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The head of a group that represents psychotherapists and counsellors says Ottawa’s plan to lift federal taxes on those services is a good start to addressing barriers to mental-health support, but many people still can’t afford to pay for care that should be publicly funded.

Carrie Foster, a couples and family therapist and president of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, says members are required to charge up to 15 per cent in federal taxes, prompting the vast majority of these professionals to include a sliding scale payment model, based on clients’ income.

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The elimination of the GST/HST, depending on the province, will mean some people can continue getting support for a few more sessions. “If I can have them come in for another three or four sessions, that would be incredible.”

Other professionals who provide mental-health services, including psychologists, social workers and nurses, are exempt from charging federal taxes, which led the association to begin lobbying the government for parity more than 12 years ago.

An estimated 14,000 certified psychotherapists and counsellors work across Canada. They’re regulated in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island but called by either title depending on the province even though their standards and scope of practice are the same. Quebec regulates only psychotherapists and all the other provinces are in the process of regulating the profession, notes Foster.

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Andrea D’Onofrio, a Toronto-based psychotherapist, says affordability is a big issue for clients so she and some colleagues began advocating for them in 2019 with a campaign called Stop Taxing My Therapy. She’s among the psychotherapists who started folding the HST into their fee.

“We’ve taken the hit on behalf of the client, to help them access the services, so it’s impactful for clients and practitioners alike in some cases,” she says, noting while the cost of a session is roughly $185, HST in Ontario means the total cost per session is more than $200.

It’s not known when the tax exemption, announced by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Tuesday as part of other affordability measures, will take effect.

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