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Career Advice I want to be a Psychotherapist ... what will my salary be?

John Driscoll.

Empire Photography/Handout

Job: Psychotherapist

The role: Psychotherapists – also known as counselling therapists in some provinces – provide guidance, support and therapy to clients suffering from a range of personal and professional problems. That could include relationship support, addiction counselling, PTSD and trauma counselling, family support, career and educational support and more.

“The big thing that they have in common is people are addressing something that is interfering with healthy living,” explains John Driscoll, the national president of the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA). “They come to a counsellor to seek some professional support, treatment or therapy that will address those particular issues and help them move forward in a positive way.”

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Psychotherapists are employed by a range of public and private institutions, and also work in private practice. Mr. Driscoll explains they are often employed by educational institutions to provide counselling to students, by large organizations to provide services to employees and by hospitals and government health-care agencies to help support patients. As a result, their daily tasks will vary depending on the type of clients they see, though a majority spend most of their workday interacting directly with clients.

“Typical tasks across the board would include preparing workshops and working with groups and, particularly in institutional settings, dealing with crisis situations or serious situations that require counselling and psychotherapy skills,” says Mr. Driscoll. “In most cases it is a fair amount of sitting with individual clients, families or in group settings to provide support.”

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Salary: The salary of a psychotherapist in Canada often depends on their geographical location, sector and employer, notes Mr. Driscoll. For example, he says those employed in institutional settings typically earn between $60,000 and $80,000 annually if they’re part of a union, and between $50,000 and $70,000 if they are not.

Meanwhile, those in private practice will see broad salary ranges depending on the type of psychotherapy they practice and their geographical location, as practitioners in urban centres typically charge more for their services.

According to Canadian job listings aggregate website Neuvoo, the average annual salary of a psychotherapist in Canada is roughly $74,000.

Education: Counselling and psychotherapy is currently regulated in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec, and will soon be regulated in Alberta as well. In those provinces, practitioners are required to hold a Canadian Certified Counsellor designation from the CCPA in order to practice, while the certification is optional elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Driscoll says that most employers also require a Master’s level degree or equivalent in psychology or a related field, and some academic settings may even require a PhD.

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“There are people who are hired as counsellors who might have a two-year diploma, but generally speaking in most capacities and in most institutional settings and private practice generally, people would have a Master’s level education, or equivalent,” he explains.

Job prospects: According to Mr. Driscoll job prospects in the industry are good, and continue to increase as more employers offer counselling services to their employees.

“In addition to being eligible for employee assistance support, which is usually done by a counsellor, there are often funding arrangements in an employee’s package that allows them to meet with a psychologist or a social worker on their own,” he says.

Challenges: While the job prospects for psychotherapists are increasing, Mr. Driscoll says most employers require three to five years experience for entry-level positions, forcing many to begin their career in lower-paying sectors like social work.

“Psychotherapists may have to begin their profession in work settings that are very important but might not provide the financial remuneration they are hoping for,” he explains. “For example, many non-profit agencies hire counsellors to support the clients they work with, and the pay rates for those jobs is okay, but it might not meet the expectations of a professional with that level of education.”

Why they do it: Mr. Driscoll says many are drawn to the profession for the opportunity to provide direct support to those in need. “The people who have an interest in doing this kind of work generally have an interest in helping people.”

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Misconceptions: People frequently believe that psychotherapists offer direct solutions to personal problems, and Mr. Driscoll says they are often disappointed to discover how much work is still required on their part.

“A person can have the expectation that a counsellor or psychotherapist is going to provide them with the miracle answer, or provide them with the fix to their concerns," he says. "Certainly a psychotherapist has knowledge of therapies that can be helpful to people, but it’s a journey that you do together, and the person or group seeking that help has to take on some responsibility.”

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