How do I know if seeing a Social Worker is right for me?

Social workers provide services to individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities. Many Social Workers in private practice provide different types of counselling or psychotherapy, while others specialize in areas like grief counselling, couples counselling, childhood trauma or phobias. It helps to see which RSWs work in your community and what services they offer.

When individuals start seeing a registered social worker, they don’t always know what exact services  they need. A registered social worker will help them assess the situation and from there, will take the individual on as a client, or refer the individual to another professional. 

Why should I consult a Social Worker?

People consult social workers when they are going through a difficult period in their personal, family and/or work lives. Social workers help identify the source of stress or difficulty, help people to develop coping skills and find effective solutions to their problems.  They offer various forms of counselling and therapy, and mediate between conflicts.(Source:OntarioAssociation of Social Workers)

What is the difference between a social worker and a registered social worker?

There is no difference between the two titles.  Bear in mind that only Registered Social Workers are allowed to carry the title social worker or registered social worker and the designation R.S.W. (P.S.W in Quebec). If you are unsure if the person you are seeing is registered, contact the Regulatory Organization to confirm that he or she is on the registry.

What is a Clinical Social Worker?

Some jurisdictions, such as Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan distinguish Clinical Social Workers from social workers and Registered Social Workers. Clinical Social Workers hold advanced clinical certificationsthat allow them to independently use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in order to make a mental health diagnosis. These provinces hold a clinical registry for this purpose.

What is a Social Service Worker?

In Ontario, there are Registered Social Workers (RSW) and Registered Social Service Workers (RSSW). While they work in a similar field, Registered Social Service Workers work with less autonomy. Most RSSWs have a 2-year diploma from a Collegeof Applied Artsand Technology while Registered Social Workers have a university degree or higher. Social Service Workers do not commonly work in private practice. See for more information.

I am unsure if I should see a social worker or another mental health professional, what should I do?

In Canada, there are a number of professions that can assist individuals going through a difficult time and need help. If you have a family doctor, you may want to ask him or her for advice to learn about the options in your community. See RSWs and related professions to learn more about the professions that offer services related to mental health.

Do I Need a referral to see a Social Worker?

No, but you may wish to discuss this issue with your doctor and obtain a referral to help you obtain coverage from an extended health plan. Not all plans require a doctor's referral. Check your plan to see if it is necessary.

Are Social Work Services in private practice covered by public or private healthcare?

Services of Social Workers in private practice are not covered by public healthcare.  They may be covered under a private health plan or employee group benefits plans; ask your provider (you can check our overview of provider coverage). If social work is not currently covered in your extended health plan, request that it be added. You may be eligible to access the services of a social worker through a public provider.  Check your local telephone listings under "Social and Human Service Organizations".

What if I have a complaint about a Social Worker?

Social workers are regulated in all jurisdictions except the Yukon and Nunavut. If you have concerns about the conduct or actions of a social worker where they are regulated, contact the Regulatory Organization directly for information regarding the complaints process.

What qualifications are required of Employee Assistance Programs( EAP) Counsellors

A survey of EAP providers revealed that EAP Counsellors have a Master’s degree in a relevant field; this includes Social Work, Psychology, Counselling Psychology, or Educational Counselling. EAP Counsellors must have experience, and the amount of experience varies by insurance provider from undefined to 5 years. EAP Counsellors are required to register with their professional body/regulatory organization. ?(For more information see Employee Assistance Programs in Canada – An Overview at

How will my employees benefit if my company adds RSWs to our group benefit plan?

Adding RSWs to benefit plan coverage allows your employees access to more qualified counselling practitioners and shorter wait times. It also increases employee’s flexibility in obtaining services that meet their specific needs. See benefit provider overview for a list of providers who already offer RSWs in their standard plans or options.

How do I find an RSW in my area?

Each regulatory organization provides a list of Registered Social Workers. Many also post private practice information of their registered members. Some provinces post an online directory, if yours does not, then type the following search words into a search engine like Google.

Links for this question:

What can I do to help get services of RSWs covered?

  • Ask your union representative, employer or human resources department to add social worker to the list of professional services included in the employee benefits plan.
  • If you have a private health plan, request that social worker services be added to your plan. Tell your insurance company that you believe that social work services should be a standard benefit in all insurance policies.