Choosing a Therapy Provider

In Ontario, the controlled act of psychotherapy dictates which professional bodies can use the title of psychotherapist and provide psychotherapy. Professionals who are legally authorized to provide psychotherapy include individuals registered with the following colleges:College of Psychologists of Ontario, Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, College of Nurses of Ontario, College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, and the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario.

Of that group, the most common mental health practitioners are psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and psychotherapists. All of these providers are registered with a regulated professional body and offer similar services in psychotherapy. The major differences between these practitioners include the ability to diagnose mental health issues, education level and cost.

Finding the right therapist can be a daunting task. There are various types of providers in Ontario, and individuals are often faced with the question: What are the differences between the types of mental health care providers, and which one is the best for me? Below is some information about the differences between the most common types of mental health practitioners:

1. Psychiatrists (MD)

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health concerns, including substance use disorders. Psychiatrists are well equipped to assess and treat severe and complex mental health issues. They can prescribe medication and will typically follow up with a patient until they are stable on the medication. Some psychiatrists integrate psychotherapy into their practice, however often their focus is on assessment, diagnosis, and medication management. Therefore, they may suggest following up with another practitioner for psychotherapy. Typically, a referral from your general practitioner is required to see a psychiatrist and there is often a waitlist.

Regulated by: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

Provide Diagnosis: Yes

Prescribe Medications: Yes

Cost: Covered by OHIP

2. Psychologists (C.Psych) & Psychological Associates (C.Psych.Assoc)

Psychologists and psychological associates are trained to assess, diagnose and treat mental health issues. They are also trained to administer psychological assessments, such as intellectual, cognitive, neuropsychological and personality assessments. Psychologists assist people in overcoming their mental health issues using psychotherapy. Psychologists have a doctorate degree (PhD or PsyD) in clinical psychology and have acquired over 3000 hours of supervised clinical training. Psychological Associates hold a master’s degree, which takes a minimum of six years. They are then required to have 4 years of work experience and one year of supervised practice to become a psychological associate. The only difference between a psychologist and psychological associate is how they are trained. Once they have completed their training, there is no distinction made between the two with respect to scope of practice (The College of Psychologists of Ontario, 2020)

Regulated by: College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO)

Provide Diagnosis: Yes

Prescribe Medications: No

Cost: In the GTA, psychologists can range in cost between $200-250 per session. Psychologists may be covered by your insurance provider.

3. Registered Psychotherapists (RP or RP(Q))

A registered psychotherapist is trained in the treatment of mental health issues. Psychotherapist’s typically have a master’s degree which includes supervised training. Registered psychotherapists must receive a total of 150 hours of clinical supervision and have completed a total of 1000 direct client contact hours. Psychotherapy involves talk-based therapy and is intended to assist people in managing and improving their mental health, wellness and behavioural concerns. Psychotherapists cannot make a diagnosis, perform a psychological assessment, or prescribe medication.

Regulated by: College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario 

Provide Diagnosis: No

Prescribe Medications: No

Cost: In the GTA, psychotherapists can range in cost between $120-170 per session. Psychotherapist’s may be covered by your insurance provider.

4. Registered Social Workers (MSW, RSW)

Social work is a very broad profession that can include various roles such as: case management, research/policy, clinical assessment and mental health treatment. Social workers who work in private practice typically have a master’s degree which includes supervised training. They have education and experience in providing clinical assessments and treatment for various mental health issues. Social workers cannot provide a diagnosis and cannot prescribe medication. Social workers often consider the broader social, cultural and political contexts of one’s environment and how they may be contributing to the presenting issues.

Regulated by: Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers

Provide Diagnosis: No

Prescribe Medications: No

Cost: In the GTA, social workers can range in cost between $120-170 per session. Social workers may be covered by your insurance provider.

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