Photo By: Priscilla du Preez from Unsplash

*CONTENT WARNING: This article contains subject matter related to mental health, therapy and counselling.*

The Canadian mental healthcare landscape has greatly evolved over the past decade. This can partly be attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental health. 

For young people around the world, COVID-19 has presented a unique set of mental challenges. Between the stress of social isolation and adjusting to a “new normal”, a large majority of children and youth in Ontario have reported a general decline in their mental health.

Though the current system is far from perfect, access to mental health resources has, for a large majority, grown tremendously. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t change the fact that starting therapy can be a very daunting experience. 

Seeking help from a professional requires extreme vulnerability — often with multiple different professionals before finding the right fit — and there isn’t necessarily a quantitative metric to gauge whether it is working or not. As more people seek out mental health resources, there is still a great deal of hesitancy when it comes to facing the first (and likely largest) hurdle: choosing the right professional to meet their needs. 

People seek therapy for a variety of reasons. It can be an invaluable resource for trauma recovery, managing mental health conditions, or navigating relationships. Knowing what is bringing you to therapy allows you to set goals for yourself and discussing these goals with your therapist can help you work together to build an effective treatment plan. There are also times when it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is bringing you to therapy. In these cases, therapy can still be a helpful tool in organizing your thoughts and emotions. Having this conversation early on can also help you gauge whether a particular professional is a good fit for you. 

Finding the right mental health professional can be described as an artform; there’s no single way to go about it. Ideally, you could walk into any professional’s office and find exactly the type of help you need. In the real world, however, this process is much more complicated. Some factors in determining a good fit include the professional’s academic background, field of practice, and general approach to taking on new clients. 

Oftentimes, mental health professionals specialize in certain age groups or treatment types. With so many options available, it’s important to consider which approach aligns best with your goals, ranging from traditional psychodynamic therapy to more structured kinds of behavioural therapy. If a professional’s area of expertise doesn’t align with your goals, it might be worth exploring other options.

Another factor that is often overlooked when searching for a care provider is cultural background. Information on ethnic minorities’ mental health is often difficult to find in mainstream psychological literature. This means that a distinct majority of psychological treatments in use today are based on research that did not include minority populations. 

Knowing this, especially in a country as diverse as Canada, we must acknowledge differing cultural nuances that dictate the way we think and interact with others and how they may impact our experiences in therapy. For example, a therapist who spends most of the session listening might be perceived as distant by a client who may be used to more vocal communication at home.

“It’s definitely been a learning curve [working with] a therapist who was born and raised in Canada. It took a long time to help them understand why ‘setting boundaries’ or ‘talking about my feelings’ wasn’t realistic in my household,” said a Brock student who wished to remain anonymous. “I think there’s a much higher [degree of] independence and privacy here compared to back home, so some of their recommendations just wouldn’t work in my situation.”

This, of course, is a small piece of the larger issue at hand: a lack of representation in the profession as a whole. In this case, representation is not limited strictly to cultural background; it extends to gender, age, ethnicity, and sexuality too. In order to be effective, therapy requires a high degree of vulnerability, and hence, a high degree of trust between the client and the professional. In order to foster this kind of environment, it’s important for clients to feel like they belong. However, it’s hard to feel like you belong in a place where no one looks, talks, or acts like you. 

While this isn’t a problem that can be fixed overnight, it has gained traction over the past few years with the introduction of culturally sensitive therapy. This methodology emphasizes a therapist’s understanding of their client’s cultural background and core belief system. This principle can be easily incorporated into most treatment plans and promotes mutual cultural competence, which can be instrumental in strengthening the client relationship. 

“I didn’t realize this was something people were talking about,” said the anonymous student. “It’s great to see that people actually care about representation and that professionals are taking it seriously.”

Everyone’s mental health and well-being is completely unique. There are no two people whose life trajectory or struggles are the exact same. This makes seeking help a bit more complicated, but all the more necessary. 

Choosing a care provider is certainly overwhelming, and oftentimes emotionally draining. Given the subject matter, it’s not easy to book a consultation and open up to a complete stranger. It’s very normal to feel drained after an initial assessment, and there’s no rush to move onto the next. There is no standard timeline for committing to a therapist; it’s a big decision, and not one that should be taken lightly. However, it’s important to remember that if you’ve started “therapy shopping,” you’ve already completed the hardest step in your therapy journey: asking for help. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to Brock Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre for a complete list of resources available. If you are concerned about your own or another person’s safety, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room.