How do I find a good counsellor? Part 1 of 2

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Part 1: Degrees and designations

Part 1 of this series explores how to interpret counsellors’ websites and listings to decide who to contact for help. In Part 2, we will look at how you know whether or not a counsellor will be a good fit for you!


Clients and therapists alike are often frustrated with how confusing the mental health landscape can be. Do I need to see a psychologist? Counsellor? Psychiatrist? What’s the difference between a counsellor and a therapist? Who do my benefits cover?

While many people assume that psychologists and psychiatrists = PhDs, and counsellors = Master’s degree, this is not the case. Unfortunately the terms “counsellor” and “therapist” are not (yet!) regulated in British Columbia. This means just about anyone can set up shop and advertise themselves as a counsellor, regardless of their ability to actually help or keep people safe. 

While we pressure the government for better regulation and clarity on this front, the average person seeking mental health help is burdened with wading through the different degrees, designations, and titles. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide who to reach out to:

Degrees

Regardless of the degree you see next to a professional’s name, the most important thing is to ensure that their degree is related to counselling psychology! A “Dr. Johnson” could have their training in anything - chemistry, sociology, medicine. 

Therapists with a Master’s degree in counselling are who I typically recommend if a client is looking for mental health counselling, but doesn’t necessarily need testing, assessment, or diagnosis:

  • Master of Education (MEd) and Master of Arts (MA): These are the most common master’s degrees for clinical counsellors in British Columbia. These programs are typically 2 years in duration and require a 4-year Bachelor’s degree to enter, along with pre-requisites in counselling and psychology. The only difference between them is whether or not an additional research thesis was completed.

  • Master of Social Work (MSW): Some Master’s-level social work degrees can be focused in counselling, although this is less common.

  • Master of Counselling (MC): Offered by a few Canadian universities, although most commonly seen in counsellors trained in the United States

Therapists with a PhD are who I recommend if a client believes they need a formal diagnosis, or formal testing for disorders or disability designations:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): Psychologists in BC have a PhD in Psychology. Many psychologists offer ongoing psychotherapy in the same way that someone with a Master’s degree does. Their university-based training in counselling happens at the Master’s level, whereas a PhD provides training in assessment, diagnosis, supervision, and lots of research! For this reason, clients often seek Master’s-level counsellors for ongoing therapy as a) the training is similar and b) therapy is more affordable (typically $120-$150 for a Master’s-level counsellor and $210-$250 for a PhD-level counsellor).

Designations

Once they have obtained their degree, many mental health professionals join professional associations. As mentioned earlier, people can have a PhD, MEd, MA, MSW, etc. in just about anything. These professional designations indicate to you how the counsellor actually practices, and what level of training they have had in counselling.

These are the professional designations most often covered through benefits, insurance, victims’ programs, and WorkSafe BC:

  • Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC): this designation requires a Master’s degree associated with counselling psychology as well as many additional hours of training and supervision; typically this will be an MEd or an MA, and more rarely an MSW or MC.

  • Registered Social Worker (RSW): again, some social workers specialize in providing counselling. RSWs are required to have a Master’s degree in social work and many hours of clinical supervision. 

  • Canadian Clinical Counsellor (CCC): this designation is virtually interchangeable with RCC for the purposes of training and education, but some insurance providers may only cover one or the other.

  • Registered Psychologist (R. Psych): this designation requires a PhD in clinical or counselling psychology, as well as many hours of training and supervision. 

There are other counselling associations and designations that are less common and often less likely to be covered by your insurance:

  • Registered Therapeutic Counsellor (RTC): practitioners are required to have a 6-month certificate or 2-year diploma, which are offered through private counselling colleges.

  • Master Therapeutic Counsellor (MTC): this designation requires a certificate or diploma, as well as a minimum number of client hours. Confusingly, this designation does not require a Master’s degree. 

  • Registered Professional Counsellor (RPC): no formal education required, but counsellors must have provided a certain numbers of hours of counselling.

  • Master Practitioner in Clinical Counselling (MPCC): again, no formal education required; just a certain number of counselling hours. Again, this designation does not indicate that the holder has a Master’s degree in counselling.

As you can see, British Columbia is in desperate need of greater regulation over the term “counsellor” or “psychotherapist”. This is why I am partnered with FACTBC, a collective of counsellors pressuring the government to create a College of Counsellors much in the same way that there is a college for psychologists. This regulation means better quality of counselling for the public, as well as greater clarity. 

Part 2 of this series will focus on how to determine if you and a potential counsellor will be a good fit. Look for it here in May 2019.

Amanda Thiessen