Frequently Asked Questions on Counselling and Therapy

Please choose from the following list of inquiries we frequently hear from our clients.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a general term used to describe a form of treatment that is based on “talking work” done with a therapist. The aim is to relieve distress by discussing and expressing feelings; to help change attitudes, behaviour and habits that may be unhelpful; and to promote more constructive and adaptive ways of coping.

Successful psychotherapy depends on a supportive, comfortable relationship with a trusted therapist.

What is the difference between a Psychologist and a Psychotherapist?

Both provide psychotherapy. The difference lies in their licensing body and educational background. All receive supervision/consultation from senior clinicians and/or peers in our clinic.

Psychologist: Typically has a Ph.D. in Clinical or Counselling Psychology. They have training in doing assessments, which includes making diagnoses and providing therapy. They cannot prescribe medication. Psychologists are Certified (Registered) with the College of Psychologists of Ontario.

Psychotherapist: Typically has a Master’s degree in Psychotherapy, Counselling Psychology, or Counselling. Psychotherapists work with specific psychological symptoms and disorders, but do not diagnose or prescribe medication. Psychotherapists are a member of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario.

Why would I see a psychologist or psychotherapist?

They focus on how people think, feel, and behave. Their work can involve individuals, groups, and families. Areas of practice may include:

  • Mental health concerns – anger management, Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Phobias, Eating Disorders, and Personality Disorders
    Addictions (e.g. drug, alcohol, sex, gambling)
  • Adjustment and transitions – stress management, identity, career and vocational, separation and divorce, loss and bereavement, motor vehicle or workplace accidents, chronic illness, and family life transitions
  • Relationship issues – family relationship discord, parent-child conflict, parenting, couple relationship breakup, intimacy issues, and sexual difficulties
  • Socially-related issues and trauma – immigration and cultural dislocation, social isolation, PTSD, child abuse, sexual abuse, and domestic violence
  • Child development and behavioural issues – cognitive and intellectual functioning, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, disruptive and oppositional behaviours, conduct problems, and trouble with the law.
What should I ask when I'm looking for a therapist?

Don’t be afraid to ask therapists questions to find out if you are comfortable with their style and approach. Some sample questions:

  • What educational and professional training do you have?
  • How many years of experience do you have working as a therapist?
  • Do you have specific training or experience working with my particular issue (e.g., trauma, divorce, childhood sexual abuse)?
  • What is your approach to therapy for my specific problem?
  • How many sessions can I expect?
  • Are you a member of an association or professional organization?

You may want to consider whether you want a therapist of the same gender, sexual orientation or ethnic background as you. There may also be other characteristics that you want your therapist to have in common with you, or to at least be sensitive to (e.g., issues of race, culture, age), or other factors that you see as important to your identity and way of viewing the world.

Is what I say to my therapist private and confidential?

Information shared with your therapist is confidential and cannot be disclosed without your consent, except under certain specific conditions. 

Known as “limits of confidentiality” these involve situations where the therapist suspects that harm might come to someone. Harm could include if you indicated that you were going to harm yourself or someone else, you shared that a child was being abused or neglected, or that another health care practitioner had sexually abused a patient in some way.  In these instances, the therapist has an obligation to report this information to the appropriate authority. The courts also have the power to subpoena a therapist’s files. 

Your therapist will explain confidentiality and privacy issues with you at the beginning of the therapy.

What will my first visit to a psychologist or psychotherapist be like?

Once you have the name of a therapist and make a first appointment, it is usual for them to ask you to describe your problem and to ask for details about your personal history. These questions will address such things as when your problem started, what makes it better or worse, and how the problem affects your work or social life. Questions about your personal history can touch upon your experiences growing up, your education and work history, your marital status and interpersonal relationships, and whether you use alcohol or drugs. This information-gathering phase can take one or more sessions and may be supplemented by the use of psychological tests (in the case of a psychologist).

How long is a therapy session? How long will I need therapy for?

A counselling/therapy session generally runs 50 minutes in length with an extra 10 minutes allotted for therapist preparation and documentation.  

How often you will need to go to therapy depends on the nature of your problems. You may have a concern that can be addressed in a few sessions or you may have more complicated issues that require a longer duration.

Many people attend therapy off and on throughout their lives.

How will the therapist plan my treatment?

Following the information-gathering phase, it is important that the therapist discuss with you (and/or your parent or guardian if a child) what they think is the key concern and what can be offered in the way of help.

Therapists should use treatments or psychotherapeutic approaches which research has proven to be effective. Common types of therapy include cognitive-behavioural therapy (focuses on the way that a person’s thoughts and emotions affect their behaviour), emotion focused  therapy (focuses on emotional awareness and processing), interpersonal therapy (focuses on a person’s relationships with peers and family members and the way they see themselves), and family system therapy (works with families and couples in intimate relationships by focusing on the interactions between family members).

What will happen during therapy?

Early on the therapist will help you to identify goals to work towards and explain how therapy will help you to achieve them. Goals can include feeling less depressed, feeling more comfortable in social situations, improving pain management, changing behaviour, or increasing self-esteem. In addition, at certain intervals the psychologist will review your progress in meeting these goals and may have you fill out questionnaires designed to help monitor progress.

During therapy, it is important to remember that changing feelings, thoughts, and behaviour can be hard work. You have to be ready to commit yourself to attending sessions regularly and following through on recommendations. The past cannot be changed, but you can change how it affects you. It is also difficult to change the behaviour of other people. Psychological treatment is primarily focused on helping you make personal changes to improve your life.

There is often more than one way to solve or manage a psychological problem — the treatment chosen can depend on the training of the practitioner and the characteristics of the client. Finally, you are entitled to be an informed and active participant in the psychological treatment process. If you have questions or concerns, let the psychologist know!

Why do psychologists use tests?

Psychological tests are used to gain a better understanding of how you are thinking, feeling or behaving. If a psychologist plans to use a test, they should explain why it is being used and what it will be used to assess. For example, some tests are used to assess and help diagnose mood, some are used to assess memory or concentration problems, and some might be used to better understand personality characteristics. Some are pencil and paper tests that pose questions to which you must answer true or false, while others might require you to manipulate objects or remember numbers or phrases. Testing is used to help the psychologist arrive at an impression or diagnosis of your particular situation.

Information on this page was adapted from Centre for Additions and Mental Health (CAMH).  For more detailed information, please visit