Psychotherapist? Social Worker? Psychologist? What's the diff?!
There can be an overwhelming amount of options for mental health out there, it can feel difficult for us regular folk to figure it out. Psychotherapy vs. Psychology vs. Social Work vs. Coaching - what is the difference? Why are some covered by my insurance and why not others? In the art of full disclosure, Darrell and I are Registered Psychotherapists, and I am also a Registered Social Service Worker.
The general purpose of counselling or psychotherapy or therapy - these terms will be used interchangeably - is to reduce strain, ease mental health and increase your quality of life. You enter into a relationship with the clinician of your choice to work together to bring about positive change in your thinking, feeling, behaviour and social functioning. Individuals usually seek therapy when they have thoughts, feelings, moods and behaviours that are adversely affecting their day-to-day lives, relationships, and the ability to enjoy life. Regardless of what title your therapist possesses, or regulated body they belong to - each clinician has their own approach and area of expertise.
It is key that you find the therapist that fits with YOU and your needs.
Psychotherapy is essentially a talk-based therapy to help improve one’s mental health and well-being. Psychotherapy is now a controlled act - able to be performed only by a limited handful of regulated health professionals; unlicensed providers are prohibited from performing the controlled act of psychotherapy. Some professionals may practice psychotherapy, and not be registered psychotherapists, however, they have to be licensed under one of the other five regulated health professions.
Psychotherapists or a “Registered Psychotherapist” (RP) is one who is registered and in good standing with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario and who may use the title of psychotherapist or registered psychotherapist - or any abbreviation of these terms. They are trained and licensed to provide psychotherapy in Ontario. There are a number of registration requirements in order to become registered such as; completion of jurisprudence, a minimum of 1,000 direct client hours, receive clinical supervision, a minimum education level of a master’s degree or diploma in counselling and/or psychotherapy. You are also required to complete an exam. If you see the title Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) (or RP[Q]), that just means they are going through the registration process and have not yet passed the exam and/or completed the direct client contact or clinical supervision hours. A registered psychotherapist is not able to diagnose, nor prescribe medication. They are able to conduct assessments and provide treatment (aka therapy). The average cost for psychotherapy in Kingston is $120-$150 per individual session. Registered Psychotherapy is often covered under private/work health insurance benefits. As with all insurance coverage, it is important to check in with your insurance provider as it really depends on what coverage your company purchases. It is always an unpleasant surprise to have attended some appointments, made a connection and then to find out that you will not be reimbursed the fees.
Registered Social Workers
Registered Social Workers (RSW) provide psychotherapy and are registered and in good standing with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). An RSW has a master’s degree and again, like an RP have completed the necessary ethical and professional requirements to obtain this standing. A Registered Social Service Worker (RSSW) is one who has a diploma in social services or a social service related field and has completed the necessary ethical and professional requirements. The OCSWSSW believes “a member is not fully prepared to perform the controlled act of psychotherapy until they have completed 2,000-3,000 hours of supervised experience”. RSWs are not able to diagnose people, nor are they able to prescribe medications. They are able to provide assessment and treatment or therapy. Registered social work is often covered under private or work insurance benefits. In Kingston, the average cost for individual sessions is $150-$175.
Psychologists are most often confused with Psychotherapists - I think just the similarity between the words Psychology and Psychotherapy makes this happen. Psychotherapists are not Psychologists, but Psychologists can practice Psychotherapy. Psychologists have a master’s degree and a doctoral level degree in psychology. Some jurisdictions award the title “Psychologist” to those at the master’s degree level instead of the doctoral level and the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) recognizes this title for those in Ontario. Something you may need to confirm with your insurance provider is does the Psychologist you see need to have their Ph.D., or not? Only your insurance provider can clarify this. Psychology may be covered under private or work health insurance benefits - it is our experience that most Federal government agencies only approve psychology benefits, so you have no choice but to see a psychologist unless you want to pay out of pocket. Psychologists are able to provide diagnoses, but not prescribe medications. Like the others, they are able to provide assessment and treatment/therapy. In Kingston, this designation may be hard to find as there are not many locally and/or there may be long waiting lists. In Kingston and area, the average price for psychology is $200 per session.
The only profession who can offer diagnosis and prescribe medication is a psychiatrist or a family physician (GP). A psychiatrist usually provides more intensive medical care for complex mental health. While they may integrate psychotherapy into their practice, they typically focus on diagnosis and medication. Family physicians may have specialized training in counselling, however often tend to refer out for this. Both psychiatrists and family physicians are covered by OHIP and there may be lengthy waitlists to access these services.
Coaching, consulting or being a “life coach” is an unregulated health profession in Ontario or Canada. As such, there are no regulations to be a coach. One may call themselves a coach and offer these services without any mandatory regulatory body, education or certification. However, most coaches usually possess training or certifications - it is not a requirement. Coaching is generally practiced to focus on setting and achieving goals - working on actions and results; and often takes place from a present or future-oriented focus. It is important to note that while some therapists can be coaches, coaches are not therapists. The term “counsellor” is also an unregulated health professional designation and is not governed by a regulatory body. Counsellors who are not licensed providers of psychotherapy generally focus on everyday life issues through the provision of information, advice, encouragement, and spiritual counselling. From research done in our local Kingston area, the cost for coaching has been difficult to find, but it appears that there are often packages of sessions where the more you purchase, the less expensive the per session cost. Out of the six coaching websites I was able to find, only one of them listed their prices. These services are not usually covered under private or work health insurance benefits, nor are they covered by OHIP. These are costs you pay out of pocket.
Each Therapist or Psychologist will have their own modality, expertise or specialty within the therapy they provide. This may be very important to you, or it may not be important at all - there is no right or wrong. We encourage you to thoroughly research the Therapist you will end up seeing, ask the questions that are important to you. Ultimately, the goal for both us, and you, is that you feel better, more at ease and comfortable in your life.