How to find a virtual therapist

Click to play video: 'Online therapy: The benefits of virtual counselling'
Online therapy: The benefits of virtual counselling
Fraser Health chief psychiatrist Dr. Anson Koo discusses the benefits of online counselling for mental health patients, and how it could have a permanent place in health care, even after COVID-19 is under control – Aug 8, 2020

As some provinces face lockdowns and tighter restrictions, many people are struggling with their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a November 2020 national survey led by researchers at the University of British Columbia in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), many Canadians were not making use of virtual resources to find help.

And though taking those first steps to treat your mental health may seem daunting, more therapists have shifted to online models for better accessibility.

Here is a guide for people thinking about trying virtual therapy.

Finding the right person for you

“One of the best things that ever happened to therapy because of the pandemic is many therapists adapted to work online who would’ve never been accessible before,” said Vancouver-based therapist Hillary McBride.

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McBride recommends looking through online directories like Psychology Today where you can search by area and the specialization you’re interested in.

Talking to your family doctor is also an option since they can run diagnostics tests for anxiety or depression, or refer you to a psychiatrist.

Click to play video: 'Online therapy: The benefits of virtual counselling'
Online therapy: The benefits of virtual counselling

Therapist matching services allow you to create a profile and browse psychotherapist profiles.

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Wellin5 is a B.C.-based platform that connects you to a counsellor within 48 hours.

For those in Ontario, Inkblot is an online resource connecting you to therapists who can treat issues such as anxiety, depression, grief and eating disorders.

The first video session is free to help you find the right match.

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“Not all treatments are created equal and not all kinds of concerns respond the same way to the online world,” said McBride, adding that she has seen a positive response in online sessions for things like depression, but drawbacks for conditions like bulimia.

“But we have some compelling empirical evidence about the efficiency of online treatment and to be a good clinician is to figure out how to adapt.”

McBride is also the host of the CBC podcast Other People’s Problems, where you can listen to therapy sessions she has done with patients.

Normally, therapy sessions are private, but she uses her podcast as a doorway for people who are curious to learn more.

“Having access to what therapy sounds like reduces various barriers for people because they realize, ‘Oh, this is what treatment sounds like,’ and know what they’re getting into,” McBride said.

Check if you’re covered

Depending on which region in Canada you reside in, psychiatrists are covered by provincial health insurance but psychotherapists, psychologists and counsellors are not.

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In B.C. and Manitoba, therapy is only covered through a hospital or a mental health institution.

“In Canada, it’s not easy for people to get treatment and I think that we could do better culturally and systematically to help people who are struggling,” McBride said.

The average cost of private psychotherapy in Canada is between $125 and $175 per session, according to Therapy Toronto, and McBride adds that some therapists offer sliding scale sessions for those with financial needs.

Again, this all depends on the therapist, the amount of time allocated for the service and how much coverage you have.

It’s important to check your private insurance plan or workplace benefits to see what services could be covered.

Other resources

Bounceback is a free skill-building program designed to help adults and youth manage low moods, depression, anxiety or stress.

You can go at your own pace since it’s self-directed online and you meet regularly with an assigned coach.

“It’s all based on understanding how to apply cognitive behavioural therapy principles to anxiety and depression,” said Margaret Eaton, the CEO of the CMHA.

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“About 85 per cent of people say their condition is improved because of engagement with the program and 70 per cent go into recovery as a result.”

The Canadian government also introduced Wellness Together in April 2020 as a response to the mental distress caused by COVID-19.

The initiative offers free live counselling and provides online tools and resources.

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis and need immediate help, call the Canadian Mental Health Association crisis hotline at 1-833-456-4566, the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 (24 hours). 

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