How To Find a Therapist in Ontario

Last updated on: Mar 07, 2024

Have you started to think about therapy, but embarking on the journey to find mental health support is feeling daunting, or intimidating?

We’ve created this guide filled with practical steps to help you not only find an Ontario therapist, but to find the right therapist for you, so you can get the most out of therapy and improve your mental health. So let’s get started.

Things To Consider When Looking For A Therapist In Ontario

  • Ontario has the larges population of any province and the most therapists – over 7,000 registered psychotherapists (around half of Canada’s total).
  • Ontario is the most culturally and demographically diverse province – finding a therapist with training or lived experience with racial, cultural, LGBTQI2A+ or religious diversity is one of the most in-demand traits for therapists in Ontario.
  • Ontario mandates specific educational and training requirements for psychotherapists, which is an umbrella term that can include psychologists, social workers and counsellors.

Public mental health resources in Ontario

Typically, publicly-funded mental health care in Ontario (and across Canada) is focused on helping people in acute mental crises or with complex mental health diagnoses. If you’re looking to be referred to a publicly-funded mental health professional you could wait months or even years before being seen, usually with no choice in therapist or schedule and a limit on the number of sessions. Even though sessions with private-practice therapists are not covered by OHIP, they are often covered in extended health plans through your employment.

A list of publicly-funded mental health resources in Ontario is available at the bottom of this page.

The 3 Stages to Finding a Therapist in Ontario:

First Session has helped over 8,000 Canadians find the right therapist and jumpstart their mental health journey. Over thousands of therapy journeys, we’ve noticed three stages to starting (or re-starting) the search for a new therapist:

Stage 1: You’re unsure what kind of therapy - or therapist - you’re looking for

Stage 2: You know what you’re looking for - you just need to find it

Stage 3: You’ve found a potential therapist, and are ready to take the next step

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

In this stage, we’ll guide your through a few questions to help you clarify which therapist traits and therapy approaches most resonate with you.

What prompted your interest in starting therapy?

Do you have a specific issue or concern in mind? For example: wanting to improve your relationship with your partner or with your family, reducing the frequency and severity of panic attacks, or developing tools for emotional regulation when work gets too stressful.

For some people, having a clear goal with a tangible outcome is their reason for starting therapy, but you don’t need to have a specific concern or need to articulate an exact reason to benefit from therapy. 

You can also think about what feelings, mindsets or perspectives you imagine or hope that therapy will provide - maybe you’re thinking how relieved you’ll feel from having a space to vent about what’s been weighing on you, motivated after identifying your core values and life goals, or proud of yourself for building a consistent practice of self-care. 

Why is finding “the right fit” so important?

The most important factor for success in therapy is your connection with your therapist. Decades of research have shown that the partnership created when you’ve found the right therapist for you predicts therapeutic success even across different modalities, mental health diagnoses, and therapeutic settings1.

We know that being the ‘right fit’ can make or break friendships, potential job offers, and budding romantic partners, yet we can over-intellectualize the therapy process and forget that compatibility is just as important when searching for a therapist

When you and your therapist have established a meaningful human connection, you can be vulnerable with your thoughts and concerns, feel heard and validated, and trust the process. 

Therapist Traits

Everyone will have a different combination of traits that are most important to them when considering a potential therapist – shaped by your own personality traits and past experiences with others (positive or negative).

Here are a few that may feel important to you:

  • Age: You might find it easier to open up to a therapist around your own age, or perhaps you are looking for guidance from a therapist who is older, with more professional and personal lived experience to draw wisdom from.
  • Gender: Your therapist’s gender may not matter to you at all, or you feel more comfortable working with a therapist of a particular gender (or agender). 
  • Lived Experience: All therapists receive training in the most common issues their clients face (such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues), but not every therapist has personally experienced or lives with racism or discrimination, grief, divorce, or neurodivergence, to name a few. 

Specializations

If you are new to therapy or don’t have a specific concern in mind, you can work with a therapist with a more broad client base. Often, First Session clients will start therapy with a broader scope, and over time they identify more specific areas they’d like to focus on. 

Some therapists prefer to narrow their practice to a specific client base. Therapists 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)

Additionally, there are some diagnoses and areas of focus where it’s important to work with a therapist with the right training and expertise. Some conditions require more support from the therapist to navigate or have specific treatment methods, including: trauma/PTSD, eating disorders, and gender and sexual identity.


Modalities

In therapy, a modality is a specific method or approach therapists use to help people process mental and emotional issues. It acts as a tool that the therapist then tailors to the client to guide each session.

What are the most common modalities?

It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole searching for the “perfect” modality or be swayed by current trends and buzzwords, but evidence shows that the therapist-client fit affects therapy outcomes even more than which specific modalities were used during therapy2.

Objective Criteria:

Cost & Payment

Therapy sessions in Ontario can cost anywhere between $100 - $225+ per 50 or 60 minute session. Some therapists charge more based on their level of education, specialization(s), and overall costs of running their own practice. 

Many workplace and student health benefits cover therapy services – but there will likely be restrictions on which therapist designations will qualify. Check out your policy details and which designations and credentials qualify for reimbursement, such as “social worker”, “MSW”, “psychologist”, etc. Log into your health benefits online portal: Manulife, Sunlife, Blue Cross and Pacific Blue Cross.

In-Person vs Virtual Therapy

In-person therapy has been the traditional format since the beginnings of formal psychotherapy. For many, the feeling of a separate physical space for therapy sessions can also help you create a separate mental and emotional space, too. Some people need to feel the real-life energy of the person they're speaking to, and get a better intuitive sense of body language when they’re in the same room. At the same time, the commute to and from the therapist's office can increase the time commitment needed and make it harder to fit into your schedule.

Virtual therapy has become exponentially more popular since the pandemic: you now have even more options for potential therapists (and most First Session therapists are licensed to serve clients across all of Canada). Joining your therapy sessions from the comfort of your own home can feel comfortable and safe, especially when working through tough topics. While there's no commute time, it's important to still block off time before and after your session to decompress before launching back into your busy day.

Therapist Availability

Some criteria to consider:

  • Are they available in the time window you’re looking for? (mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekends)
  • Do you want to meet at the same day and time for each session or do you need flexibility?
  • Do they require you 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 12,000 therapists listed in Ontario alone - 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 directory of qualified therapists has been curated to make it easier for you to find the right fit. Explore therapist profiles and get started by booking your first session today. 

How to Assess a Therapist’s Profile Page

Images and video: Knowing what a potential therapist looks like is a necessity for most people to even consider them as their therapist. First Session also includes video on each therapist profile so you can get an even better feel of what you can expect during an actual session. Note your gut reaction to watching these videos – your connection not only to what they’re saying, but how they say it. 

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

You may also connect with the language they use to describe your concern – for example, the way the therapist describes the ways 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 profile that you connect with and you’re ready to dive into a full session, that’s great! You don’t have to go through an initial consultation and can go ahead and schedule a regular therapy session directly. 

Free consultations are great if you want to test your chemistry over a short, no-commitment conversation. If you have specific questions or hesitations, a consultation call is the time to address them. Keep in mind: decision fatigue is real: start with 1-3 free consultations at most, and spread them out over at least a week. 

Stage 3: Making A Decision & Booking Your First Session

When you’ve reached this stage, you’ve found one (or more) potential therapists that you feel drawn to; 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 finding it difficult to choose between more than one potential therapist, then both options must be equally good – in which case, whatever choice you make will be a good one
  • There isn’t a therapist “soulmate” out there that you need to find. Statistically there are multiple 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?some text
    • If you struggle to listen to your intuition or trust your own judgment (which therapy can help you work on), the decision to schedule the first session with a therapist that feels right for you is progress in and of itself.

People usually feel better after booking their first therapy session, even before they’ve met with the therapist. The decision to prioritize your mental health, invest in yourself and act on what you want is empowering.

After Therapy Starts: How Can I Tell If Therapy Is Working?

Journaling for a few minutes after your therapy sessions and the insights and challenges that surfaced can act as a time capsule and remind you how far you’ve come.

Check in with your partner, loved ones, or close friends, because they’ve likely noticed a shift in you after a few months of consistent therapy. Maybe you’re more patient or they saw how you handled a situation differently from in the past. It can remind you not only of your inner progress, but that other people can see it, too. 

You don’t have to track your progress. In fact, for people with ruminating tendencies, OCD, or perfectionism, trying to quantify the return-on-investment can do more harm than good. For you, therapy may be the one safe space where you don’t have to live up to expectations or achieve anything. 

Congratulations on starting this new chapter of your mental health journey. If you’ve read this far, whether you’re excited or nervous (or both), you’re ready to start. 

Let’s find your next therapist. Visit our directory and explore our therapist profiles. The only commitment is to yourself. 

References:

1Horvath A. O., Luborsky L. (1993). The role of the therapeutic alliance in psychotherapy. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 61, 561–573

2Horvath A. O., Symonds B. D. (1991). Relation between working alliance and outcome in psychotherapy: a meta-analysis. J. Couns. Psychol. 38, 139–149

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

What publicly-funded mental health resources are available in Ontario?

The government of Ontario lists a range of mental health resources available to residents:

https://www.ontario.ca/page/mental-health-services

https://www.ontario.ca/page/find-mental-health-support

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

ConnexOntario offers free and confidential information and resources to people experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs, mental health and/or gaming and is available 24/7.

Call: 1-866 -531-2600 or www.connexontario.ca 

AbilitiCBT is an internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT) program that is free to anyone in Ontario and can be accessed from any device, any time. 

Ontario Structured Psychotherapy (OSP) Program offers free, publicly-funded, short-term cognitive behavioural therapy to adults (a8 years and older) dealing with depression and anxiety.

211 Ontario is a helpline that easily connects people to the social services, programs and community supports they need.

How often should I see a therapist?

The frequency of sessions depends on your needs, goals, availability and budget. It’s ideal to start with weekly sessions as you build familiarity and trust with your new therapist. You can stick to a weekly schedule or adjust the frequency 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 ethics to keep your information private and secure. Information shared with insurance companies is limited to what's necessary for billing (such as date and time, your name and the therapist’s info) without revealing the details of your sessions.

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

Absolutely! Therapy can be a safe space to explore your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours to uncover underlying issues and begin changing our mental and emotional patterns that keep us stuck. Therapists are trained to help you articulate and address 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 sessions can be booked directly online.

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

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

While relying solely on the public mental health system can leave you waiting for months (or even years), with  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.