Seeking a Psychotherapist? This Mindfest Speaker Has Tips
Saadia Sediqzadah is a faculty member in psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a clinician-investigator at Unity Health Toronto. She specializes in early psychosis intervention and supporting marginalized adolescent populations. She identifies as a daughter of Afghan refugees and is the only psychiatrist of Afghan descent in Canada.
On May 5, Sediqzadah will speak at U of T’s Mindfest, a community fair for conversations on mental health. She will talk about finding a psychotherapist who is a good match in terms of clinical approach but also cultural competence and affordability.
In advance of Mindfest, which will run at Hart House, Sediqzadah spoke with writer Ben Gane about finding a psychotherapist who is the right fit.
Why is finding a therapist who’s good match important?
Studies have shown that the success of psychotherapy has more to do with the therapeutic relationship between you and your psychotherapist than the type of psychotherapy you pursue. That’s the key and compelling reason.
What should you consider before starting your search for a therapist?
Ask yourself what brings you to psychotherapy: Are you seeking help for specific mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depressed mood? Or for a specific mental health diagnosis? Are you seeking help for a situation in your life or life event (e.g., school or work-related stress, relationship issues, death of a loved one)? Do you want to explore the past or process past traumas? Or are you simply looking for an empathic listener (as you are lacking that in your life)?
Once you know what your needs or goals are, how can you decide if a potential therapist is equipped to help with them?
If you are searching for a registered psychotherapist, social worker, or a psychologist, they will often have a website or an online profile in a registry that can give you a feel of who they are, the type of psychotherapy they offer, what they might specialize in and elements of their background or identity that might resonate with you.
What if the first therapist you meet isn’t a good match?
Sometimes finding a therapist you feel safe and comfortable with requires meeting with a few therapists till you find the right fit. It’s a bit like “shopping around,” if you will. Many private psychotherapists offer a free or discounted introductory session where you can get to know each other, you can ask them questions, and discuss logistics including prices, scheduling, and location. Shopping around is not so easy if you need a medical doctor like a psychiatrist, as waitlists can be long. More on that later.
What is “cultural competence,” and what role does it play in finding a therapist who’s a good match for you?
Cultural competence starts with challenging the assumption that our own cultural values are normal and anything outside of them is “other.” It’s important for us to recognize and check that assumption before we try to become competent in another person’s culture.
Not sure what to ask a potential psychotherapist? Here are Dr. Sediqzadah’s suggestions for helpful questions.
- What type of psychotherapy do you provide?
- Do you see clients for short-term or long-term psychotherapy?
- I am here because [X] and I am having trouble with [X]. Do you have experience treating clients with issues like mine?
- I identify as [X]/I come from [X] and that is important to me. How do I know you will understand and respect my perspective?
- How long are the appointments and what are your general availabilities?
- Assuming private psychotherapy: How much will it cost? What method of payment do you accept? Will you accept my health insurance?
- If cost is an issue: Do you offer a sliding scale based on income?
- How can I contact you? Do you communicate via email and text?
- Is everything I tell you confidential?
I consider cultural competence to be an interest and willingness to learn about another person’s cultural practices and worldview. It is openness, curiosity, and a genuine wish to understand another culture to be better equipped to help others.
Cultural competence may or may not be important to you as you begin your search for a therapist. It is important to remember that while things are changing, psychotherapy continues to be a predominantly white, cis-heteronormative space in Toronto and North America. If you are a member of cultural, ethnic, racial and/or sexual minority, it may be difficult to find a therapist of a similar background — if that is important to you.
Are there tools to help find a therapist psychotherapist who shares your cultural identity?
I recommend searching registries for psychotherapists who self-identify as such or indicate experience or an interest in working with populations that you identify with. In Canada, I highly recommend Healing in Colour, a nation-wide registry of psychotherapists who identify as Black, Indigenous and/or other people of colour (BIPOC) who support BIPOC populations and any of their intersecting identities including LGBTQIA2S+ and religion.
What are some barriers to accessing effective psychotherapy in Ontario that people may encounter?
Cost is probably the top barrier to accessing psychotherapy. In Ontario most psychotherapy providers are private, and depending on the client’s situation, paid for by private medical insurance or out of pocket. Only those with a medical degree (psychiatrists and family doctors who provide psychotherapy) are covered by OHIP. Unfortunately, almost anything in healthcare that is covered by OHIP will have a waitlist.
There are psychotherapists from a variety of different backgrounds who work at certain allied health organizations or not-for-profits that offer free psychotherapy. You can check out a list here. Once again, these will have long waitlists and are mostly time limited.
Any final words for those looking for a psychotherapist?
I’m glad you’re prioritizing your mental health and seeking help from a professional. Everyone can benefit from psychotherapy!
Want to learn more? Join Saadia Sediqzadah at her Mindfest presentation on Friday, May 5, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm at Hart House in the Music Room. To learn more about Mindfest and discover all our presentations, visit Mindfest.ca.