverage information for the types of counsellors who are included in your plan, then filter for those professionals by “designation.” It’s important to meet the requirements of your coverage to ensure you can submit successfully for reimbursement, and that you’re not left paying out-of-pocket or needing to switch providers after you’ve made a good connection.

Cost Considerations

British Columbia's Medical Services Plan (MSP) primarily covers medically necessary physician visits, or hospital and clinic care. In most cases, the MSP does not cover mental health providers like psychologists, counsellors, or social workers, unless seen in a medical setting. 

In some cases, family physicians or nurse practitioners can provide some support for mental health, including ruling out medical reasons for health symptoms, or providing a referral to a psychiatrist. 

There are some government-funded or non-profit agencies across BC providing access or support for mental health, addiction, or abuse. However, there are often requirements or limitations to these programs. You can explore these options on the BC government’s mental health support site

Making the Most of Your First Session

When you find a counsellor, it’s time to prepare for the first session. The first meeting is an opportunity to get to know the therapist better, to consider how you feel when having a conversation with them, and to ask some critical and crucial questions. They’ll probably have some questions for you, too. 

To make the most of your first meeting, here are some tips to get ready:

  • Reflect on your reasons: Goal setting is important in counselling, but you might not have clear goals before you start. Simply articulating you haven’t been feeling well is a good enough place to start. 
  • Gather any important information: For example, if  you’ve had previous counselling sessions, if you’ve tried other tactics to help with your mental health, if you’ve been experiencing conflict with anyone in your life, etc.
  • Prepare your questions: You may want to ask about their approach, their experience working with people similar to you, your respective expectations, and logistics like how they schedule and bill their clients.
  • Set your expectations: Counselling is a process and may take time. You might meet with multiple counsellors for initial sessions before finding someone who works for you.

While counsellors play a critical role in providing effective care, keep in mind that they are not the sole authority to your experience or your mental health. In fact, you as the client play a crucial role in the process. Your commitment, engagement and willingness to work with them is as important as how they show up for you. A strong therapeutic relationship is based on trust, communication and shared commitment to your goals—they can’t do that for you. 

Counsellors may provide guidance or a point-of-view, or help guide you through therapy techniques (breathing, thought exercises, role play). It’s important to have an open mind to follow their recommendations for specific strategies, exercises, or homework assignments. 

However, if you ever feel uncomfortable or skeptical of an approach, you have the ability to guide your experience by expressing your concerns. It can create an unhealthy dynamic when the therapist takes on too much of an authoritative role.

Ready to start? Find the right counsellor for you on First Session.

Ready to talk?

Use First Session to find the right therapist for you.

Meet Your New Therapist

Frequently Asked Questions

About the Author

Nicole Laoutaris

Nicole Laoutaris is a freelance writer and adult learning professional based in the Greater Toronto Area. She specializes in educational content for brands and companies in industries such as mental health, pet health, lifestyle and wellness, cannabis, and personal finance. Nicole holds a double undergraduate degree in Communications and Film studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, and post-graduate certificate in Corporate Communications from Seneca College. She currently lives in Hamilton Ontario with her spouse and her cat.