Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist vs. Social Worker vs. PsychotherapistBrowse all therapists
When choosing between a psychologist, psychotherapist, social worker or other counsellor, it’s helpful to know about each designation’s level of education and how they each approach treatment to see what seems right for you.
If you have workplace benefits, you may want to start your search for therapists covered by your workplace health coverage.
From there, it becomes about finding the right therapist fit: how well you and your therapist align, if their techniques work for you, and the overall rapport.
Let’s start with some rules and terminology.
Therapists and counsellors
Generally, therapy and counselling are umbrella terms that can refer to many kinds of offerings. Psychotherapy, therapy, counselling, counselling psychology (and other related terms) are often interchanged.
According to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, there are more than 70 professional titles covering various types of therapies in Canada.
In Canada, there are four major categories of regulated mental health professionals: psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and psychotherapists (also referred to as “counselling therapists”). Regulated titles have higher education requirements, are overseen by regulatory bodies called colleges or associations.
Colleges → These are formed to carry out the regulations of an Act. They are responsible for registering, regulating and governing the members of a certain profession under the law. They protect the interests of the public.
Associations → Associations are often self-regulated, are voluntary, and exist to represent and advocate for the field and its members. They work in the interest of the professional.
Psychotherapists vs. counsellors
Psychotherapy is often referred to as “talk therapy” or counselling therapy.
Psychotherapy addresses mental, behavioural or emotional needs through verbal or non-verbal communication (somatic therapy is a form of body-focused psychotherapy). Counselling therapy or psychotherapy techniques aim to reframe thought patterns, feelings, and behaviours for more enjoyment in day-to-day life.
In Ontario and Quebec, Psychotherapist is a job title recognized by provincial law. In other provinces, regulations recognize (or will recognize) the title Counselling Therapist.
If psychotherapy is a regulated title where you live, a practitioner can only use this title if they’ve met certain requirements for education and training, and if they are registered with the appropriate college.
Other types of mental health providers could also offer psychotherapy — a psychologist or social worker may use psychotherapy as part of their treatment.
Unregulated therapists can still be helpful (e.g. a life coach), but their practice and methods are not monitored, there’s no system to file complaints, and it’s less likely they’re covered by your healthcare plan.
Bottom line: it’s good practice to check that you’re receiving psychotherapy or counselling from a regulated or certified therapist.
More Canadian counsellor regulations and certifications
If there are no regulations in place for counsellors or psychotherapists where you live, you can look for practitioners with the a Certified Canadian Counsellor (CCC) designation. The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association oversees the CCC certification at a national level — these practitioners can be available anywhere in the country.
There are also some self-regulated associations at provincial levels that work to oversee otherwise unregulated titles with governance, ethics codes, training requirements and disciplinary processes. For example, counsellors in British Columbia (a province with regulations in progress for Counselling Therapists), can be certified through theBC Association of Clinical Counsellors as a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC).
First Session interviews and screens every practitioner in person / virtually before listing them on FirstSession.com. We ensure that they belong to the required college in their province, and are in good standing. If a college does not yet exist or they are an unregulated therapist, we ensure they are registered with a credible self-regulated body.