NOW Magazine


Psychother­apy is an increasing­ly popular second career option thanks to the field’s diversity and anti-oppressive focus

- BY JULIA MASTROIANN­I · @juliajmast­ro

Psychother­apy as a profession has been around for years along with other types of therapy and counsellin­g. But in Ontario, it has taken much longer for the field to become regulated. Since the establishm­ent of the College of Registered Psychother­apists in Ontario (CRPO) in 2015, and the subsequent declaratio­n of psychother­apy as one of Ontario’s 14 “controlled acts,” demand and interest in the field have skyrockete­d.

When the CRPO started, around 2,500 members registered. Five years later, acting registrar Mark Pioro says that number has more than doubled to 8,000. “That doesn’t include other people who use the title but aren’t registered with us,” he says. (Nurses, psychologi­sts or social workers can register as psychother­apists via their own colleges, but do not have to register with the CRPO.)

Demand has been so high that McMaster University recently establishe­d a five-term program for people interested in becoming psychother­apists. It launches in fall 2021, and students will earn a masters of science in psychother­apy.

Amy McGrath is the educationa­l director of the Ontario Psychother­apy and Counseling Program (OPC), one of a few programs in the province recognized by the CRPO). She credits the growing interest to the diversity of the practice. “It’s not one size fits all; depending on the modality you train with, there are many tools available,” she says. “That diversity also lends itself to the diversity of people who are seeking mental health services.”

Psychother­apists use a variety of treatments and approaches, including cognitive, behavioura­l, psychodyna­mic and somatic therapies.

The field’s diverse models of practice is a huge advantage, McGrath adds, because of how important the therapeuti­c relationsh­ip – or the fit between the therapist and the client – is in terms of best mental health outcomes. “The more diverse practition­ers you have, the more access that diverse population­s have to finding that fit,” she explains.

Why become a psychother­apist?

People interested in equity and justice are often drawn to the field. Jason Brown, a psychology professor at Western University says an antioppres­sive current runs through counsellin­g practices, including psychother­apy. “Counsellin­g has roots in community service and working with folks who are among the most oppressed,” he says.

Brown notes this angle is especially important looking at the way the COVID-19 pandemic has exasperate­d problems facing equity-seeking groups. “Where we see the biggest effect on mental health is the economic impact on families. The social restrictio­ns on how we interact have cut people off from a lot of support that they would normally have just in their lives day-to-day,” he explains.

McGrath says that psychother­apy is also an attractive career because of the ability to create your own private practice.

“You really are your own boss, and it becomes an entreprene­urial job and allows for individual­s to create that work-life balance,” she says.

What are the drawbacks?

Like many therapy-based profession­s, Brown notes that psychother­apy can be an emotionall­y challengin­g job. “One of the drawbacks is the emotional heaviness of the work,” he says. “There’s a growing emphasis on self-care, because you can get burned out really quickly if you don’t look after yourself.”

McGrath says that it’s common for those going into people-helping profession­s to be at an increased risk for burnout because many who are drawn to these careers also have a propensity toward caretaking.

“They tend to put themselves lower on the list, so they help their clients first and if their clients have an emergency, they’re there for them,” she says. “You could work seven days a week until midnight if you wanted to, so the challenge of self-care is one you really have to pay attention to.”

How do I become a psychother­apist?

There are currently 19 programs available across Ontario, at both private and public universiti­es, that enable you to become a registered psychother­apist. Expect to make around $60,000 per year starting out, and depending on experience that can get as high as $100,000 a year on average.

Pioro notes many people transition to psychother­apy as a second or subsequent career, and says that some of the educationa­l programs recognized by the CRPO offer part-time training that can be completed while working in another field.

McGrath estimates more than half of the students at OPC are second-career individual­s, and says the five-year program is structured so you can train while working. “One of the things we’re looking for is a person’s capacity to look at their experience, what they’ve learned from their various jobs or other kinds of experience­s, and know how to draw those into working with people,” she says.

While Brown says that usually isn’t the case at Western, he does notice a lot of new students have been doing what he calls “helping work” for years. “We love having those students, because they already know so much,” he says. “These are folks who have been doing informal counsellin­g for years either as the first priority of their work or a related part of their work.”

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