Talk to an Expert Mental Health Professional

Who are professionals I can talk to?

Counsellors and therapists are people who take specific training, belong to professional associations, and have ethical standards of practice to ensure they provide helpful services. There are many kinds of counsellors and therapists, and it is your right to ask about their training, associations and standards. 

Psychologists have specific training in psychology and many ways of approaching therapy. They help people deal with their feelings and attitudes and develop healthier and more effective patterns of behavior. Many private insurance plans will pay some or all of the costs associated with seeing a psychologist. 

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained to focus on specific mental health issues and when needed, they will prescribe medications. In Alberta, their services are always free. 

How do I set up my first visit with a professional?

  • Alberta Health Services (AHS) provides experts in mental health. Visit their website or you can call Health Link at 811 at any time. AHS services are free, and usually require intake and an appointment for a first visit.
  • Other mental health professionals are employed in organizations. Some organizations respond to specific concerns and others are more general and can help anyone with a concern. Call 211 or visit their website for details.
  • You can also review websites if you have a specific need, as there are many professionals who advertise their services to connect to clients directly such as www.psychologytoday.com.
  • Some employers provide professionals through a company Employee Assistance Plan and with extended health benefit options.

Do I have to see my Doctor first?

No. You don’t need to see a doctor before you talk to a mental health professional. However, your doctor may suggest someone you can talk with, so this may be an option to consider. 

What will the first visit be like? 

It’s natural to feel nervous on your first visit, and the professional will provide options to help you begin. They will review how they can help, what you can expect to gain, your rights as a client, and may be able to provide or sign a note that you attended counselling. They will also talk about additional counselling visits and next steps.

Will my family know?

Most things you say to a mental health professional are confidential. But they have to act if you or someone else is at risk of serious harm or if a court orders them to give up information. If you are 18 or over, you are considered an adult. If you are under 18, the laws are different. It is best to talk with the professional about this so that you can build trust with them. 

How long can I get help? 

This is an important thing to talk about with the professional you meet with because the answers can be different. The number of visits you can have changes from place to place. It can also depend on whether the service is free or if you are paying. Mental health professionals will be able to help you find other places and people to talk with if they are not able to keep seeing you. 

What is the cost to talk to a mental health professional?

Alberta Health Services provides licensed mental health professionals for free. Many other professionals can do the same or may ask you to consider a payment based on your income. This is called a “sliding fee” (it slides up or down based on income) so people who make more money are charged more for the same counselling service. It is your right to ask about fees and costs including parking, paperwork, and missed appointments. 

If you cannot pay for services, let the professional know when you contact them. They may help you find other places and people to talk with, as they may have options within their organization. If there is a fee, many health care plans cover some or all of the cost of visiting a licensed professional. 

This information was produced by the Mental Health Literacy Project working group:


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