Care Providers & Therapies

Scroll through the list below to find answers to some frequently asked questions.

Mental Health Professionals & Care Providers

Sometimes only professional counselling can help you find answers. You may have several options when it comes to which type of professional to go see. In this section, you will learn about different types of mental health professionals such as counselors, psychologists, social workers and physicians. Educating yourself on your options will help you to make well-informed choices.
"Counsellor" can describe several kinds of mental health professionals who have different qualifications. They include:

Certified Canadian Counsellor / Registered Counsellor

A certified or registered counsellor has Masters-level training in clinical or counselling psychology, or in a related field such as educational psychology. They are registered with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association or a similar provincial organization.

This kind of counsellor can help you with a wide range of concerns, including difficulty adjusting to everyday life, mood disruptions, and issues with your spouse or family. They also often work with children, or do family violence or trauma work. If you worked with a counsellor, your needs would be carefully matched to a counsellor with the kind of specialized training that could help you.

Registered Marriage and Family Counsellor

A registered marriage and family counsellor is a family-focused therapist who specializes in personal, work or group relationships. This kind of counsellor is registered with the Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and associated with that organization’s American counterpart.

A registered marriage and family counsellor can help you with individual psychotherapy, relationship counselling, couples and family therapy, premarital education and more.

Student Counsellor

A university or college often offers student counselling services. The organization offering the service will determine the qualifications a student counsellor must have to be hired — usually a bachelor's degree in social sciences or education and a master's degree in counselling or a related field.

A student counsellor can provide you with psychological support if you're trying to make a tough decision, cope with a crisis, or deal with a specific problem like homesickness, grades or exams, relationships or adapting to life in Canada. Student counsellors can also help with more general conditions such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, grief, eating disorders, and alcohol or substance abuse.

Addictions Counsellor

An addictions counsellor has gained addiction expertise through specialized degrees or practical experience. He or she could be a certified or registered counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist or social worker that has received additional training or work experience in the area of addictions.


A psychotherapist (sometimes also called a counsellor) helps people with their mental health problems. In most provinces there are no government regulations, training, licencing or degrees that determine who can call themselves a psychotherapist; however, some provinces are establishing rules about who can become one. Remember — don't confuse a psychotherapist with a psychiatrist or psychologist. It's important to ask a psychotherapist about their background and training.

Psychotherapists may offer many types of therapy, including but not limited to evidenced-based therapy.

Employee Assistance Counsellor

Employee Assistance Programs often provide you with counselling services for you and your family. Programs and services vary from employer to employer, but through an EAP you can usually get confidential and short-term counselling to help you with work or personal problems such as financial issues, separation or divorce, the loss of a family member, and substance abuse. Qualified EAP counsellors usually must be members in good standing in professional associations — such as social workers or psychologists.
A Registered Social Worker does many different types of work. To be registered, a social worker needs a minimum of a Bachelor's degree. Those who choose to focus on mental health counseling are designated clinical social workers, and have extra postgraduate training in evidenced based counseling and therapy. Clinical social workers must belong to the College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers and are required to take continuing education to keep up to date with the latest developments in the field.

Depending on your needs, a clinical social worker may use short- or long-term therapy, using cognitive behavioural techniques, psychodynamic techniques, or more. Clinical social workers often work with the whole system that affects you — and might work with you to do marriage, group or family counselling, or involve doctors, teachers, and others who regularly help you.
Besides a physician (for example, your family doctor or a psychiatrist) or nurse practitioner, a psychologist is the only other type of mental health professional that can diagnose your condition. Psychologists can't prescribe medicine, however — only physicians can do that. A psychologist has a master's or doctoral degree in psychology and must be licensed through an appropriate regulatory body.

A psychologist can help you understand, explain, and change your behaviour through evidence-based therapy. Psychologists often work with individuals, couples, groups and families.
A physician is a medical school graduate with a post-graduate degree in family medicine or psychiatry. In most cases, you won't pay money to see a physician — the province they work in pays their fees.

Walk-in Clinic

If you don’t have a family physician, you can go to a Walk-in or After Hours Clinic and see a physician or nurse practitioner. There are also Walk-in Counselling Clinics that can help you if you're having trouble with family conflict, stress, grief, depression, anxiety, relationships, separation, divorce or abuse. A clinic can provide quick access to professional services for individuals, couples and families.

Family Physician

Family physicians usually work in private practice, including group or team practices, hospitals and clinics. Their services are covered by your provincial medical insurance plan, meaning you don't pay to see them. They are graduates of approved medical schools and have two to three years of family medicine residency training. To practice they need to complete qualifying examinations of the Medical Council of Canada, and be licensed by a provincial or territorial licensing authority.

Family physicians have working knowledge of the symptoms, causes, and basic treatment of mental health and addiction conditions. This means they can diagnose and treat mental disorders, as well as prescribe medication to treat them. A physician may also provide counselling for mental health problems.

Family Physician with Psychotherapy Training

A family physician with psychotherapy training — often called a medical psychotherapist — recognizes that psychological and physical illnesses may seem to cause each other, take each other's place, or occur side-by-side. They use all the tools at their disposal to deal with these kinds of problems, in order to help you build the physical and emotional strength to keep from getting sick or speed up healing. Their goal is to help you resume your everyday life, if possible, or at the very least help you minimize your discomfort and despair.


A psychiatrist is a physician with postgraduate training in psychiatry, the medical field concerned with diagnosing, treating and preventing mental health conditions. Unlike other mental health professionals, such as psychologists and counselors, psychiatrists must be medically qualified doctors who have chosen to specialise in psychiatry. This means they can prescribe medication, as well as treat all mental health disorders with evidence-based psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioural training.
In most provinces in Canada, a legislated Nurse Practitioner is able to diagnose and manage many disorders and chronic diseases (including mental disorders), prescribe medications, order and interpret tests, and refer patients to specialists if needed. A nurse practitioner requires an advanced nursing degree and extra training and experience.

Information About Therapies

Your mental health professional may use one of the following forms of treatment. We do not prescribe any particular form of treatment; our intention is to inform you about your options in this area. Psychologists and psychiatrists tend to utilize a specific evidence-based therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Based Therapy, (DBT), while other mental health professionals often combine different forms of therapy informed by their clinical experience.

Therapy is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Different approaches may work for different people who may be at different stages of well-being. Research shows that one of the most important components of therapy is the collaborative relationship between the therapist and the client. This relationship may have an even greater effect on outcome than the therapeutic techniques used. Therefore, it is important that you choose a mental health professional with whom you feel comfortable working on your problems.
Biofeedback involves training clients to pay attention to normally involuntary physiological processes so they can learn to control them. Biofeedback can monitor various body functions including heart rate, brain waves, and skin temperature. During biofeedback, the electrodes are placed on the skin and send signals to a monitor. The monitor reports the physiological activity and the therapist assists the client in practicing techniques to control these physiological functions, particularly relaxation exercises. Biofeedback has been demonstrated to be helpful in people with insomnia and may be useful for:
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Brief Interventions are specific approaches to assess problematic behaviour and motivate change, particularly in alcohol and substance use disorders. Interventions can take place in a variety of settings including emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and in the community. The primary goal of a brief intervention is to raise awareness of the substance abuse problem and recommend a specific change or treatment.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a series of structured, interactive sessions to help improve mood and alleviate emotional distress through a positive change in thinking. CBT is the most extensively researched therapy and is different than many therapies in that it is relatively brief, focuses on the present, and on problem solving. It is based on the theory that one’s thoughts influence one’s feelings and behaviours. By changing the way you think, you can feel and act better even if the situation does not change. Learning new, more rational ways of reacting to distressing situations, leads to long-term positive results. CBT can be done in individual or group sessions, and even on the phone, computer, or using self-help workbooks for those who may have difficulty with face-to-face sessions. CBT has been shown to be effective in many disorders including:
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) blends cognitive-behavioural interventions with acceptance-based strategies derived from Buddhist meditative practices. A primary therapeutic task is to balance an individual’s acceptance of circumstances with a focus on change. Clients are taught a number of coping skills including elements of mindfulness such as focusing on the present moment, better managing emotions, effective communication, and tolerating distressing situations and feelings. DBT traditionally combines individual therapy with a skills-teaching group. While DBT was first developed to treat patients with borderline personality disorder, it is now also used to treat patients with eating disorders, addictions, anger problems, and other impulsive behaviours. This well-researched treatment has been shown to help an individual reduce suicidal and self-harm behaviour and frequency of hospitalizations, remain engaged in therapy, and decrease substance use.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of therapy to help individuals with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In EMDR sessions, an individual recalls a traumatic memory while paying attention to a specific motor task, such as moving one’s eyes side to side to follow the therapist’s waving finger. EMDR is repeated until the traumatic memory no longer evokes distress. The therapist and the individual then work on developing healthier beliefs regarding the traumatic event. The mechanism of EMDR is unclear; however, research supports its efficacy with individuals suffering from PTSD.
Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which a small, carefully selected group of individuals struggling with similar problems meets regularly under the guidance of a therapist. The purpose of group therapy is to assist each individual in emotional growth and personal problem solving. Group therapy helps people learn about themselves and take steps toward meaningful change. It also allows individuals to learn from and other group members. Groups can follow many different treatment approaches, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), and Psychodynamic Therapy. Group therapy has been shown to be useful for people struggling with addictions, depression, and eating disorders, as well as those facing illness, such as HIV and cancer.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), sometimes referred to as Interpersonal Psychotherapy, is a well-researched form of therapy in which the focus is on an individual’s recent life stressors and changes or conflict in current relationships. Like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, IPT is time-limited and can be done individually or in groups. The goal is to help people to identify relationship problems and enhance social support and interpersonal skills. It is used for the treatment of a number of disorders, including:
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Substance Abuse
Marriage and Family Therapy treat psychological problems within the context of a couple or family system. The focus is broadened from the individual to include primary relationships. The family’s behaviour impacts the individual with the presenting problem and therefore, may need to be included in the treatment. Additionally, mental illness affects not only those with mental health problems, but also their families and loved ones. Marriage and Family Counselling can benefit both the individual with the problem and their family or partner. This type of counselling can help increase understanding, support, and teach specific skills such as coping and communication. It can also teach an individual skills to deepen family connections and get through stressful times. Research supports the use of Marriage and Family Therapy for many issues, including relationship distress, anxiety and mood disorders, psychosexual problems, and alcohol abuse.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. MBCT is a group-based treatment that combines principles of cognitive therapy with meditative practices. It was designed for people suffering from repeated bouts of depression and chronic unhappiness. MBCT helps individuals better understand their depression, what causes their mood to spiral down, and how maintaining certain beliefs can contribute to depression. Research shows that MBCT helps reduce relapse rates in individuals with recurrent depression.
Motivation Interviewing (MI) is a form of therapy designed to help individuals move toward their goals by enhancing their intrinsic motivation. This is achieved, in large part, through resolving ambivalence, which is seen as normal when one is trying to change familiar behaviours. An adaptation of MI is Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET). In both MI and MET, the therapist attempts to evoke talk of change to strengthen the individual’s commitment and minimize resistance. MI and MET have been shown to be useful to people struggling with addictions, alcohol-related problems, and other health-related behaviours.
The goal of Problem-Solving Therapy (PST) is to enhance a person’s ability to cope with stressful aspects of life. PST is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles in that it views mental health problems as stemming from unhealthy coping mechanisms. In PST, the therapist teaches the client how to approach problems, using a step-by-step process. This approach has been shown to be effective in multiple problems, including:
  • Depression
  • Self-Harm
  • Adjustment Disorders
Psychodynamic therapy is based on psychoanalytic theory. It focuses on unconscious processes as they are manifested in a person’s present behaviour, particularly in the relationship between the therapist and the client. The goals of psychodynamic therapy are to increase clients’ self-awareness and understanding of the influence of the past on present behaviour. Psychodynamic therapy encourages individuals to explore their emotions, including those that trouble them or are difficult to acknowledge. It also acknowledges that intellectual understanding is not the same as emotional understanding. Psychodynamic theory holds that emotional insight is central to lasting change. Psychodynamic therapy is effective for a wide range of mental health symptoms, including those related to:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Stress-related physical ailments
Psycho-education provides information designed to facilitate healthy behaviors and support recovery to those with mental health problems, and sometimes their families. Psycho-education is often provided in groups and tends to be relatively brief. Sessions typically include information about the illness, appropriate treatment, and suggestions for how to manage symptoms. Psycho-education is frequently incorporated into other treatments. Research demonstrates that psycho-education helps with treatment compliance, and reducing relapse and hospitalization rates in people with mental illness, such as, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and those with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse.
Self-help groups or peer support groups are different from Group Therapy in that they provide support rather than treatment and are typically organized and run by the group itself or a peer. In self-help groups, members come together to support each other and receive support around a common problem. These groups can provide empowerment, healing, a sharing of resources, and reduce stigma. They are typically free or low-cost. Some example of self-help groups include 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and parenting groups.
Twelve-Step Facilitation (TSF) is a manualized treatment development to enhance engagement with 12-Step activities in individuals with alcohol and substance use disorders. It can be implemented in an individual or group format over 12-15 sessions. This intervention is based on the principles of 12-step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The goals of TSF are to encourage individuals to accept the need to abstain from substances and willingly partake in 12-step activities. TSF has been shown to help individuals abstain from substances and increase attendance to 12-step meetings.
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