How To Find a Therapist in Alberta

Last updated on: Feb 28, 2024

Therapy is hard work. Finding the right therapist shouldn’t be. At First Session, we believe the fit between you and your therapist is the most important factor for a positive outcome. 

This guide offers practical steps to finding a therapist in Alberta and tips on how to choose the right therapist for you.

Things To Consider When Looking For A Therapist In Alberta

  • Alberta Health Services is the provincial health agency that delivers health services to Alberta, while Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan provides eligible Alberta residents with access to Alberta Health Services for free, under their publicly-funded model. 
  • The title “mental health counsellor” is used almost exclusively in Alberta, but is an umbrella term that includes both social workers and psychologists who hold a master’s or doctoral degree1.

Public Mental Health Resources In Alberta

Most mental health care provided by Alberta Health Services is reserved for crisis, short-term, or acute psychiatric concerns – with few exceptions, mental health services delivered outside of a clinical setting or hospital are not covered by provincial health care. 

The province does provide an option to purchase supplementary health coverage through the government, which provides partial coverage for clinical psychologist services, up to $60 per session, to a maximum of $300 per year. 

You can view a list of publicly-funded mental health resources in Alberta at the bottom of this page. 

Stage 1: You’re Unsure What Kind Of Therapy – Or Therapist – You’re Looking For 

In this stage, we’ll help you identify the type of therapist you’ll most resonate with, and what style of therapy is most aligned with your needs.

Do you have a specific issue or concern in mind? For example: 

  • Learning to assert boundaries at work
  • Processing a traumatic event
  • Identifying patterns of self-sabotaging behaviour that keep you feeling stuck

Some people have goal-oriented personalities and want to feel like they’re moving towards a specific outcome; however, you don’t need to have a specific goal or even a specific topic of concern to benefit from therapy. 

Even if you don’t have a specific goal or topic of concern in mind, there is a reason you’re looking at starting therapy – maybe you’re hoping therapy can help you process difficult experiences, or you just want to talk to someone who knows how to listen. 

Therapist Fit - Why is it so important?

The most important factor for success in therapy is your connection with your therapist. Decades of research have shown that finding the right therapist for you reliably predicts therapeutic success even across different modalities, mental health diagnoses, and therapeutic settings2

When you aren’t totally aligned with your therapist, you won’t get the most out of therapy. Many people stay with a meh therapist just because of how daunting it is to find a therapist in the first place. When you and your therapist have established a meaningful human connection, you can be vulnerable, feel heard, and trust the process. 

Therapist Traits

The unique combination of therapists traits and characters that are most meaningful to you will shape which therapists you connect with most.

Here are a few that might feel important to you:

  • Age: you might feel most comfortable with a therapist around your own age, or you may find it easier to share with and listen to a therapist who is decades older than you.
  • Gender: A therapist’s gender may not matter to you, or you may find it easier to be emotionally vulnerable with a therapist of the same gender.
  • Lived Experiences: The education and training to become a licensed therapist will cover the most common issues – but not every therapist has personally experienced it.

Specializations

While some therapists intentionally keep their practice open to a broad range of client issues, a therapist may choose to specialize in:

  • specific diagnoses (e.g. borderline personality disorder, PTSD, autism, OCD)
  • client concerns (low self-esteem, sleep issues, grief, work or professional challenges)
  • client demographics (such as BIPOC, couples, children, caregivers)

Often, First Session clients will start therapy with a broader scope, and over time they may identify more specific areas they’d like to focus on.

There are some situations where you should look for a therapist with the appropriate training and experience. Some mental health conditions require a unique approach or have been shown to benefit from specific treatment methods, including trauma/PTSD, eating disorders, and gender and sexual identity

Modalities

A therapy modality is a specific method or approach used by therapists to help people deal with mental, emotional, or physical issues. It acts as a tool, tailored to help individuals heal or improve their well-being in a way that works best for them.

What are the most common modalities?

It’s tempting to want to search for the most “best” modality, or be influenced by buzzwords and current trends, but evidence shows that therapist-client fit affects therapy outcomes more than the specific modalities used3

Objective Criteria:

Cost & Payment

Therapy sessions in Alberta can cost between $100 - $225+ per session, and most sessions last for either 50 or 60 minutes. Some therapists have higher session fees based on their level of education and training, specialization(s), and costs of running a private practice. 

Many workplace health benefits cover therapy services – but there will likely be specific guidelines on which therapy services qualify. When reviewing your coverage, verify which designations your insurance will reimburse for, such as “social worker”, “MSW”, “psychologist”, etc. 

Log into your health benefits online portal: Manulife, Sunlife, Blue Cross and Pacific Blue Cross.

Therapist Availability

  • Are they available during the time window you’re looking for? (mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekends)
  • Do you want a consistent day and time for each session, or do you need flexibility in your schedule?
  • Are you required to book weeks in advance or can you take it one week at a time?
  • Do they offer appointments on short notice? 

For in-person therapy you also need to consider the location of their office, which will impact your commute and parking.

Some therapists do not have availability to take on new clients – you can often join a waitlist for a specific therapist, but the timeline until an opening becomes available will likely be unclear. 

Stage 2: You Know What You Want/Don’t Want, But Need To Find Them!

PsychologyToday has over 3,500 therapists listed in Alberta - where do you even start digging through to find your next therapist?

Our goal at First Session is to connect Canadians with the right therapist the first time. Our curated directory of qualified therapists makes it easier for you to find the right fit. Explore different therapist profiles and find your next therapist today.

How to Assess a Therapist’s Profile Page

Images and video: It’s practically a necessity to know what someone looks like to even consider having them as a potential therapist. The First Session directory also includes video on every single therapist profile so you can get a real sense of what to expect during an actual session. Listen to your gut when exploring these videos, not only how you connect to what a therapist is saying, but how they say it. 

Keywords and phrases: you may come across words or phrases that resonate with you – for example: “spirituality”, “those seeking growth and transformation”, “self-compassion”, or “mind-body connection”. 

You might also resonate with the language they use to describe your concern or diagnoses – for example, the way a therapist describes how depression can manifest in daily life makes you feel that they truly understand what you’re going through. 

Objective criteria: this includes availability, cost, designations required for health benefits, and location.

Take Advantage of Free Consultations

If you’ve found a therapist you’d love to work with, you can go ahead and schedule a full therapy session directly. A free consultation call is just an option that’s there if you feel you need it.

If you want to test the chemistry or need to ask a few specific questions before starting, a short, no-commitment consultation is a great option. We recommend scheduling no more than 2-3 free consultations at most, spread out over at least a week. 

Stage 3: Making A Decision & Booking Your First Session

At this stage, you’ve found one (or more) potential therapists that you feel drawn to, and now it’s time to take the leap and officially start your therapy journey. 

Here are some words of wisdom when choosing your next therapist:

  • If you’re really struggling to choose between more than one potential therapist, tha means both options must be equally good – in that case, whatever decision you make will be a good one.
  • There isn’t a single therapist “soulmate” out there; statistically there are many good therapists out there that would be a great fit for you. 
  • Ask yourself: are you unsure about the therapist or are you unsure about your ability to pick the right therapist?
  • If you struggle with listening to your intuition or trusting your own judgment, making the decision to schedule your first therapy session is progress in and of itself.

Most people feel better after booking their first therapy session, before the session even takes place. The decision to prioritize your mental health, invest in yourself and act on what you want is empowering.

How Can I Tell If Therapy Is Working?

Journaling for 10-15 minutes after your therapy sessions and writing about the challenges and insights that surfaced can act as a time capsule for you to revisit in the months and weeks ahead to remind yourself how far you’ve come. 

Checking in with your partner or close friends can reveal the changes they’ve noticed in you, too – for example, maybe they noticed you handled a situation differently than you would have in the past. It’s a wonderful feeling that other people are noticing your growth, too.  

You don’t have to track your progress. For people with ruminating tendencies, OCD, or perfectionism, trying to quantify therapy’s return-on-investment can do more harm than good. Therapy may best serve you by being the one thing in your life where you don’t have to live up to expectations or achieve anything specific. 
Let’s find your next therapist. Visit our directory and explore our therapist profiles. The only commitment is to yourself. 

References:

1https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=tv7079&lang=en-ca 

2Horvath A. O., Luborsky L. (1993). The role of the therapeutic alliance in psychotherapy. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 61, 561–573

3Horvath A. O., Symonds B. D. (1991). Relation between working alliance and outcome in psychotherapy: a meta-analysis. J. Couns. Psychol. 38, 139–149

Publicly-Funded & Community Mental Health Resources in Alberta:

Help in Tough Times is a Alberta Health Services directory of mental health resources available in Alberta. 

Call 2-1-1 to find mental health programs and services in your community.

BounceBack Alberta is a free, guided self-help program for people aged 15 and up who are experiencing mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression

Call the Alberta Wide Mental Health Helpline to speak with a mental health specialist, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-877-303-2642 

Ready to talk?

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Meet your new therapist

The first time I had a therapist who identified with my background, I was like, whoa, this is wild. I feel like you understand me at a level like we can skip certain steps of explanation and go right to the root of the problem.

- Hamza Khan, award-winning marketer, best-selling author, and global keynote speaker

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I see a therapist?

The frequency of sessions is ultimately up to you. It’s a great idea to start therapy with weekly sessions as you build rapport and trust with your therapist. You can stick to a consistent weekly schedule, or adjust over time based on your progress and therapist’s recommendation.

Will my therapist keep everything I say confidential, even from insurance companies?

Yes. Therapists are bound by confidentiality laws and professional ethics to keep your information private. Any information shared with insurance companies is limited to what's necessary for billing, without revealing the details of your sessions.

Can therapy help me even if I'm not sure what my issues are?

Yes – therapy can be a space to explore your feelings, inner thoughts, and behaviours to uncover underlying issues and work through them. Therapists are skilled and trained to help you articulate what's troubling you, even if it's not clear at the start.

Do I need a doctor’s referral to see a therapist?

No. You do not need a doctor’s referral to see a therapist, and you cna book sessions online with your therapist directly.

Can I see a private therapist while I’m on the waitlist for publicly-funded therapy?

Absolutely - the publicly-funded and private-pay systems are not mutually exclusive, and seeing a private therapist does not change your eligibility for publicly-funded services. 

While relying solely on the public mental health system can mean long wait times and little to no choice in therapist, treatment plan or schedule, the public mental healthcare system can be a great addition to private-practice therapy, such as:

  • Beginning private therapy while waiting for a waitlist spot to see a publicly-funded psychologist, therapist or counsellor
  • Supplementing your 1:1 therapy sessions with free peer support groups in your community
  • Continuing psychiatric medications under the supervision of your family doctor, community clinic, or psychiatrist in partnership with a private-pay therapist to build the mental and emotional skills to cope, recover, and thrive. 
About the Author

First Session Editorial Team

The First Session Editorial Team, composed of seasoned researchers, writers, editors, and therapists, focuses on providing content that helps​ Canadians find the right therapist.