Dr. Pauline Lysak
Psychiatrist, Victoria BC
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Finding a Psychiatrist in Victoria BC

Tips and suggestions to get the care you need

Note: The information on this page is not provided (or approved) by Island Health. See below.

Obviously, getting in to see a psychiatrist in Victoria is not easy. With that in mind, we hope you find the following suggestions to be helpful. Please note, this page covers adult psychiatry, not child and adolescent.

Start With a Family Doctor

To see a psychiatrist in BC, you need a referral from another doctor. In emergencies, this is the ER doctor. Otherwise, referrals usually come from a family doctor. If you don't have your own family doctor, seeing a doctor at a walk-in clinic is completely acceptable. They would then send a letter to the psychiatrist (or Island Health program) asking for you to be seen.

Keep in mind that family doctors are perfectly capable of treating mental illness and do so every day. Most routine situations do not require a psychiatrist. If they think you do need to see a psychiatrist, they can assess the urgency. They'll also send you to the right place in the system.

Urgent Care

If the family doctor you see feels your situation is causing enough distress or risk that it should be dealt with quickly, but doesn't require emergency care, they're likely to refer you to USTAT (Urgent Short Term Assessment and Treatment) program. This Island Health clinic provides access to psychiatrists, therapists, and other mental health workers, plus group programming.

Accepted patients are usually first seen within several weeks of the referral being received. Care is provided usually for up to three months. After that...?

Long-Term Psychiatric Care

As noted, finding a psychiatrist to refer you to for long-term care is incredibly difficult, and may involve lots of luck. The current situation is terrible.

Family doctors are stuck because they often have nobody to send you to. They may feel that you need a psychiatrist for follow-up because they can't provide proper care through their office. They'll often throw up their hands and say "if you can find someone, I'll refer you." It gets even more complicated when you add certain medications to the mix.

They can always try a referral through CARES for the Island Health clinics, or contact private practice psychiatrists to see if they're taking patients (we post this on our website).

One-Time Consultations

Family doctors can also refer you for a one-time consultation, where you are seen once by a psychiatrist (picked by Island Health). Your family doctor gets advice back that they use to provide care for you themselves. If your needs are anything less than urgent, this may be your best bet.

Since they cut back who is seen at VMHC for ongoing care, Island Health has made it easier to get one of these one-time consultations. Last we checked, this could still happen fairly quickly (a month or two). Unfortunately, it's not widely known how to arrange this. To do so, ask a family doctor to send a referral to mental health intake (see "CARES") and specify on the form that it's for a "one-time consultation."


For many problems, a psychologist, clinical counsellor, or other therapist may be helpful, possibly in conjunction with a family doctor. If money is tight, the Victoria Disability Resource Centre provides a list of free and affordable counselling providers.

There are also many other things you can do to improve your mental health, in conjunction with family doctors and other treatment providers. These include:

  • Learn about medical problems that show up as mental health symptoms, and what tests to ask a family doctor for.
  • Accurately communicate your symptoms and get the most from too-short medical appointments.
  • Avoid the mistakes most people make with medications and other treatments.
  • Understanding how exercise, diet, sleep, caffeine, cannabis, alcohol, supplements, therapy, medications, and more can affect your mental health.
  • Identify reliable mental health information, resources, and providers that are right for your own unique needs.
Why is Finding a Psychiatrist so Difficult?

In Victoria, there aren't enough psychiatrists for all the people who would benefit from seeing one (i.e. supply and demand).

It's a bit more complicated than that actually. Most of the psychiatrists in Victoria work for Island Health programs. That includes emergency and inpatient treatment at RJH, and various outpatient programs. You need to meet certain criteria to be eligible to attend those programs.

You can also see a psychiatrist in private practice, i.e. not working for one of the Island Health programs (but still paid for by MSP). Unfortunately, there are very, very few psychiatrists in private practice in Victoria.

In the past, this wasn't as much of a problem, as most people were actually seen through Island Health outpatient programs. Unfortunately, in 2016-2017, they substantially tightened their criteria, so far fewer people were eligible. That left far more people looking to the very few private practice psychiatrists for help.

Things have only gotten worse since that time for non-urgent care, which is provided at Victoria Mental Health Centre (VMHC). Recruitment hasn't kept pace with psychiatrists leaving, and demand continues to increase. At this point (late 2019), we've heard that pretty much the only people getting into VMHC outpatient programs are those who've been discharged from inpatient admissions.

CARES Mental Health Services
Centralized Access and Rapid Engagement Service

Referrals to all the Island Health programs go through a central intake system. This includes for USTAT, VMHC, one-time consultations and more. Virtually all require a physician referral, preferably using a standard form they provide. There are exceptions, including for substance use (e.g. detox) and single session counselling, where you can self-refer.

Island Health Referrals
Referrals to See Dr. Lysak
Not currently accepting new patients

This is because her practice is currently full and there is already a substantial waiting list. Anyone requiring mental health care should, with help from their care team, try to find alternative means of treatment. Sitting on a waiting list for years is not treatment.

Once her waiting list has been mostly cleared, she will start accepting new referrals again, until the waiting list again gets too long.

And no, there is no "waiting list for the waiting list." Sorry.

Referral information
About This Page

This information is provided by Dr. Lysak's office to assist people based on public Island Health information as well as communication with multiple doctors, MOA's, patients, and others. It is not provided (or approved) by Island Health.

Find this helpful? Know something you think should be added to this? Please email us.

Get Dr. Lysak's book:

Your Mental Health Repair Manual

Your Mental Health Repair Manual

An Empowering, No-Nonsense Guide to Navigating Mental Health Care and Finding Treatments That Work for You

We've written a book to address the above topics and others faced by people who haven't been able to find the mental health care they need. Insider strategies on finding treatments and resources plus how best to use them. Meds, therapy, supplements, exercise, diet, ... and much more!

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