How to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist in Canada?
Research shows what clients have always known… when it comes to providing mental health services, level of education does not always equate to positive results. “Genuineness and empathy” by the counsellor have been identified as the most important indicators of therapeutic benefit.
Most practitioners will tell you that for them, the process of becoming a counsellor or therapist began in childhood and evolved into a life-long calling. Curiosity and genuine concern for others influenced the way they interact with the world. This innate drive to help others, combined with specialized training, and supervised experience led to their ultimate career goal.
For those of you who are contemplating a career as a counsellor, addictions worker, or psychotherapist, please read on from here. The information on this page will clarify the differences and similarities for these areas of specialization. (NOTE: In addition to these professional classifications, there are other career options available in the mental health field. Click here for details: Educational Requirements and Career options in the Mental Health Field.
Characteristics of effective mental health practitioners
Regardless of their training and experience, the following personal characteristics shared by professional counsellors, addiction workers, and psychotherapists are indicators of successful practice:
- Comprehensive training in theories and techniques.
- Hands-on supervised experience.
- 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 often times 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 practice self-care physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, and psychologically.
- When confronted with difficult situations, know when to seek supervision or make an appropriate referral.
- And continue to engage in self-examination of your own needs, issues, beliefs, and values.
Adapted from Corey & Corey, Becoming a Helper, (2003).
Similarities and difference between Counsellors and Psychotherapists
The roles of counsellors, addictions workers,and psychotherapists overlap in several contexts. All require interacting 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 primary differences in skill level between these specializations involve; severity of clients’ symptoms; length and depth of treatment; and the scope of the practitioner’s training and clinical experience.
A professional counsellor typically treats common mental health issues that are less severe and shorter in duration than those that require psychotherapeutic interventions.
An addiction counsellor is a multi-faceted counsellor whose scope of practice focuses on treatment of addiction-related disorders.
A psychotherapist requires in-depth training and supervised experience to treat severe dysfunction related to long term mental health disorders.
What do professional counsellors do?
Professional Counsellors treat clients who are experiencing symptoms that cause mild impairment in cognitive, emotional or behavioral function; are marginally functional in most areas of life; and clients who wish to enhance their personal growth or productivity. Entry-level counsellors find employment in setting such as private practice, community clinics, businesses, crisis intervention, hospice, to name a few. The counsellor selects and applies appropriate treatment strategies based on recognized psychological theories, anticipates the outcome, and responds competently to situations 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
The many roles of an Addiction Counsellor
In addition to the clinical skills demonstrated by professional counsellors, an addiction counsellor is trained in aspects related to substance or behavioral addictions: such as recovery, assessment, treatment, management, and relapse prevention. Counselling is conducted individually and/or in group therapy.
Typical Job Duties of an Addiction Counsellor
Job duties addiction counsellors typically encounter in private practice, hospitals, community clinics, residential treatment centers, group homes, schools, and correctional institutions:
- Conduct group and individual sessions.
- Create records of each patient's history and chart progress.
- Assess a patient's psychological condition.
- Crisis intervention.
- Develop and implement treatment and recovery plans.
- Attend staff meetings to discuss patient care.
- Consult with other professionals to collaborate on treatment.
- Assist patients in aftercare programs for recovery and relapse prevention.
- Initiate community outreach and psycho-educational programs.
Scope of Practice of an entry-to-mid level Psychotherapist
The entry-to-mid level Psychotherapist uses advanced assessment skills, psychotherapeutic techniques and in-depth knowledge to treat disorders of thought, cognition, mood, and perception causing serious impairment of judgment, behaviour, and/or social functioning.
Mental health practitioners who wish to incorporate psychotherapeutic techniques into their scope of practice are expected to pursue advanced training and supervised experience. Certain provinces impose restrictions on the practice of psychotherapy, so check with your home province for regulations that may apply.
The job portfolio of a Psychotherapist typically includes the following:
In addition to basic counselling skills, and advanced knowledge in the application of competencies required for the practice of psychotherapy the following are also included:
- Understanding the personal and professional challenges of a therapy practice.
- Awareness of the impact of therapist’s personality, insights and judgment on the therapeutic relationship and the efficacy of treatment.
- Ability to integrate major theories into the advanced practice of evidence-based psychotherapy.
- Ability to evaluate the efficacy of your therapeutic orientation.
- Assessment, strategic treatment planning, and psychopharmacology applied to disorders classified in the DSM.
- Awareness of ethics, multiculturalism, and research as applied to clinical practice.
- Understanding diversity in the context of sex, gender, social and developmental stages when working with couples and individuals.
- Ability to write professional correspondence and case reports consistent with APA guidelines.
- Ability to research and measure the efficacy of your own therapeutic approach.