Mindfest 2023: Psychiatrist Saadia Sediqzadah offers tips on how to find the right psychotherapist

Saadia Sediqzadah

Psychiatrist and lecturer Saadia Sediqzadah will speak at U of T's Mindfest mental health fair on May 5 about cultural competence in psychotherapy (supplied image)

In her work as a psychiatrist, Saadia Sediqzadah focuses on mental illness in youth and marginalized populations.

The daughter of Afghan refugees, Sediqzadah is a clinician-investigator at Unity Health Toronto and lecturer in the University of Toronto's department of psychiatry in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine who specializes in early psychosis intervention and supporting marginalized adolescents.

Her clinical practice is primarily outreach-oriented, providing psychiatric care to patients who are homeless, in the shelter system or in Toronto Community Housing. She is also the psychiatrist lead for the Starting Treatment Early in Psychosis Service (STEPS) program, which serves transitional-aged youth with psychotic illnesses, and she provides psychiatric care to youth shelters in Toronto via Inner City Health Associates.

Sediqzadah is one of several speakers scheduled for U of T’s Mindfest event – a community fair for conversations on mental health – on May 5 at Hart House. 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, Sediqzadah spoke with writer Ben Gane from U of T's department of psychiatry about how those considering therapy can find a psychotherapist who is the right fit.

Why is finding a therapist who is a 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. 

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.

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.

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 nationwide 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 health care 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 other advice for those looking for a psychotherapist?

I’m glad they're prioritizing your mental health and seeking help from a professional – everyone can benefit from psychotherapy.

Visitors attend the 2022 Mindfest fair at Hart House
Visitors attend the 2022 Mindfest fair at Hart House (photo by Felix Chan)


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