I need to find a psychiatrist. Can you refer me to one?

Non-emergency referrals to psychiatrists are generally obtained through your family doctor. The first step is an appointment with your regular family physician or a primary (community) health centre to discuss your mental health problem and request a referral to a psychiatrist in your area. If you do not have a family doctor or are not served by a local health centre, you can contact your provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons or Medical Board for help in finding one.

If you experience urgent mental health problems, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, where you will be seen by a psychiatrist or resident on emergency call if required. If you or a family member experience distress and cannot get to an emergency department, contact a distress or crisis phone line service; they are located in many urban centres and regions. This information is available in local phone books or by calling police.

Many provincial health ministries now also provide 24/7 telephone access to a health care provider (usually a nurse), who can offer basic front line advice and can often help you find local services. If you cannot find the phone number in your telephone book or online, call your local community health centre or hospital.

Some provinces offer additional services to patients seeking referrals to psychiatrists.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta offers a physician search that you can search by health region, specialty, and whether the physician is accepting new patients, has non-certified medical interests, or has experience in treating specific illnesses or conditions. If you cannot find the information you need online, call the College at 780-423-4764 or 1-800-561-3899 (Alberta only).

The College of Physicians and Surgeon of Manitoba’s website has a physician directory. Alternatively, call the College at 204-774-4344, toll free at 877-774-4344 (in Manitoba); or e-mail them at cpsm@cpsm.mb.ca.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick’s website offers a medical directory. It can be searched by specialty and region. This directory gives the physician’s full name and address as well as telephone and fax numbers.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador website has a physician search directory. However, referrals to psychiatrists are made by general practitioners only, and physicians listed in the directory may not be accepting patients.

The Department of Health & Social Services of the Government of the Northwest Territories has an index of Hospitals, Health Centres, Clinics and Units. Residents can also consult the online Health and Social Services System Navigator.

In Nova Scotia, psychiatric referrals are obtained only through general practitioners. However, there is a physician directory available through the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. Physicians included in this directory may not be accepting patients.

To access mental health services, call or visit your local health centre to book an appointment. Click here for more information. The Professional Licensing Registrar of the Government of Nunavut is responsible for licensing physicians in the territory. Their contact information is PO Box 390, Kugluktuk, NU, X0B 0E0. Telephone: 867-982-7668 Fax: 867-982-3256.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario website’s Doctor Search service provides information about individual physicians, including practice address, telephone number, qualifications, and whether they are accepting new patients. To find a psychiatrist, use the advanced search. This service does not tell you if a physician has expertise in specific areas. Specialists generally require a referral from a family doctor to book an appointment.

In P.E.I. psychiatric referrals are obtained through general practitioners only. Click here for a listing of psychiatrists in PEI.

In Quebec, referrals to psychiatrists are made by primary care physicians only. Obtain one through your family doctor. If you do not have a family doctor, consult the Portail santé mieux-être.

In Saskatchewan, referrals to psychiatrists are made by general practitioners only.

In the Yukon, call Mental Health Services at 867-667-8346. Mental Health Services provides a range of clinical services to persons with serious mental health problems, including assessment, treatment, consultation and referral. Mental Health Services also provides information and assistance on the use of the Mental Health Act.

I want to make a complaint about my psychiatrist's conduct. Who should I contact?

Contact your provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons or Medical Board for further information on the complaints process governing physicians in your province. Complaints must usually be made in writing. The following is a brief description of how to lodge a complaint, the contact information for the appropriate body and the link to further electronic information.

To lodge a complaint in Alberta, mail in a completed, signed Complaint Reporting Form and a Release of Information Form to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. The contact information for the Alberta College is:
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta
2700 – 10020 100 Street NW
Edmonton, Alberta, T5J 0N3
Phone: 780-423-4764
Fax: 780-420-0651
General Public Inquires: 1-800-561-3899
Complaints Line: 1-800-661-4689 (in Alberta)
College Patient Advocate: 780-423-4764 or 1-800-661-4689
More information.

In British Columbia, complete a complaint form or write a letter including your name, date of birth, address and telephone number, the name and address of the doctor involved, a description of the incident in as much detail as possible, the date of the incident and your signature. Complaints are not accepted by e-mail and they must be signed and submitted in writing either by mail or fax. Send complaints to:

The Registrar
College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia
300-669 Howe Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 0B4
More information.

In Manitoba, complaints must be made in writing and signed. A letter to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba should include your name, address, telephone number(s), Personal Health Identification Number (from your Manitoba Health card), the name of physician(s) being complained about, the date(s) of service, the name and address of other caregivers from whom information should be obtained (for example, other physicians, nurses, physiotherapists or dentists), the name of hospital(s), dates seen, and a clear description of the complaint about the physician(s). Mail or fax your letter to:

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba
Attn: The Complaints Department
1000-1661 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3J 3T7
Fax: 204-774-0750
More information.

In New Brunswick, complaints must be submitted in writing to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick. Mail or fax your complaint to:

c/o College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick
1 Hampton St, Suite 300
Rothesay, NB E2E 5K8
Tel: (506) 849-5050 ou 1-800-667-4641
Fax: (506) 849-5069
More information.

In Newfoundland, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador accept complaints in writing. Letters of complaint should be sent to:

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador
139 Water Street, Suite 603
Saint John’s, NF A1C 1B2
Tel: 709-726-8546
1-800-563-8546 (Toll Free from outside St. John’s)
Fax: 709-726-4725
More information.

In the Northwest Territories written complaints are submitted to the Complaints Office who can be contacted at:

Complaints Officer
Owen Heisler
With the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta
Phone: 1-800-661-4689
Email: Owen.Heisler@cpsa.ab.ca
Fax: (780) 424-9617
More information.

In Nova Scotia, complaints must be made in writing. Complaint forms are available on the College website. The College contact information is:

Investigations Department
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia
Suite 5005 – 7071 Bayers Road
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3L 2C2
Tel: 902-422-5823 or Toll-free in Nova Scotia 1 877-282-7767
Investigations Department Fax: 902-422-5271
More information.

To obtain information about the complaints process in Nunavut, click here.
Complaints are addressed to the:

Territorial Manager of Patient Relations, Office of Patient Relations
Department of Health
P.O. Box 1000, Station 1000
Iqaluit, Nunavut
X0A 0H0
Tel: 867-975-5703
Toll Free: 1-855-438-3003
Email: patientrelations@gov.nu.ca

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario accepts complaints either in writing or in other permanent form (such as a tape, film or disk). Complaints may be e-mailed to the College but confidentiality cannot be guaranteed when using this method. All correspondence sent from the College in response to an e-mail complaint will be sent by regular mail to preserve confidentiality. The contact information for the College is:

The Registrar
c/o Investigations and Resolutions Department
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
80 College Street
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2E2
Tel: 416-967-2603 or 1-800-268-7096 ext. 603.
Fax: 416-961-3330
E-mail: ir@cpso.on.ca
More information.

To initiate a complaint in Prince Edward Island you must submit a letter detailing the complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of PEI and send it to:

College of Physicians and Surgeons of PEI
199 Grafton Street
Charlottetown, PE C1A 1L2
Fax: 902-566-3986
More information.

In Quebec, you can request an investigation into the professional conduct of your physician by completing and sending an investigation request form to the Direction des enquêtes du Collège des médecins du Québec:

Direction des enquêtes
Collège des médecins du Québec
2170, boulevard René Levesque Ouest
Montréal (Québec) H3H 2T8
Fax: 514-933-2291
Tel: 514-933-4441 Toll free (from outside Montreal): 1-888-MÉDECIN
More information.

In Saskatchewan, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan accepts complaints online. The contact information for the College is:

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan
500-321A-21st Street East
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7K 0C1
1-800-667-1668 (Complaints Toll Free Number)
Fax: 306-244-0090 (general) or 306-244-2600 (Registrar)
More information.

In the Yukon, letters of complaint must be made in writing and accompanied by a Consent to Release Information Form. Complaints should be directed to:

Yukon Medical Council
c/o Registrar of Medical Practitioners
Box 2703 C-18
Whitehorse YT Y1A 2C6
Telephone: 867-667-3774
Fax: 867-393-6483

More information on the complaints process is available on the Yukon Medical Council website.

What does a psychiatrist do?

The CPA defines psychiatrists as physicians who “enhance the person’s quality of life by providing psychiatric assessment, treatment and rehabilitation care to people with psychiatric disorders in order to prevent, reduce and eliminate the symptoms and subsequent disabilities resulting from mental illness or disorder”. The UK College of Psychiatrists states, “Psychiatrists are informed and uniquely skilled in the integration of medicine, psychiatry, neuroscience and the psychosocial sciences”.

The psychiatrist is trained primarily as a clinician to diagnose, treat and provide ongoing care for mental disorders to patients of all ages. Psychiatrists are primary, secondary and tertiary care physicians. Psychiatrists not only provide direct care to patients but often act as consultants to other health professionals such as family doctors.

Psychiatrists work in a range of settings including psychiatric or general hospitals, private offices, research units, community health centres, social agencies or in government.

Psychiatrists use a mix of treatment options, including medications and psychotherapy, depending on the psychiatric conditions. Often part of the treatment or rehabilitation plan will include referral to or collaboration with a range of social and support services.

How does a psychiatrist differ from a psychologist?

Psychiatrists are licensed physicians with extensive medical training in the causes, diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care of mental disorders. Their medical training allows psychiatrists to understand the interaction between the physical, social and psychological aspects of mental disorders. This training allows psychiatrists to appropriately prescribe medication, to provide psychotherapeutic treatments, and to work with patients, especially those with chronic or episodic conditions, to improve their quality of life.

According to the Canadian Psychological Association, “Psychology is the study of the biological, cognitive, affective, social and cultural aspects of behaviour. That is to say, psychologists are concerned with how people think, feel and behave in their social and physical environments.” Psychologists apply their training in many arenas; some focus on the neuropsychological functioning of the brain, others on organizational behaviour. PhD clinical psychologists have received additional supervised training in, among other skills, psychological testing and providing psychotherapy treatments for mental illnesses. Psychiatrists often work hand-in-hand with psychologists in the care of a patient.

How many psychiatrists are there in Canada?

There are currently about 4,770 psychiatrists in Canada. Demand for psychiatrists in Canada continues to exceed the supply. Many areas of the country lack adequate psychiatric services. Shortages are especially acute in rural and northern areas, even in Ontario.

What is the recommended ratio for psychiatrists to population?

The Canadian Psychiatric Association, pending better-informed ratios, supports a national psychiatrist to population ratio of one psychiatrist for every 8,400 Canadians, as determined by a collaborative study carried out in the 1990s by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Canadian Medical Association.

However, this ratio does not account for social and demographic trends such as an aging population, the ability to detect earlier onsets of certain psychiatric disorders, and the prevalence rate changes in certain disorders such as major depression. Nor does it include the unique needs of special populations such as children, those in the criminal justice system, and the elderly, nor the number of psychiatrists needed as researchers, administrator and teachers.

The ratio also does not account for changes in the nature of psychiatric practices. As late as the early 1990s psychiatrists worked an average of 60 hours a week and often either in a hospital or private practice. A CPA study found younger psychiatrists work fewer hours and the variety of practice locations is growing, with many psychiatrists working in multiple settings.

The ratio also does not take into account the increased demand for psychiatric services resulting from improved treatments, a knowledge economy and the destigmatization of some mental illnesses that has encouraged more people to seek treatment.

What are the qualifications of a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are provincially licensed medical doctors who have completed a minimum of five years of additional accredited training following four years of general medicine training. After successfully completing the training requirements and examinations, they are certified as specialists by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). This is required for specialty registration at the provincial level. In Québec, the Corporation professionnelle des médecins du Québec (CPMQ) conducts its own specialist certification program. This is a requirement for specialist recognition in that province, even if the physician has received RCPSC certification.

Special licenses for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) may be granted by provincial licensing bodies independent of the above, when training and skill can be assessed and attested to locally.

The training requirements for psychiatry are set out by the Specialty Committee of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). Postgraduate training programs are reviewed and accredited on a regular basis.

Some psychiatrists may also complete additional accredited training in a subspecialty area such as geriatrics, forensics, psychosomatic medicine, or child and adolescent psychiatry. In Québec, the CPMQ sets the training requirement for subspecialties.

Many psychiatrists have additional training in the domains of education, research, administration, program planning, advocacy, management, continuous quality improvement, and others.

What does CPA do?

CPA is the national, voluntary, professional association for psychiatrists practicing in Canada. It is not a regulatory body, and membership is entirely voluntary.

CPA’s core activities are designed to help psychiatrists keep up with best practice standards, keep up their knowledge and skill level, and to help them meet new challenges in the field. It helps meet the psychiatrists’ professional needs in a variety of ways, including publication of a scientific journal (Canadian Journal of Psychiatry), practice guidelines and position papers, and provision of continuing education opportunities.

CPA also advocates for changes to national public policies to improve access to quality care and services, increased awareness and understanding about psychiatric illnesses, and improved accountability through more funding for research and improved data collection systems. CPA collaborates with consumer and other mental health organizations in calling for a national action plan on mental illness and mental health in Canada. CPA is a founding member of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.

Many psychiatrists have additional training in the domains of education, research, administration, program planning, advocacy, management, continuous quality improvement, and others.

Where can I find CPA's position on a specific condition, treatment or issue?

All official CPA position papers and statements are available online. Click here.

Can you give me information on a specific illness or treatment option?

For authoritative information about specific treatments (including prescription medication), please contact your psychiatrist or family physician.

I need to contact a specific psychiatrist. Can you give me his or her telephone number?

As a voluntary organization, CPA is required to keep its membership list confidential by privacy laws. Please contact your provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons or Medical Board.

I want to verify my psychiatrist's credentials. Can you do this for me?

You will have to contact your provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons or Medical Board to verify your psychiatrist’s licensure. You can verify the status of a physician by checking the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada’s Fellowship Directory. The membership section of the College can also confirm a physician’s specialist certification in psychiatry.