Deciding to see a psychologist is an important decision, but whom do you choose to work with? I recommend that you interview at least two or three practitioners. I want you to find someone who is skilled and makes you feel comfortable.
It is very important to psychological work that you choose someone with whom you are able to develop a good rapport and working relationship. In addition to what I discuss below, the best way to determine if a therapist is right for you is to use your feelings as a gauge.
Does this person appear kind, understanding and non-judgmental? Do you feel listened to and uniquely appreciated? If not, perhaps you need to try someone else who might be a better fit.
Understand your options
What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
In Ontario, both psychologists and psychiatrists are licensed to diagnose and treat mental health problems and mental illness. Their legislated scope of practice is very similar, with the main difference being that psychiatrists, as medical doctors, are licensed to prescribe medication.
A psychologist typically holds a doctorate degree, which usually involves 6-10 years of university study after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. Their graduate university training is usually in clinical psychology, counselling psychology, clinical neuropsychology or school psychology and includes a variety of clinical internships. After completing their doctorate, psychologists are required to write three examinations: the Ontario Ethics and Jurisprudence exam, the comprehensive Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, and an oral examination conducted by the College of Psychologists of Ontario. These exams are typically completed during a minimum 1-year period of postdoctoral supervised practice. After successfully meeting all requirements, the candidate is able to call him or herself a psychologist and use the title "doctor" with a license to diagnose. Many psychologists also go on to complete postdoctoral training in their areas of interest.
A practicing psychologist is trained to assess and diagnose problems in thinking, feeling and behaviour, as well as to help people overcome or manage these problems. A psychologist is uniquely trained to use psychological tests to help with assessment and diagnosis. Psychologists help people to overcome or manage their problems using a variety of evidence based treatments or psychotherapies.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who go on to specialize in mental health and mental illness. Psychiatrists are covered by OHIP and, unlike psychologists, are able to use medication to help their patients. Many psychiatrists do psychotherapy, like psychologists do. It is not unusual for a patient to see a psychiatrist or family physician for medication while seeing a psychologist for psychotherapy.
For more information on the study and practice of psychiatry, please visit the website of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.
In Ontario there are many who do counselling and psychotherapy, but are not psychologists or psychiatrists. While many of them do good work, not all of them are trained to fully assess and determine the best treatment options for you, nor do they have a license to diagnose. Whomever you consult, it is important to ask them about their education, professional training and supervised clinical experience. Look for a practitioner who has met a high standard of clinical training and provides a high standard of care. To verify a regulated professionals' credentials you can call their college or search the public register on their website (e.g., College of Psychologists of Ontario, member search).
What happens on your first visit?
At your first appointment you can expect that I will ask you to describe your problem(s) and how it is affecting you in your day to day living. You will be asked about your personal history, which will likely include questions about your early development and experiences, your education and work history, your marital status and interpersonal relationships. You will also be asked about what medications you are on and your use of alcohol or drugs. This information-gathering phase can take a few sessions and, with your permission, may be supplemented by the use of psychological tests.
During the information-gathering phase we will discuss our joint impressions of your difficulties and we will collaborate to determine the best treatment options. Treatment options include psychodynamic or insight oriented psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and therapy that is more solution focused. Early on in the treatment, I will help you identify what you want to achieve in therapy and will educate you about how psychotherapy works and how you can use the therapeutic relationship to help reach your goals. Psychologists are trained to work collaboratively with patients to ensure that you are an informed consumer and an active participant in the treatment process. Anytime you have questions or concerns you are encouraged to let me know.