Understanding Therapy

January 21, 2017 - 9:52am

by Eric Bailey, MMFT - Catholic Family Services

Looking for therapy? Need to talk to a counsellor? You'd better do some homework.

I was watching a commercial the other day and the company referred to their sales people as "counsellors". Banks also have counsellors to help you make financial decisions (I have no idea what qualifications or training they have). Petland advertises for counsellors as well. They are looking for sales people.

The word "counsellor" has no meaning. In fact when Ontario created legislation to protect the public and provide some standards for counselling, they decided to use the word "psychotherapy" because the word "counsellor" is to broadly used to even legislate. In other words the word "counsellor" has no meaning.

Saskatchewan currently does not regulate the field of mental health.

FACT-SK.org is currently lobbying the government for regulation. At this point anyone can put up a sign to provide counselling. The only way to know what you are getting is to ask questions. Some good questions to ask are: "What association do you belong to?""Do you have training or experience working with (insert problem)?""What training do you have?" In Ontario the minimum education qualification required is a masters degree (except for those who have been " grandfathered" in, which means that they are assumed to be qualified by experience). By asking questions and knowing what answers you are looking for you can better protect yourself.

Training and experience are the basis of a therapists areas of competence. Every school approaches education and practice differently. Each association requires certain areas of training and certain amounts of supervision to be at different levels within that association. I cannot describe the training or expectations of each school or association but I can describe what is required for the school I attended and the association I am a part of.

I attended the University of Winnipeg for the Masters of Marriage and Family Therapy degree. The class portion of this degree covers many of the basics (child, adolescent, adult therapy) with a strong focus on diversity, couple, family and trauma.

All of this training is done through a systemic lens. Wikipedia describes family therapy at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_therapy and AAMFT describes MFTs (marriage and family therapists) at https://www.aamft.org/iMS15/AAMFT/Content/Membership/Why_Join.aspx/. The key part of the training I experienced is the required 4 practicum classes. Each class is 8 months and requires a certain amount of time spent providing counselling while also being supervised. The amount of practical experience and supervision varies from school to school but the more that is required, the stronger the training that was received.

Most associations have their requirements for membership available on their websites. AAMFT requires 300 hours of supervised client contact (sessions) in order to join as a " pre-clinical" member as well as a recognized masters degree and systemic training. To reach the next level of membership you must have 1000 hours of direct client contact (sessions) and 200 hours of AAMFT approved supervision. All continuing education is regionally dictated based on state licensing or provincial regulation.

As an agency we (Catholic Family Services Prince Albert) have set standards in place to protect the public and to assure a level of competence. We require a Masters degree (or be in the process of completing a Masters degree). Our counsellors are required to be a part of a counselling association. Group and individual supervision is a part of our support for our counsellors to help them provide quality work and continual growth. We also bring in professional development as well as pay for our counsellors to attend conferences for professional development.

Doing a little research and asking questions can help you know who you are working with as a therapist. Understanding their training helps you feel comfortable with the work they do with you. Knowing the association they belong to provides some recourse if they are unprofessional as well as assurances of having met specific qualifications. Ask questions and make sure that they help you are getting is going to be the help that you need.

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