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Is therapy covered by provincial healthcare plans in Canada?

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Taking the first step by deciding to seek mental health support is a huge accomplishment. Whether you’re new to therapy and counselling or are looking for new resources to support your mental health, we know it can be difficult to navigate the variety of options.

There are a few things about therapy that are generally helpful to know as you get started, such as how to find the right therapist fit, the difference in therapist titles (a.k.a designations) and the different kinds of therapy techniques (modalities). But, bottom line, we know that understanding costs for therapy is important, including coverage through private or workplace insurance plans, or finding low-cost, free, or government-funded options (including through public healthcare plans) is important—and it can be a daunting part of the process.

Therapy and publicly funded healthcare 

Generally, if someone is treated for mental health needs through a medical or hospital visit, treatment is covered. There are some family doctors (general practitioners or GPs) who are trained and licensed to offer psychotherapy. In this case it would be covered by public health, but those MDs are scarce.

Visiting a psychiatrist via a doctor’s referral (for a prescription or further assessment) will also be covered—it’s important to know that most psychiatrists will only provide a diagnosis for a mental illness or drug therapy interventions (a prescription). This may not be what you’re looking for if you’re hoping to talk with someone for counselling, as most psychiatrists in Canada who are covered under the public health care system do not offer psychotherapy to patients directly. Wait times for psychiatrist visits can be long as well, from weeks to months.

Overall, licensed and registered psychotherapists, social workers, or psychologists who work in private practice are not covered by provincial healthcare plans like the ​​Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP), or Medical Services Plan (MSP) in British Columbia. 

But, there are some scenarios when mental health care is covered or funded by public health. This would include government-funded hospitals and clinics, or services like the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). There are also dedicated centres and clinics out there that are funded by different levels of government to support particular demographics, such as those experiencing homelessness or historically marginalized and underserved groups. 

There is growing advocacy to make mental health more of a core component of overall public health and various governments have launched new mental health services recently, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic

Below are more details on what’s covered by public healthcare in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia and other resources in those regions.

Is therapy covered by OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan)?

In Ontario, therapy is covered by OHIP if it is provided by a medical doctor, such as a family doctor or psychiatrist, or in a medical setting like a hospital or clinic. 

The Government of Ontario also funds an operation called Family Health Teams (FHT). These are more comprehensive health care clinics that have a family doctor alongside other practitioners like physiotherapists, dietitians, social workers and other mental health professionals. Under one roof, these services would be covered under OHIP. 

There are government-funded or subsidized clinics that offer low-cost or free mental healthcare. You can often refer yourself to those, but sometimes you’ll need to be referred by a medical doctor for entry and to ensure your costs are covered. Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has a list of these resources available for those living in the province (including online options) and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

In April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government announced additional funding for virtual mental health services, including:

  • ConnexOntario for mental health, addiction and problem gambling services for those over 18 (via their website or 1-866-531-2600)
  • For children and youth under 18, the Kids Help Phone website or phone line (1-800-668-6868) offers 24/7 support
  • Good2Talk, a free and confidential mental health support service for postsecondary students in Ontario and Nova Scotia, available 24/7
  • BounceBack Ontario, a guided self-help program including workshops and phone coaching support for those 15 and older

Private practice therapists, psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers will be an out-of-pocket cost, or must be covered by workplace health benefits plans in Ontario.

Is therapy covered by AHCIP (Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan)?

In Alberta, therapy is covered by AHCIP if it is provided by a medical professional, such as a psychiatrist, or in a medical setting like a hospital. The province also provides an option to purchase supplementary health coverage through the government, which helps cover some costs for clinical psychologists, up to $300 per year.

There are government-funded community health centres such as the Alberta division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) that help connect people to mental health services that fit their needs. CMHA lists a number of emergency help lines throughout the province. There is also an Alberta division of the free virtual peer-to-peer mental health community called Togetherall (available 24/7), and Alberta has a division of the free national program BounceBack, for those 15 and older, to help with stress and anxiety and improving mood and mental wellbeing.

Private practice therapists, psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers will be an out-of-pocket cost, or must be covered by workplace health benefits plans in Alberta.

Is therapy covered by MSP (Medical Services Plan) in British Columbia?

In British Columbia, family doctors or nurse practitioners can provide some support for managing mental health, including helping to rule out medical reasons for symptoms, to prescribe medication, or to provide a referral to a psychiatrist—all would be covered by MSP.

Like elsewhere in the country, psychiatrists can provide psychotherapy or counselling therapy but in most cases you’d only see them for a medical or mental illness diagnosis or to be prescribed drug therapy interventions (i.e. medication). You’d most likely need to find counselling therapy elsewhere. 

Psychotherapy and counselling therapy are not covered by MSP. 

The Province of British Columbia website does have a listings and interactive map tool to help get connected to government-funded or non-profit agencies in BC for help with mental health support, addiction or abuse. However, there is often a requirement to have a doctor’s referral for these services.

Private practice therapists, psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers will be an out-of-pocket cost, or must be covered by workplace health benefits plans in British Columbia.

Federally supported mental health services

Canada-wide, there are nonprofit and government-funded organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), or associations that oversee mental health professionals in the country, like the Canadian Psychological Association, that can help direct you to services that will work for you.

The federal government has also invested in programs (some of which have been mentioned above at the provincial level) including togetherall, an online community and support service for postsecondary students, young adults and teens across Canada; Wellness Together Canada, a program launched due to the COVID-19 pandemic that provides free resources for mental health and substance abuse; and Hope for Wellness Help Line developed specifically for Indigenous people nationwide with website resources, a chat tool and 24/7 helpline at 1-855-242-3310.

Understanding private practice therapy fees and workplace benefits coverage

Therapists and counsellors who are listed on First Session are private practice therapists. They will list a fee per session on their profile page. If you’re employed, a lot of workplace health benefits plans cover therapy or counselling, which can offset most or all of these private practice fees. Some therapists also offer something called a “sliding scale” on their fees to help those who are in need of some financial assistance. 

Workplace benefits plans or government subsidies might also offer other mental health options, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP can include free counselling options through a portal or program you can access directly through your insurance coverage provider—your workplace won’t know when you access these benefits.

Check your benefits booklet to understand what kinds of therapy and therapist designations are covered, and how much coverage you have available. 

While most counselling and therapy options are not covered by provincial healthcare plans, there are options out there. If you feel like you need to talk to someone, reach out to one of the organizations listed above as a start. 

Like private practice therapy, it can take a few tries to find someone you really connect with, or to find a type of service that works for you. That’s totally normal. It’s important that you find the right fit, and find someone you click with to build a trusting therapeutic relationship.

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