When someone is first connecting with mental health supports, it takes a lot of vulnerability and courage to reach out. This can be an overwhelming task on its own. Knowing who to reach out to can be even more difficult as there are many specialists across this field. Here is a primer on “who does what” among mental health professionals in Ontario.
Family Physicians/GPs/Walk In Clinics
If you have a doctor that has worked with you for some time, the best starting point is to make an appointment with them to discuss your mental health symptoms. For people without a GP or a Family Physician, a doctor at a walk-in clinic may be able to provide you with basic care and referrals to some of the other specialists mentioned in this article. If you have access to a doctor, this is an excellent opportunity to look at medication, therapy, and community supports that can be helpful - a great starting point. Generally, work done with your doctor is covered under OHIP.
If you need a new Family Physician, you can register with Ontario's Health Care Connect service, where a nurse will support you with finding a doctor who is accepting new patients in your community.
A psychiatrist is a doctor who specializes in mental health. A psychiatrist is able to diagnose mental health conditions, to prescribe medications, and to recommend therapeutic interventions. Psychiatrists do not always have the capacity to provide firsthand therapeutic treatment for mental health issues, and it may be helpful to contact another type of support at the recommendation of your psychiatrist. If you would like to see a psychiatrist in Ontario, you must request a referral through your Family Physician or a walk in clinic. Psychiatrists are covered under OHIP.
In Ontario, the role of psychologist may seem like it overlaps with that of a psychiatrist. Psychologists are able to conduct assessments and provide diagnoses for mental health concerns. Psychologists do not prescribe medication, however they can provide assessment and diagnoses, as well as treatment of mental health concerns by various therapies. Your doctor or psychiatrist may recommend a referral to a psychologist, and your psychologist may refer you to a psychiatrist or your doctor for medication recommendations. A visit to a psychologist may or may not be covered under OHIP, so it is best to check with your referring physician and/or benefits provider.
Psychotherapists provide a variety of treatments to meet your mental health needs. Psychotherapy is a regulated mental health service that can only be provided by certain licensed mental health practitioners. These practitioners are members of a recognized college and are governed by a code of ethics and practice standards. A referral to a psychotherapist may be initiated and/or informed by your doctor, your psychologist, your social worker, or your psychiatrist - or it may be you reaching out to us directly for support. You do not need a referral from another professional to access Psychotherapy support. The decision to access psychotherapy is entirely in the hands of the person who wants help. We provide a multitude of therapeutic options, and your course of treatment will be tailored to your specific needs. Psychotherapists offer talk therapy in person and/or online, and we utilize various treatment modalities to best serve your unique concerns.
Psychotherapists may work with community mental health practices such as hospitals or non-profits, or they may work privately, or in a combination of settings. While psychotherapy is not covered by OHIP, many psychotherapy services are covered under benefit plans, and the option for sliding-scale pricing is something you can discuss with a therapist in your free initial consultation. Psychotherapists do not diagnose mental health concerns, and psychotherapists do not prescribe medication, but psychotherapists can make recommendations if they observe that these interventions could help you.
Social workers and psychotherapists do a lot of similar and valuable work. Many social workers also work in psychotherapy. Social workers may work with various agencies (including private practice) to provide psychotherapy, and may also work in child protection, family services, crisis services, homeless services, developmental sector work, justice/corrections, and school settings. As with the other professions mentioned in this piece, there is no competition between a social worker and a psychotherapist in terms of getting you the treatment you need. At Sedâ Psychotherapy, we encourage you to interview various practitioners to find the right fit for your wellness journey. Social Workers may be covered under your benefits plan, so speak with your doctor and/or insurance provider if this option speaks to you.
Counsellors build a rapport and talk through difficulties with clients - they can be a kind ear when one is having problems, and can help you work through these issues. For many people addressing mental health, a meeting with a counsellor through a phone line or community mental health clinic may be their first step toward getting the help they need. Counsellors are crucial if you find yourself in crisis, as they may work at crisis phone lines and chat services. A counsellor is an excellent person to open up to if this is your first time discussing your mental and emotional difficulties. Psychotherapists also provide counselling, and a referral to a psychotherapist may happen through a counsellor should the counsellor feel that their client needs more in-depth support.
Counsellors in Ontario are not licensed to perform psychotherapy or to deliver clinical interventions, or to claim that they are able to do so. Counsellors are not licensed to conduct assessments, or provide diagnoses or medication recommendations. Many helpful counselling resources can be found through connecting with community mental health hubs. Here is a helpful list in our area of Toronto and the GTA.
We hope that you find this brief guide helpful in navigating the steps of your wellness journey. If you want to explore psychotherapy as an option for your healing, please contact a member of our team or book a free consultation here. Sedâ Psychotherapy supports your health, however that journey takes shape.