Demand for qualified counsellors has been growing across Canada. In fact, according to the Government of Canada, between “2015-2024, new job openings (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) are expected to total 16,200, while 16,000 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected to be available to fill them.” (Government of Canada, 2017). While retirement is driving much of this demand, part of the increase also stems from a growing need for counselling services (Government of Canada, 2017). Many Canadians, and especially young Canadians, are experiencing problems with mental health, as “emergency department visits by children and youth from 5 to 24 seeking mental health or substance abuse treatment rose 63 per cent… between 2006 and 2016.” (Cribb, R., Ovid, N., Lao, D. & Bigham, B., 2017).
This dramatic rise in the need for mental health services has led to greater awareness of the benefits of professional counseling. Many clients, though, wonder which counselling services are most effective. Would they be best served by talk therapy, or somatic approaches?
Here is a closer examination of talk therapy and somatic approaches, as well as the benefits that each offer.
Graduates of Counsellor Training Know Talk Therapy Is Effective
Talk therapy encompasses many different approaches such as humanistic therapies, psychodynamic therapies, and cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT) (Mental Health Foundation, 2017). As the term suggests, talk therapies rely solely on dialogue between the counsellor and client to address negative thought patterns, promote healing, and help clients take control of their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 2017).
As students completing counsellor training know, the benefits of talk therapy are well documented. One recent study found that “Psychodynamic psychotherapy is effective for a wide range of mental health symptoms, including depression, anxiety, panic and stress-related physical ailments” (Jonathan, 2010). Another review of meta analyses found that “In general, the evidence-base of CBT is very strong.” (Hofmann, S., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I., Sawyer, A., & Fang, A., 2012) In fact, some professional associations have gone so far as to state that CBT “is one of the most effective treatments for conditions where anxiety or depression is the main problem” (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2013).
In addition, talk therapy is easier for counsellors to offer remotely through online video conferencing services. While offering counselling services remotely is still a controversial subject within the field, many believe it can be useful in providing mental health services to remote and underserved communities (Novotney, 2017). For clients who are concerned about the cost of sessions, worried about the stigma associated with seeking counselling, or who have difficulty getting to and from appointments, the convenience offered by online talk therapy can mean the difference between seeking help or going without. For these reasons, talk therapy is recognized as an ideal approach for reducing the barriers clients may face when seeking counselling, as well as an effective approach in its own right.
Somatic Approaches Offer Lasting Help for Trauma Survivors
While the benefits of talk therapy are well documented, other approaches to therapy have been found to be better suited to the needs of some clients. Clients who have experienced trauma or who have PTSD, for example, can often benefit from somatic approaches to therapy (Khan, 2014).
As graduates of counselling and life skills training know, trauma can affect clients in a myriad of ways, manifesting itself through physical as well as mental and emotional symptoms (Khan, 2014). Pain, sexual dysfunction, muscle tension, and digestive problems can often be present in clients who have experienced a traumatic event (Khan, 2014). As a result, trained counsellors know that addressing the relationship between mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness can be essential to lasting recovery.
Somatic approaches to therapy acknowledge the interconnectedness of these domains. In addition to elements of talk therapy, somatic approaches also utilize body awareness, meditation, yoga, and other approaches to help clients heal from trauma (Psychology Today, 2017). Somatic approaches have been known to be incredibly effective. In one study, for example, eight months after tsunami survivors underwent somatic therapy “90% of participants reported significant improvement or being completely free of symptoms of intrusion, arousal, and avoidance.” (Parker, C., Doctor, R., & Selvam, R., 2008). In fact, some leading experts have stated that somatic approaches are more effective and even essential in the recovery of trauma (Khan, 2014). Given that approximately 9.2 per cent of Canadians experience PTSD symptoms at some point in their life, somatic approaches are essential skills for modern counsellors to have (The Nature of Things, 2017).
Is somatic therapy therefore unilaterally better than talk therapy? While counsellors recognize the benefits of somatic approaches, they also recognize that each client is different, and therefore the therapeutic approach needs to vary. By being attentive to the needs of their clients, counsellors can structure sessions in the manner that will provide the greatest impact.
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Cribb, R., Ovid, N., Lao, D. & Bigham, B. (2017, May 29). Demand for youth mental health services is exploding. How universities and business are scrambling to react. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/05/29/youth-mental-health-demand-is-exploding-how-universities-and-business-are-scrambling-to-react.html
Government of Canada. (2017, September 13). Family, Marriage and Other Related Counsellors. Retrieved from https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/report-eng.do?area=9219&lang=eng&noc=4153&action=final&ln=n&s=2
Hofmann, S., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I., Sawyer, A., & Fang, A. (2012, July 31). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. 36 (5), 427–440. doi: 10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1
Jonathan, S. (2010, January 25). Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Brings Lasting Benefits through Self- Knowledge. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/01/psychodynamic-therapy.aspx Khan K. (2014, September 12). How Somatic Therapy Can Help Patients Suffering from Psychological Trauma. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/09/12/how-somatic-therapy-can-help-patients-suffering-from-psychological-trauma/
Mental Health Foundation. (2017). Talking therapies. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/t/talking-therapies
Novotney, A. (2017). A growing wave of online therapy. 48 (2) Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/02/online-therapy.aspx
Parker, C., Doctor, R., & Selvam, R. (2008, September 1). Somatic Therapy Treatment Effects With Tsunami Survivors. [Abstract]. Traumatology. 14 (3), 103-109.
Psychology Today. (2017). Somatic Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/therapy-types/somatic-therapy
Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2013, July). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinformation/therapies/cognitivebehaviouraltherapy.aspx
The Nature of Things. (2017, January 19). PTSD: Beyond Trauma. Retrieved from