If you want to start taking control of your life, start with your mind, right? The world is getting wilder by the minute, and in my opinion, an investment in therapy is the one self-care initiative that’ll make the most impact on your peace of mind and overall sanity. If one of your intentions for the New Year was to start going to therapy for real this time, why not make 2020 the year the year you actually do it? Want to start seeing someone but have no idea how to actually go about doing it or what to expect when you get there? Hopefully I can shed some light. 

I started going to therapy eleven years ago when I was struggling with major anxiety. Though I have since worked through that, I still see a therapist once a month. I consider this to be an investment in my well-being, and believe me, I see the returns. Aside from keeping me able to continue building my career with equal parts strength and self-compassion, therapy affords me the self-awareness to productively navigate interpersonal relationships (including my relationship with myself!). None of us is perfect, but being able to safely look at the ways in which we aren’t allows us to become so much more at-home in our lives. Having help to do that is key because there’s really only so much solo work we can do to support ourselves at any given time. 

Having a therapist who knows me well helps me come back to my centre when I get rocked by insecurity – and better, she helps me to understand when I don’t even realize I’ve been rocked. A therapeutic relationship is so valuable to have, whether you just want to maintain strength from day-to-day, or you’re working through a specific issue that you could use support with. You can do either in the context of a totally safe, dedicated space. 

When I first started out, one of the most mystifying parts about therapy for me was all the types of mental health professionals to choose from. This really helpful site for newcomers to Canada breaks down the 3 major types of mental health professionals:  

Psychiatrists: These are medical doctors trained in specific areas of mental health who can prescribe medication. Their services are covered by OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan), so if you have an Ontario health card you’re covered, as long as you have a referral from a family doctor. To see a psychiatrist, you need to have a referral. 

Psychologists: A psychologist is someone who has a master’s / doctoral degree in psychology and is trained to diagnose mental health disorders and help people manage their issues. Psychologists are not licensed in specific specialties, but they have to declare their areas of competency to a regulatory body and are required to practice within those bounds. Psychologists can’t prescribe medication and their services aren’t covered by OHIP, but private health insurance / your work benefits package MAY cover it. You don’t need a referral to see a psychologist. 

Counsellors and therapists / psychotherapists: These professionals provide a range of therapies (art therapy, career counselling, marriage counselling, family therapy, etc.), but can’t prescribe medication. You have to pay for their services, and they can be between $90 – 150 / hour, though many counselors will operate on a sliding-scale, based on your circumstances and income, and some services could be covered by company insurances. There are also some low-cost alternatives, the links to which I’ve included below. They may be members of a voluntary professional association, like the Canadian Counselling Association

How to go about finding the right mental-health professional for you:

Here are a few helpful search engines to take a look at to find a professional who jives with you, as well as a couple of places to look at for lower-cost services. 

The Canadian Mental Health Association – According to their website they are “the most established, most extensive community mental health organization in Canada.” I’ve had friends who’ve had great experience with their CBT therapy—typically a 6-20 session commitment. 

Canadian Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology – This search site from the College of Psychologists of Ontario and the Ontario Psychological Association can help you find a psychologist. 

Canadian Counselling Association’s Membership List – find a counsellor who is registered with this association.

Ontario Psychotherapy and Counselling Referral Network – this is an Ontario association of counselors and psychotherapists which can refer to you a psychologist or counsellor in southern Ontario.

Hard Feelings – this is a Toronto-based nonprofit social enterprise / community of professional counsellors who provide low-cost services and support. 

For other low-cost therapy in Toronto you can check out the Gestalt Institute’s website where you can work with a Gestalt therapist-in-training for $40 per session, or the Toronto Institute for Recreational Psychotherapy to meet with a student/recent graduate for $25-$40. 

The way I found my current therapist (who is a psychotherapist with a private practice) was by googling “psychotherapists downtown”. I looked through the sites and bios. Therapists will list their areas of specialty or focus, (chronic health issues, body and identity concerns, coming out, etc.) and how they tend to work or what you can expect from their style of feedback. If you don’t jive with a therapist’s bio or their approach seems weird to you in any way, then move on. This is an investment in yourself and there are so many super smart people out there who can help you in potent ways. 

What to tell this person:  

In terms of getting the most out of your experience it’s a good idea to go into your session with a general intention. This can help you to get the most out of your experience. An overarching idea of how you want to feel when you’re done your session or something you’d like to get off your chest can be helpful. 

I always remind myself that my therapist’s office is the place where I can be the most awkward; the most imperfect; the most shameful; the worst. I remind myself that I can tell her everything that’s on my mind, even if it’s something like, ‘I’m going to be awful with you today and I feel bad about it.’ Your relationship with your therapist is in no way an adversarial relationship. They’re not looking for you to say something, or anything. There’s no right or wrong. This is a totally judgement-free zone. It’s for you. You can consider your work with this person a creative process – it really is. You are the creation. Your mindset, your vision for your future, and your idea of what’s possible is the masterpiece! Be an active participant in your own self-creation, and trust that there is no way you can mess it up. 

Speak your truth, get out of your own way, and help your therapist help you.