What is a Psychotherapist?

The term psychotherapist is an unregulated and unrestricted title in Canada.  This means that anyone may call themselves a psychotherapist. There are no minimum education, training, supervision or experience requirements.  Unlike the terms counsellor, therapist, practitioner or clinician, which may refer to a wide range of services, the title psychotherapist does imply a focus on mental health.

The term psychotherapy is used to identify mental health treatment using psychological approaches rather than medical approaches.  Medical approaches are those using medications. 

Psychotherapy is a general term.  As such psychologists, social workers, addictions counsellors, occupational therapists, etc. may all utilize the term psychotherapy to describe some or all of what they do.  Psychological approaches may be: educational; behavioral; involve different types of modalities such as talk, music, art, play, dance; or more mindfulness styles such as meditation or yoga.  There are many psycho-therapeutic styles such as humanist, rogerian, structural, solution focused, etc.  Regardless of the approach used, psychotherapy refers to non-medical interventions that aim to change the way a person thinks, feels, or behaves.

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There are a variety of regional and national associations in Canada that utilize the term 'psychotherapy' in their title.  Therapists with a C.C.C. designation have demonstrated a certain level of competency to be members of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.  Physicians have a Medical Therapy Association, individuals who practice group psychotherapy can join the Canadian Group Psychotherapy Association, while practitioners who work with individuals may be members of the Canadian Association for Psychodynamic Therapy.  The requirements to join these or any other psychotherapy association vary greatly.

Some associations membership requirement consists of paying the membership fee.  Others ask their members to ascribe to certain values, complete certain training workshops, or to be members of certain other psychotherapy associations.  Some associations are affiliated with particular post-secondary university and educational institutions.  In other words, to be members of those associations, the member must be enrolled in a program at that institution, or have previously achieved a certain level of education (e.g. at least an undergraduate degree) at that institution, along with certain clinical experience, and letters of recommendation to be a member.  Associations may qualify their membership with "student", "intern" or "full membership" titles.  This qualifications can often help clients differentiate between the degree of education, training, supervision, and experience the clinician has.

Ultimately it is up to the prospective client to inquire regarding the requirements of being a member of a given psychotherapy association. Most associations have websites that publish membership requirements.  Typically, high quality associations (those with high education, supervision, training, and experience expectations) state their membership requirements in a clear point form.