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Who are Counsellors/Psychotherapists?

Counselling/psychotherapy is the skilled and principled use of relationship to facilitate self-knowledge, emotional acceptance and growth and the optimal development of personal resources. The overall aim is to provide an opportunity for people to work towards living more satisfyingly and resourcefully. While the relationship will vary according to need, it may be concerned with developmental issues, addressing and resolving specific problems, making decisions, coping with crisis, developing personal insights and knowledge, working through feelings of inner conflict or improving relationships with others.

It is not possible to make a generally accepted distinction between counselling and psychotherapy. There are well founded traditions which use the terms interchangeably and others which distinguish between them. If there are differences, then they relate more to the individual psychotherapist’s or counsellor’s training and interests and to the setting in which they work, rather than to any intrinsic difference in the two activities.

A psychotherapist working in a hospital is likely to be more concerned with severe psychological disorders than with the wider range of problems about which it is appropriate to consult a counsellor. In private practice, however, a psychotherapist is more likely to accept clients whose need is less severe. Similarly, in private practice a counsellor’s work will overlap with that of a psychotherapist. Those counsellors, however, who work for voluntary agencies or in educational settings such as schools and colleges usually concentrate more on the ‘everyday’ problems and difficulties of life than on the more severe psychological disorders. Many are qualified to offer therapeutic work which in any other context would be called psychotherapy.

Professional Titles for Counsellors/Psychotherapists

From 2008 to 2010, the Project Working Group (PWG) on Labour Mobility, funded by HRSDC, conducted research related to titles, definitions and scopes of practice for the counselling/psychotherapy profession in Canada and around the world. Results from primary research with Canadian practitioners across the country confirmed clear understanding of the generic term “counselling profession” as being inclusive of more than 70 professional titles including those listed below:

  • counselling therapist
  • psychotherapist
  • mental health therapist
  • clinical counsellor
  • career counsellor
  • vocational guidance counsellor
  • marriage and family therapist
  • psychoeducator

Based on this research and a pan-Canadian survey of practitioners working in diverse settings such as private practice, schools, universities, agencies, and health care, in May 2011, the CCPA Board of Directors passed a motion to adopt for use by CCPA a nationally validated definition of counselling and scope of practice for the counselling/psychotherapy profession.

Definition of Counselling/Psychotherapy

Counselling is a relational process based upon the ethical use of specific professional competencies to facilitate human change. Counselling addresses wellness, relationships, personal growth, career development, mental health, and psychological illness or distress.

The counselling process is characterized by the application of recognized cognitive, affective, expressive, somatic, spiritual, developmental, behavioural, learning, and systemic principles.

Scope of Practice

The counselling/psychotherapy profession:

  • Is attentive to and responds to diversity and inclusiveness;
  • Works in the best interest of individuals, couples, families, groups, organizations,
  • Works in the domains of cognition, emotion, expression, somatics, human development, behaviour, learning, and interactive systems;
  • Promotes mental health by developing and enhancing:
    • personal, relational, sexual, career, and spiritual growth and well-being,
    • personal awareness and resources,
    • decision-making and problem-solving;
  • Remediates or provides treatment for disorders in cognitive, behavioural, interpersonal, and emotional functioning;
  • Applies specific and recognized evaluation and assessment methods;
  • May also include supervision, education, training, consultation, research, diagnosis, and referral.

Professional Regulation

The landscape of the counselling/psychotherapy profession is rapidly evolving. Regulation is a provincial responsibility in Canada. Despite the use of “psychotherapist” vs “counselling therapist” professional titles by province, these professions share comparable scopes of practice, standards for professional preparation, continuing education requirements and code of ethics and standards of practice.

In unregulated provinces/territories, professional designations such as CCPA’s Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC) demonstrate qualifications and adherence to a code of ethics and standard of practice, a disciplinary procedure, as well as requirements to update their skills regularly to maintain their certification.

The map below indicates which provinces currently regulate the profession of counselling or psychotherapy. You can click on each province to learn more about the regulatory status or activities underway:

Provinces/Territories in RED currently regulate the profession of Counselling Therapy: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Alberta is regulated, but the college has not yet been proclaimed.
Provinces/Territories in ORANGE currently regulate the profession of Psychotherapy: Ontario and Quebec.
Provinces/Territories in BLUE are currently unregulated or in the process of regulation.


Some regulated provinces have title protection, whereas others have both title AND activity protection.

Practitioners moving from one province or territory to another must understand and comply with any practice requirements where they are relocating. Practitioners providing virtual inter-jurisdictional services should comply with the practice requirements where both the practitioner and the client are located as best practice. Practitioners must ensure that their professional liability insurance also provides coverage in the province where they are located (as well as the province where their client is located, if different from theirs).