Who Is A Psychotherapist?
Anyone in Ontario, with or without credentials, can hang up a shingle and call him/herself a psychotherapist. One group of psychotherapists belongs to a regulatory college, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. They are required to adhere to certain standards of education and qualification, must demonstrate continuing competence, and are subject to a complaints and disciplinary process. However, even some regulated professionals, such as GP psychotherapists, can practice psychotherapy without formal training. A second group of psychotherapists has one or more university degrees and specialized training in psychotherapy but belongs to an unregulated association, such as art or music therapists, marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors, and addiction counselors. A third group is made up of unregulated practitioners who are in private practice without formal training, professional affiliation or accountability.
This situation is about to change. In order to protect the public from the risk of harm from psychotherapists who are unqualified, the Ontario Government recently passed the Psychotherapy Act, a section of the Health System Improvements Act. Under Royal Assent (June 4, 2007), the name of the new College of Psychotherapists was proclaimed, as well as a transition period before the other provisions come into law. One of the provisions not yet proclaimed is the "Authorized Act", which is defined, in part, as the authorization "to treat, by means of psychotherapy technique delivered through a therapeutic relationship, an individual's serious disorder of thought, cognition, mood, emotional regulation, perception or memory that may seriously impair the individual's judgment, insight, behaviour, communication or social functioning." Another provision not yet proclaimed is the "Restricted Titles" provision, which restricts the title of "psychotherapist" to members of the new College of Psychotherapists.
If the "Restricted Titles" provision is proclaimed, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers who have been authorized to provide psychotherapy by their regulatory colleges will no longer be able to call themselves psychotherapists. According to Mr. Gilbert Sharpe, a partner at the law firm of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, and someone who has played a major role in the development of health law in Ontario for over 30 years, it would have been too confusing to require psychotherapists who were already a member of a profession to be part of the new College of Psychotherapists. The new college was aimed at those who were unregulated but were calling themselves psychotherapists. However, the original intent was that such professionals should be able to use the restricted title in addition to those who were going to be part of the new college. He believes that was an oversight that should be addressed and corrected in the next round of amendments to the legislation. Many psychotherapists agree with him. If psychologists will be allowed to refer to themselves only as "psychologists who provide psychotherapy services" and not simply as "psychotherapists", the public will only be more confused. The new legislation is essential to protect the public from unregulated psychotherapists, but it requires some adjustments to offer people a full and clear range of options when seeking a competent psychotherapist.