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3 questions to ask any potential therapist       

Create, achieve, and maintain positive changes in your life

23 Jan 3 questions to ask any potential therapist       

After making the decision to seek help for psychological concerns, people often struggle with how to choose an appropriate therapist. It is confusing for those not intimately familiar with the field to understand the difference between practitioners that are offering counselling, psychotherapy, or coaching. I have had countless conversations with clients, and even family members, about what a psychologist is and how they differ from a psychotherapist, counsellor, or life/executive coach. Here are three questions to ask a potential therapist that will hopefully help you narrow you search and provide you with some of the advantages of choosing a registered psychologist.

1) What is your highest level of education?

Most registered psychologists in Ontario hold doctoral degrees (Ph.D or Psy.D.) in psychology. This represents the highest level of specialised training in emotion, human behaviour, psychological disorders, diagnostics, and treatment. Typically a doctoral level psychologist will have completed 8 to 10 years of formal study in the field of psychology (4 years undergraduate and 4 to 6 years of graduate training) including clinical placement (internships or residencies).

2) Are you registered with the College of Psychologist of Ontario?

  • Only those that are registered with the College of Psychologist of Ontario (CPO) are permitted by law to use the title psychologist.
  • CPO requires minimum educational standards for each member. Thus all members of the CPO hold advanced degrees (masters or doctoral) in psychology.
  • Registered psychologists must adhere to prescribed standards, guidelines and ethical principles.
  • Registered psychologists must participate in quality assurance activities and continually update and improve their knowledge and skill.
  • The CPO is in place to protect the public by making sure the above standards are upheld by its members.
    • By contrast unregulated providers are just that, so they are not governed by a body that ensures a minimum level of education, training and competence or establishes and monitors professional and ethical standards of conduct

If you choose to see an unregulated provider there is nobody there to protect your interests and hold such providers accountable for their services. To frame it another way, would you see a “tooth health specialist” because they offered cheaper rates or would you insist on seeing a dentist registered with the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario? Would you entrust your minor or major surgery to person that was not registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario? So then, why would you entrust you psychological health to anyone other than a registered psychologist?

3) Who will be seeing me?

So you have found a doctoral level registered psychologist, but it is important to ensure that your treatment will be carried out by a doctoral level registered psychologist (you had to read that twice didn’t you). Often times psychology clinics will have unregulated providers deliver treatment under the supervision of a registered psychologist. This is an accepted practice in the field, but you can decide if this is an arrangement you are comfortable with. If you prefer to work directly with a registered psychologist then ask specifically for that.

To build on one of the analogies from above, this supervisory relationship would be like seeing Mr. Smile who has a degree in mouth sciences and meets with the dentist weekly to discuss his cases.

Final Thoughts

I would consider the above factors a minimum starting point for choosing a therapist that is right for you. You should also ensure that they offer the type of services that you need, for instance do they have experience working specific problem area A (e.g. depression, anxiety). What therapeutic modalities do they work from (e.g. CBT)? Am I comfortable with that modality? Finally, and maybe the most important consideration is personal fit. Are you comfortable talking to them? Are they the right amount of professional or are they relaxed enough for you? Have an initial session with somebody and decide for yourself after that session if you think it is a good fit. You are the consumer, you are in control, and finding the right “fit” for you is an important part of any successful therapy.