How to choose a Counsellor

Choosing a Counsellor

Grief is a universal response to loss. It is the process that allows us to say goodbye to what was, and get ready for that which is yet to come. It involves experiencing normal yet complex emotions and affects the body, mind and spirit.

BFO-Toronto is an organization where bereaved people come together to provide peer support to other bereaved people. We value the partnership and support of professionals in our work, as we continue to believe in the effectiveness of the self-help/mutual support model. Self-help/mutual support is a process of sharing common experiences, situations or problems. Self-help is participatory in nature and involves getting help, giving help and learning to help yourself as well as sharing knowledge and experience. Self-help initiatives are run by and for the participants and the primary focus of self-help is emotional support, practical support and informational exchange.

In addition to or instead of accessing peer support, people who have experienced a significant loss in their life may benefit from seeking assistance and support from a mental health professional. Choosing a counsellor you feel comfortable with is important and an investment in your overall health. We hope this guide will give you some helpful ideas and options to consider when looking for a counsellor.

Finding a Counsellor
The first step is to decide on who you want. There are two important factors in selecting a counsellor. The first is that the counsellor must be skilled and ethical. The second is that the counsellor is a good fit, someone you feel comfortable with, can learn to trust and confide in. Counselling is a generic term. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists, counsellors and some physicians use the term counselling to describe their work.

Some of the things to consider are: what health insurance coverage do you have? What is covered and for how long? What percentage of the fee is covered? Who will you feel most comfortable with? Is it important to have a counsellor of the same sex, sexual orientation, racial or cultural background and/or one who understands how these factors may affect your grief?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors with specialized training in counselling. A referral is usually needed. GP psychotherapists are medical doctors trained in counselling. Only medical doctors can prescribe medication. Fees are covered through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

Psychologists are trained counsellors. They are not medical doctors. Social Workers and Counsellors with a Masters Degree in Counselling Psychology are also trained counsellors. Their fees are generally not covered by OHIP. Private Insurance plans may cover all or part of their fees - consult with your insurance provider about who may or may not be covered.

Other therapists or counsellors may have specialized post graduate university training or have received training and certification from a private training centre specializing in a particular method of counselling. Their fees are not normally covered. 

Pastoral counsellors have a divinity degree and may have a counselling degree or supervised training. Fees may be charged.

When you have made some decisions, it's time to find some names. Check the names on this list. Check with your employer to see if the Employee Assistance Program can provide someone, contact Community Information Toronto (211) or, look in the Blue Book or speak to your doctor.

Once you have the names of a few counsellors call them for an interview. Most should be able to answer these questions free of charge.

Interviewing the Counsellor
During the interview ask the counsellor to explain in plain language the kind of counselling service that is practiced. There are a variety of approaches to counselling. Some will give you clear direction on problems or concerns. Others will work in partnership with you. It is important that you understand how they will work with you as a bereaved person. While it may be awkward to question a person in a helping profession, it is important to ask a number of questions. Here are some of the questions you might ask.

· What background and experience do you have? What is your specialty?
· What training and/or experience do you have in grief and bereavement?
· What kind of counselling do you propose for me?
· How are factors such as sex, sexual orientation, race and culture considered in your work?
· How will you work with me? How long will counselling last?
· What will it cost? Will it be covered by OHIP or private insurance? Is there a sliding scale?
· How much notice do you need for a cancellation? Is there a charge for missed appointments?
· What hours are available? What happens when you are not available i.e. vacation?
· How do you evaluate your work? What supervision do you have (individual/group)?

Trust your instincts and choose someone you can speak freely to. Choose someone who makes you feel valued and supported.

Your Relationship with Your Counsellor
Your relationship with your counsellor is professional. You bring the problem you have to therapy; the counsellor provides the expertise to help you. The fit with your counsellor is important. The relationship with your counsellor should be caring. In order to help you, your counsellor needs to be objective. Do not work with someone if you feel the process isn't working for you. Contact the counsellor's professional association or regulatory body if you have a complaint.

Professional Governing Body/Association

Psychiatrist/medical doctor: College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
416- 961-1711,

Psychologist: Ontario Psychological Association 1-800-268-0069, (416) 961-0069,

Social Workers: Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW), (416) 923-4848, Or to search for individual social workers across Ontario 

Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (416) 972-9330,

Counsellors/Psychotherapists: Ontario Association of Consultants, Counsellors, Psychometrists and Psychotherapists 416-298-7333,

Psychotherapists: Ontario Society of Psychotherapy 416-923-4050

Note: BFO-Toronto does not endorse any particular method of counselling or individual.

Information from a number of Toronto organizations, including The AIDS Committee of Toronto, New Directions and the 519 Community Counselling Program, was used in compiling this guide. We acknowledge and thank them.