How to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist in Canada?
Research shows what clients have always known… that higher education does not always equate to competency in providing mental health services. “Genuineness and empathy” by the counsellor have been identified as the most important indicators of therapeutic benefit.
Many professional therapists will tell you that for them the process of becoming a counsellor has been a life-long calling. Beginning in childhood, their curiosity and genuine concern for others influenced the way they interacted with the world. The drive to help others, combined with specialized training, and supervised experience prepared them to pursue their ultimate career goal.
The following general information is presented to help students make informed choices in preparation for careers in the helping professions.
The roles of professional counsellor and psychotherapist overlap in several contexts. Both interact with clients using knowledge and skill to produce predictable therapeutic results. Interactions by the counsellor and psychotherapist are based upon ethical and recognized treatment strategies to help clients alleviate cognitive and emotional distress. Both professionals may qualify for designation as mental health providers through various professional associations and regulatory colleges.
The differences between the two disciplines are based primarily on severity of clients’ symptoms; length and depth of treatment; and level of the practitioner’s training and clinical experience. A counsellor typically treats mental health issues that are less severe and shorter in duration than those that require psychotherapeutic interventions.
The entry-level counsellor is trained to provide counselling services consistent with the ethical guidelines and competency standards set by the profession. Counsellors treat clients who are experiencing symptoms that cause mild impairment in cognitive, emotional or behavioral function, but are still marginally functional in most areas of life; and clients who wish to enhance their personal growth or productivity. The entry-level counsellor selects and applies appropriate treatment strategies based on recognized psychological theories, anticipates the outcome, and responds competently to each client’s unique situation in areas such as:
- depression and anxiety related disorders
- addictions: prevention, recovery and follow-up treatment
- youth, family and couples conflicts
- suicide and emergency intervention
- loss and grief
- abuse and domestic violence
- career planning
- group and workshop facilitation
- A comprehensive education in counselling theory and experience in a clinical setting.
- A basic curiosity to learn and understand human dynamics.
- Self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses. Knowing who you are is the most important instrument you possess as a helper.
- A genuine caring and nonjudgmental acceptance of others.
- Willingness to stick with clients through the sometimes slow process of change without imposing your own visions and values on them.
- The ability to instill hope in disillusioned clients.
- Flexibility in applying strategies for change and adapt your techniques to the unique situations of each client.
- Respect for clients from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds.
- Ability to take care of yourself physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, and psychologically.
- When confronted with problems, take the initiative to deal with them.
- Continue to engage in self-examination of your own needs, issues beliefs, and values.
Adapted from Corey & Corey, Becoming a Helper, (2003).
Your next career step after graduation
Professional Designation - You’ve worked had to obtain a Diploma or Degree in the mental health field. Having designated letters behind your name signify to clients and colleagues that you have met the competency and ethical standards required for membership in a regulatory college, and/or a professional association.
Is designation necessary? That depends on the career direction you intend to take. Professional designation is essential if you plan to work in private practice, obtain liability insurance, and maintain a competitive edge in the job market.
A Diploma from an accredited training college such as KCPC, or a degree from a Canadian university qualifies you to apply for professional designation from a variety of sources. Depending on your career aspirations, you may choose to apply for more than one type of designation:
- The Canadian College of Professional Counselling and Psychotherapy (CCPCP), is a national, self-regulatory college inclusive of a wide range of mental health practitioners dedicated to safeguarding consumers of mental health services. Criteria for membership and fees are posted on the website: www.ccpcp.ca
- The Canadian Professional Counsellors Association(CPCA) grants the designation of ‘ RPC’ (‘Registered Professional Counsellor) to members who meet rigorous standards for education and clinical experience, and are held to the highest ethical standards of the profession. For details on membership criteria and fees see- www.cpca-rpc.ca
- Association of Cooperative Counselling Therapists (ACCT), a self-regulating professional association, provides guidance to help members maintain high standards of competence and professional conduct. Registered Therapeutic Counsellor (RTC), is the entry-level designation. See website for details: www.acctcounsellor.com
A note on Provincial regulations
Professional Counsellors: Most Canadian provinces permit members of professional associations to offer general counselling services to the public.
However, some provinces require certain types of mental health practitioners to register with the provincial regulatory college. (Please check directly with your home province for any restrictions that may apply.)
Psychotherapists: Practitioners who intend to use the title ‘Psychotherapist’, may be required to register with the regulatory college. Requirements for registration include advanced education, supervised experience, and clinical competence.
For requirements in Ontario see: www.crpo.ca/home/info-for-applicants
KCPC is an Associate member of the CCPCP, the CPCA, and the ACCT. We encourage all graduates to seek professional designation with a recognized national regulatory college and/or professional association.