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Did you know that counsellors and psycho­therapists in Alberta are neither regulated nor licensed? What this means is that Albertans don’t have the kind of safety protections and government oversight that they would other­wise have with psychologists, clinical social workers, nurses, dentists, doctors, and other health care professionals.

While counsellors and psychotherapists are regulated in Ontario and Quebec, for exam­ple, anyone in Alberta can currently call themselves a counsellor without any training or certification.

Client safety and other concerns

In Alberta, many therapists are members of professional associations, and they’re genuinely concerned about the qual­ity of mental health care available in the prov­ince. This is one area where we don’t want Alberta to live up to its reputation of being “the wild west.”

You may not know about the difference be­tween counsellors, psychotherapists, psy­chologists, or clinical social workers, and that’s okay. That’s why these professional as­sociations exist – because it’s important to ensure you’re not put at risk when seeking help. Through advanced education require­ments, competency certification, ethics codes and disciplinary procedures, these associa­tions provide the standards and accountabil­ity otherwise found through regulation and li­censure.

Yet practicing in an unregulated province has its drawbacks. Your benefits plan through your employer may not cover your therapist. Neither will Blue Cross, under most circumstances. In Al­berta, if any professional association expels a counsellor, that counsellor can still offer their services anyway (albeit without any liability insurance coverage). For exam­ple, if a counsellor commits serious miscon­duct, there is no license to take away from that counsellor, and thus no legal barrier to continuing to practice without accreditation.

We need regulation

That’s why the Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in Alberta (FACT-Alberta) formed to push for regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists. FACT has worked with the Government of Alberta for years to set up a regulatory college. By the start of 2019, FACT achieved two major milestones.

The first was the passage by the Government of Alberta of the Mental Health Services Pro­tection Act in December 2018. The second was the creation of the Association of Coun­selling Therapy of Alberta (ACTA) at the government’s request. ACTA is the precursor to the new regulatory college and will au­tomatically become the College of Counsel­ling Therapy of Alberta once the new act is “proclaimed.” That means the date on which the government declares all, or part, of a new law to come into effect.

Still awaiting proclamation

Pandemic delays aside, this all looked to be well on track by summer 2021. ACTA and FACT had successfully progressed in their planning to the point where the Minister of Health simply had to support the legislation’s proclamation and receive Cabinet approval.

And then, in September 2021, the govern­ment unexpectedly stopped the process.

And we don’t really know why, considering that everyone involved had been working closely with the government all along (and the government also received over five thou­sand letters of support). Since then, we’ve had a change in premier and health minister, but still no official word on just what exactly happened to the regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists in Alberta.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues creating unprecedented mental health strain on people. The need for safety and regulation has never been greater.

Your voice

This is where you come in. Whether you’re seeking a counsellor, or you already have one, you can remind the Government of Al­berta how this would help you. We need reg­ulated, professional oversight that acts en­tirely in your interests, just like that of para­medics, optometrists, midwives, pharmacists, and everyone else listed here. It only makes sense.

You can write to your MLA (find yours here), or sign ACTA’s petition along with your family, friends and coworkers. You can also write to the current Minister of Health, the Honourable Jason Copping, at 423 Legisla­ture Building, 10800 - 97 Avenue, Edmon­ton, Alberta, T5K 2B6 (although it would be quicker to email him at health.minis­

Until then

In the meantime, if you’re seeking a counsel­lor or psychotherapist in Alberta, look for one who has received appropriate professional accreditation.

My professional association is the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), a nationwide association of mental health professionals. The CCPA accredits qualifying practitioners with the designation of Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC). The CCPA has provided professional credibility to mental health professionals in unregulated provinces for almost 60 years.

To receive a CCC accreditation, one must have a graduate level degree in providing psychotherapy (or equivalent), along with a minimum number of supervision and practice hours, not to mention professional references and a clean background check. The CCPA takes certification very seriously and sets eth­ics and practice standards that are comparable to other regulated mental health professions.

Other professional associations with the same goals include the Association of Cooperative Counselling Therapists of Canada (look for RTC, ACC or MTC), or the Canadian Profes­sional Counselling Association (look for RPC or MPCC). In British Columbia, which is also currently unregulated, qualified mem­bers of the BC Association of Clinical Coun­sellors have an RCC accreditation.

This can all be confusing for the first-time seeker of counselling. If you have any ques­tions, or need further clarification about any­thing, please reach out to me anytime.

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