How To Find A Therapist in Calgary

Last updated on: Mar 08, 2024
A landscape image of the urban Calgary skyline at dusk

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 Calgary and tips on how to choose the right therapist for you.

Things To Consider When Looking For A Therapist In Calgary

  • 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 Calgary

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 Calgary 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.

What prompted your interest in starting therapy?

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 “right fit” 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 Calgary 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 employment or student health plans cover therapy, though they may limit which therapist qualifications are eligible. Look into your policy or log into your health benefits portal to understand what's covered: 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?

First Session aims to connect Canadians with their ideal therapist from the get-go. Our curated directory simplifies the search. Dive into our therapist profiles and book your initial session today.

How to Assess a Therapist’s Profile Page

Visuals and video: Seeing your potential therapist is crucial for many. First Session enhances this with videos on every profile, offering a richer sense of what to expect.

Keywords and phrases: Look for language that resonates with you – words like “spirituality”, “growth and transformation”, or “self-compassion” might stand out.

Objective criteria: Don’t overlook logistics like availability, fees, necessary qualifications for insurance, 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. But if you're looking to feel out the connection first, free consultations can provide a no-pressure way to ask questions and gauge compatibility. To avoid decision fatigue, limit yourself to a few consultations spread over a week or so.

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. 

Choosing might be tough if you're torn between options, but remember, either choice likely leads to a positive path. It's not about finding the one perfect therapist but recognizing that many could be a great fit. Trust your gut and your ability to choose – it's a significant step toward prioritizing your mental health.

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?

Starting therapy can feel like stepping into a new journey without a clear map. But as you progress, you'll start looking for signs that you're heading in the right direction. Here are a few ways to track your progress:

Journaling: Taking 10-15 minutes to jot down your thoughts post-session can be super insightful. Think of it as creating a personal growth diary. It's like having a chat with your past self, seeing the progress in your own words.

Feedback from Your Circle: sometimes, the changes in us are so gradual we don't notice them ourselves, but our friends and family do. Checking in with your partner or close pals can open your eyes to the shifts they're seeing in you. 

Not everyone needs to keep a scoreboard for their therapy journey. If you find yourself caught in the loops of overthinking, or if striving for perfection tends to weigh you down, remember: therapy doesn't have to be another arena where you have to meet certain standards. 


Ready to take the next step? Dive into our directory and explore the profiles of therapists who are here to walk this path with you. Let's find the therapist who resonates with you, and begin a journey that's all about embracing growth at your own pace.

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:

Calgary Zone, Access Mental Health is a non-urgent service. Anyone is invited to call for information and options for Addiction & Mental Health services.

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?

Use First Session to find the right therapist for you.

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

Can therapy be beneficial even if I don't know exactly what I need?

Absolutely! Therapy isn't just for those with a clear idea of what's troubling them. It's a space for exploration and discovery, where you can peel back the layers of your thoughts and feelings with professional guidance.

How often should I visit my therapist?

Kickstarting your journey with weekly meetings is a great idea, fostering a sense of trust and rapport with your therapist. Whether you stick to this weekly rhythm or tweak the frequency down the line depends on how you're progressing and what your therapist suggests. It's all about finding what works best for you, with flexibility built into the process.

Do I need a doctor's referral to start therapy?

Getting started with therapy doesn't require a doctor's note. You have the freedom to connect with a therapist directly and book sessions at your convenience, making the first step as straightforward as possible.

Will my sessions be private, even from insurance companies?

Privacy in therapy is paramount. Rest assured, therapists are held to strict confidentiality standards, both legally and ethically. This means your conversations stay between you and your therapist. When it comes to insurance, only essential billing info is shared, keeping the contents of your sessions under wraps. Your safe space remains just that—safe.

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

Yes, it's entirely possible—and sometimes beneficial—to engage with both public and private therapy services. Opting for a private therapist doesn't affect your eligibility for public services, offering a blend of support tailored to your needs. While public options might involve longer waits and less choice, they can complement private therapy. This hybrid approach allows you to benefit from immediate, personalized care while taking advantage of public resources, like support groups or ongoing medication management, ensuring a well-rounded support system.

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.