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That’s a hard question to answer, partly because there are so many kinds of psychotherapy -- emotionally focused therapies, solution focused therapies, expressive arts therapies, psychodynamic therapies, and cognitive/behavioural therapies, to name just a few. Further, you may be a child, adolescent or adult in treatment, and you may get help as an individual, as a couple or family, or as part of a group. Any psychotherapist you choose will have been trained in only a few of the many forms of psychotherapy, and to work with only certain ages and configurations of clients.

But a few basic things can be said to define a psychotherapist. A psychotherapist is a trained professional who works with people who find themselves in certain specific kinds of trouble: they have trouble with their inner world of emotions, thoughts, and moods, and they often have related trouble with their outer world of social connections, work, and family relationships.

A psychotherapist develops a formal or informal agreement to work with a person, a couple, or a family on these kinds of life troubles, and enters into a helping relationship with them in which mutual expectations are clear. Usually that relationship continues as a series of regular meetings over a period of time, short-term or long-term.

Then the next question arises: But what’s a psychotherapist compared to a psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker? Don’t they all do this same kind of work with people in emotional, psychological, and relational distress?

Yes, many professionals who have been trained to practice psychotherapy have been educated in another profession as well -- family medicine, psychiatry, psychology, social work, nursing, occupational therapy, or pastoral care. They call themselves psychotherapists if psychotherapy is the main work that they do, even if their credential is in another profession. I, for example, call myself a psychotherapist even though my credential is in social work.  On the other hand, some professionals who offer psychotherapy services still call themselves, for example, a physician, social worker, or psychologist.

In 2015, the title Psychotherapist became protected under Ontario law, and a new professional designation emerged:  Registered Psychotherapist. These professionals, who have met the education and training standards of the Ontario College of Psychotherapists, are allowed to assume the title Psychotherapist (further info at ).  At the same time, Ontario law continues to allow physicians, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, and nurses to practice psychotherapy commensurate with their training and competence to do so.

What matters most for you as a psychotherapy client is that the person providing you psychotherapy services has been well-trained in psychotherapy, either exclusively or in addition to any other professional training. For your protection, your psychotherapist should also belong to a college or professional association with a code of ethics, standards of practice, and complaints and discipline procedures. Any psychotherapist should be willing to discuss their education, training, experience, and modalities of practice with you.

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