How to Find a Therapist in Canada | First-Time Guide

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

Feel like talking to somebody? If you've never been to a therapist, here's what you need to know to get started.

Being proactive with your mental and emotional health is as important as being proactive with your physical health. By treating counselling or therapy like a preventative measure—not only a response— you can help maintain emotional health, which can help with handling challenges as they arise, and nurture personal growth and wellbeing.

Numerous studies have shown the client-therapist relationship as the leading factor for positive outcomes in therapy. You’re more likely to get the full benefits out of therapy if you connect with the right therapist.

That's why First Session was created — to empower Canadians to take agency over their mental health by removing the friction in finding the right therapist.

It’s important to work with someone who understands your needs, communicates in a way that works for you, and who creates a judgement-free environment. You can filter for mental health professionals by location, their specialization or the type of therapy they offer, and more.

Reasons to Seek Therapy

Our thoughts, emotions and behaviours can give us clues that our mental health is not at its best, such as:

  • Persistent negative emotions: Feelings like sadness, hopelessness, anxiety or anger that last for weeks and interrupt your daily life.
  • Difficulty coping with change: Experiencing major life changes like loss of a loved one, job loss, relationships ending. Sometimes, even small changes can sometimes feel overwhelming.
  • Relationship issues: Ongoing or consistent conflicts or challenges with partners, friends, family members, coworkers, or even strangers.
  • Addiction or substance abuse: Outlets such as drugs, alcohol, or gambling can be a coping mechanism for unaddressed or unresolved issues that are causing emotional distress.
  • Low self-esteem: Consistent feelings of self-doubt or low self worth.
  • Stress and burnout: Feeling overwhelmed by daily responsibilities can negatively affect both physical and mental health.
  • Sleep disruption: Difficulty sleeping or insomnia can point to underlying causes interrupting your ability to calm and relax.
  • Difficulty managing emotions: Feeling like you can’t control your anger, or getting feedback from others that you’re “overreacting” can be an indication your emotions are not regulating in a healthy way.
  • No sense of purpose: Feeling like there is no direction in life or you’re confused about what the future holds, and it’s distracting from the present or impacting your emotions, relationships or daily life.
**​​If you or someone you know may be in danger of self harm or suicide, please get help. Call 911 for emergencies or contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service hotline at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7) or text 45645 (4pm to 12am ET).

Seeking therapy when not in a crisis does not mean your challenges are insignificant. It can provide an excellent foundation for flourishing in your life, living true to your values, and cultivating the life you want personally and professionally. Not being in crisis is also when you have the emotional capacity and energy to look for a therapist and vet them; this kind of time and focus is more difficult when you feel like you need help urgently.

Everyone has a different threshold for managing distress and everyone’s personal history, support systems, and existing emotional toolkits are different. A qualified therapist or counsellor can help build long term resilience—a skill that can help with handling current and future challenges or setbacks.

Different Types of Therapy Available in Canada

Learning how to find a therapist involves a bit of understanding of the different types of therapy offered by licensed counsellors and therapists across Canada

Generally, therapy modalities or techniques fall into a few broad categories. Therapy techniques can be grouped slightly differently depending on the resource you’re looking at, the professional group or the individual therapist. As a starting point, types of therapy include:

Cognitive and behavioural therapy (CBT), DBT, and ACT

One of the most well-funded (therefore well researched and made accessible for training) is Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This type focuses on examining how thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are connected, and teaches strategies to examine or change negative thoughts for improved mental wellbeing.

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a similar therapy that combines CBT techniques with emotional regulation. Dialectical means two opposing things can be true at the same time, such as, “I’m capable and I’m struggling” or “I’m angry with you and I’m going to respect you.”

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is another iteration of CBT, but focuses on accepting our thoughts and feelings without judgement. This can help people move through difficult emotions without overthinking them or trying to change them.

Interpersonal or communications-based therapy

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) explores how life events and relationship dynamics contribute to emotional distress. Family therapy or group therapy are often considered interpersonal in nature because they involve working with the family or another group through common issues. 

Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT) is another form of IPT, emphasizing the role of early attachments and how they impact current interpersonal relationships. 

This is not to be confused with another popular form of therapy, Internal Family Systems (IFS), which is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on intr-a-personal relationships (our own inner emotional dynamics or sub-personalities).

Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapy

This kind of therapy is typically focused on exploring unconscious thoughts and past experiences (as early as childhood) to uncover insights into current behaviour. 

Psychoanalysis is based on the work of Sigmund Freud, but it’s been heavily reformulated and evolved since the late 1800’s. Psychoanalysis is typically a long-term and a more intensive talk therapy.

Psychodynamic therapy is based on similar principles around how thought processes and emotions may have developed over time. However, it can be shorter term and more broad, encompassing various therapeutic approaches and techniques.

Humanistic therapy

Some common types of therapy in this category include Client-Centred Therapy, which puts the client’s inner experiences at the forefront—therapists create a judgement-free environment where clients can explore thoughts and emotions freely. 

Another common form is Gestalt Therapy, a holistic type of therapy that focuses on the present experience of the individual, while looking at parts of one’s life and their experiences like a mosaic work of art. By stepping back and seeing a full picture composed of individual experiences, it helps lead to self awareness and an understanding for the context of our thoughts, emotions and behaviours in the present moment.

Mindfulness and somatic therapy

Mindfulness and somatic therapies both emphasize the present moment, and an awareness of the self, the mind and the body to decrease stress, increase calm and enhance overall wellbeing.

Somatic therapies are more directly focused on how the mind and body connect, and how physical sensations can be released to improve emotional wellbeing. Techniques can include movement, touch, and breathing to release stored tension while becoming more aware of how the body’s sensations are tied to emotions.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy

Over many decades, there has been a growing interest in the therapeutic benefit of psychedelics, and growing research showing promising results for mental health.

Ketamine, a “dissociative” drug often used for anaesthesia and pain management in medical settings, is being used legally by select clinics across Canada, with medical doctors on staff, for mental health treatments. There are also a number of special access programs in Canada giving practitioners access to substances, once approved, like psilocybin, MDMA, or LSD as an effective treatment for mental health issues like depression or PTSD. 

These are only some examples of the types of therapies offered by licensed therapists. Often, trained professionals will employ an integrated approach (more than one technique) and they’ll tailor the approach to an individual’s needs.

Finding a Therapist that Aligns with Your Budget

In Canada, you do not need a doctor’s referral to see a therapist. You can get a doctor’s referral for an assessment or diagnosis from a psychiatrist, or get a prescription for medication (if that becomes part of your treatment plan). Otherwise, therapy is treated similarly to getting a massage, or working with a psychotherapist or chiropractor: in general, you’ll pay out-of-pocket or have insurance coverage.

In general, therapy typically costs between $100 to $250 per session. Many factors come into play when determining the price of a therapy visit, including where you are accessing care, the type of professional, and any coverage by health insurance plans.

Here are the top must-knows when it comes to therapy costs and coverage in Canada:

  • Each type of professional has a certain level of education and training. For example, when looking at psychologists vs. psychotherapists, psychologists have higher education and training requirements, therefore their session costs are usually higher. 
  • If you have health benefits or additional insurance, usually through workplace benefits, mental health coverage is often included. Look at your plan carefully to understand which professionals are covered, how services are billed and if there are any deductibles or copayments (i.e. some paid by you and some covered under the plan).
  • Therapy is not covered by provincial healthcare: There are some resources and services offered by public health care (see next point), but a typical counselling therapy visit is not covered. 
  • No or low-cost options: There are options available across Canada at low or no-cost therapy as part of the public health care offerings. They include clinic resources, free 24/7 call lines and other agencies dedicated to helping people access the care they need. They can be limited and there may be long wait times, depending on the service.

Cultural and Personal Sensitivity

It’s important that people have the opportunity to seek out care from a professional who understands them, and who is trained to avoid additional harm that can occur when a client feels further isolated or rejected by their therapist. Cultural or personal sensitivity can refer to cultural, racial, gender and 2SLGBTQIA+ considerations. 

Here are a few reasons why it’s important to choose a therapist with an understanding of these sensitivities:

  • Therapists who have themselves experienced discrimination or struggled with identity issues can provide advice and guidance with an added layer of psychological and physical safety for their clients.
  • When clients feel their cultural or demographic needs are recognized, they’re more likely to engage fully in therapy and get the most benefit out of the process.
  • There can be nuances to language and cultural practices that should be respected in a therapeutic context. If a client feels they are being misunderstood or their specific circumstances are not being respected, it can create barriers in communication and care.

Overall, cultural and demographic sensitivity enhances the experience, and can lead to more positive outcomes for greater emotional wellbeing, personal growth and mental health.

Meeting With a Potential Therapist

Clarify Your Hopes & Expectations

Goal-setting is a crucial part of therapy, but it can be a barrier for many who may think they need to have everything absolutely defined before starting therapy. Many people hold back from therapy because they don’t know where to start. 

If you feel prepared to do some thinking before meeting with a therapist, consider the following:

  • Reflect on your challenges: Sometimes it’s easier to identify the problem than the solution. By articulating the issues or concerns, you and your therapist can work together to pinpoint therapy goals.
  • Prioritize your concerns: You might have a long list, but not everything is of equal importance to you. By considering the most important concerns in your life, you can start to pull together a plan and set realistic expectations for change.
  • Be specific: Good goals are time-sensitive and measurable. You’ll likely work on getting more specific with your language as you progress, such as moving from “I want to feel better” to something like “I want to reduce the amount of sick days I’m taking per month from three to one.” 
  • Adjust as you go: Be open to exploration. Often in therapy, new discoveries and insights come up. Goals are helpful, but so is uncovering new possibilities you didn’t consider before.

Initial Communication and Questions to Ask

Once you’ve identified one or more potential therapists, the next step is to prepare for a first therapy session. This is your opportunity to really assess the fit with the therapist. A good therapist will always help a client determine what they want out of therapy, and eventually set some goals to work toward. It’s okay to be uncertain at first.

When you decide to meet with a therapist for the first time, they’ll expect to answer your questions. When therapy is new, it can be a bit scary to speak with a professional, and you might not know which questions to ask. 

Try some of these:

  • Can you explain your approach and process for therapy? What can I expect? 
  • What’s your experience working with people with similar concerns to mine?
  • What’s your fee and scheduling structure? What is your availability like?
  • How will I know when it's time to end therapy?

These questions can help you assess the therapist’s work style, their communication style, and their experiences working with people like you. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. If you don’t think it’ll be a great fit, chances are they felt the same. Trust your instincts.

Trying Multiple Therapists

Meeting with multiple therapists in the early stages of your search allows you to compare and assess how different therapists approach their work, the techniques they use, and whether or not you’d feel comfortable with them. 

It’s also a gut check to see if you think you can build a rapport with this person. There are clues and cues to look for, but a lot of it comes down to who you feel most comfortable with.  

Many therapists offer free therapy consultations, which are short meetings usually about 15-minutes long where the intention is to assess fit and approach. Not all therapists offer this, but First Session clearly lists when a consultation is available.

However, multiple meetings, regardless of how easy they were to book, can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. It can also become too difficult to compare if you book too many appointments; keep to only two or three meetings at a time.

Using Online Therapy in Canada

The COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the landscape of online mental health care. Most providers had to pivot to remote sessions during the pandemic, and research is showing that online therapy is here to stay. Patients and practitioners are seeing positive outcomes from online therapy, at least on par with in-person sessions. 

There are considerations when thinking about online vs. in person therapy. Virtual sessions offer added flexibility around busy schedules, and you can connect from anywhere you have an internet connection. That means you can work with practitioners or specialists you may not otherwise have access to locally.

Other benefits include:

  • Eliminating the need to travel to a therapist’s office saves time and transportation costs.
  • Some people might feel more comfortable to be in their own space when discussing sensitive topics.
  • You can maintain working with one therapist if either of you move, if you are traveling, or you have a tight schedule.

You can explore First Session’s directory of qualified Canadian counsellors and therapists to find professionals who offer online or in-person therapy options. Check under “locations served” on any therapist’s profile page - many are able to offer online therapy Canada-wide. You can also view our most popular location-specific lists including Toronto therapists, Ontario therapists, online counselling in Vancouver, and BC counsellors.

It can seem a daunting task to learn how to find a therapist, but the outcomes can far outweigh the time and effort it takes to search for a professional. Studies show that 75% of people benefit in some way from counselling or therapy.


When considering how to find a therapist, remember:

  • The relationship with your therapist is the best predictor for success.
  • Take some time to consider your W’s—why you’re reaching out, what you’re struggling with, who you are, where and when you can meet with a therapist.
  • Familiarize yourself with basic therapy types and approaches so you can make a more informed decision about the type of therapist.
  • Consider your budget and review your coverage and workplace insurance options.
  • It’s a personal decision, but consider referrals from healthcare professionals, friends, family or coworkers.
  • Be critical of the therapist’s understanding of your background and any cultural nuances. 
  • Write down some questions before you meet with a new therapist, and don’t be afraid to set up more than one meeting.

Resources and Additional Links

Want to know more? Take a look at these reputable resources for evidence-based mental health research and guidance:

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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.