Therapy Without Words: How Counselors Use Complementary and Alternative Therapies to Help Their Clients

View all blog posts under Articles

Mental health care has greatly evolved as a practice. Throughout the past 30 years especially, cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven to be an effective way of treating ailments ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disordersand even more serious psychological health conditions.1

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven to be one of the most sought after and effective ways of treating a large array of these disorders. Today, however, counselorsare beginning to recognize that many individuals need additional treatment to lessen or eliminate their particular symptoms in order to manage their mental illness.

In order to best serve their clientele, today’s mental health professionals are taking treatments one step further. Rather than simply relying on talk therapy as a means of helping their clients cope with their mental illnesses, many are recommending and performing complementary approaches to mental health conditions. Those who have chosen to do so have become leaders in the counseling field, creating more dynamic and holistic outcomes for the clients they serve.2

What Are Complementary Therapies?

Complementary methods are enacted by mental health professionals who believe their clients would benefit from more non-traditional treatments in addition to standard medical practices. These integrative methods combine traditional and non-traditional practices as a means of providing a more comprehensive and individualized treatment plan for those seeking mental health care. These therapies are varied and can include a variety of the following:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Homeopathy
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Spiritual Healing
  • Yoga3

In addition to the above methods, many mental health practitioners also emphasize the importance of lesser-used therapeutic practices to help their patients who may not benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy at all, includinganimal therapy, music and art therapies, and play therapy for children.

How Innovative Counselors Are Helping Their Patients

Today, leaders in the counseling field understand that there is often a need for multidisciplinary approaches to treatment for clients.

“Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals,” writes Wake Forest University Professor Samuel Gladding. “In accomplishing its goals, counseling is a creative process, and counselors focus on helping clients make developmentally appropriate choices and changes. Effective counselors are aware of the multidimensional nature of the profession and choose from a wide variety of interventions when working with diverse populations.”4

Some of the most effective counselors use a number of methods as primary, secondary and tertiary levels to enhance the counseling experience for their patients. Often, these forms of therapy are “process oriented, emotionally sensitive, socially directed, awareness focused, and applicable in numerous forms for working with clients over the life span,” Gladding continues.4

Animal-Assisted Therapy

The benefits of animal-based therapy have been well documented.5 According to the Mayo Clinic, animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people who suffer from a range of medical and mental health issues.6

As a complementary form of therapy, animal-assisted treatment is heralded as one of the most effective means of helping individuals cope with a number of health conditions.

“[Animal-assisted therapy] enthusiasts will be happy to learn that the overwhelming majority of published studies have reported that animals make excellent therapists,” writes Hal Herzog, Ph.D., for Psychology Today. “For example, Maggie O’Haire of Purdue University reviewed 14 clinical trials on the effects of AAT on children suffering from autism spectrum disorders…All of the studies found that AAT was effective…[showing] significant improvements on 27 of the 30 outcome measures.”7

These results aren’t limited to those on the autism spectrum, however. Other researchers found similar patterns among patients who use AAT to aid in a number of disorders, including Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, developmental disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, anxiety and depression.7

Music and Art Therapy


Music and art therapy provides clients with a unique opportunity toexpress themselves through a creative platform while undergoing stress, grief, loss or medical issues.8

Through these creative endeavors, clients are able to address their emotional, psychological, cognitive, physical and social needs and can find a creative outlet that allows them to move forward in their healing process.9

“I have shown art reproductions to very ill patients, even in intensive care,” writes art therapist Irene David, director of therapeutic arts at Bellevue Hospital Center. “[I’ve] observed calmer states and pleasure elicited – a kind of life-enhancing lift to neutralize the clinical experience.”10

In particular, those who have a hard time verbalizing may have a lot to gain from music and art therapies. As Douglass Mitchell writes for the website Good Therapy, “Art therapy supports our process when words are not enough.”11

Play Therapy

Play therapy has proven to be a dynamic therapeutic alternative that works especially well for children who have undergone traumatic experiences.

“In the process of growing up, children’s problems are often compounded by the inability of adults in their lives to understand or to respond effectively to what children are feeling and attempting to communicate,” write Gerry Landreth and Sue Bratton for Eric Digest.12

Through play therapy, children play out their feelings and needs in a manner or process of expression that allows adults to better understand their emotions. In a therapeutic setting, children have the opportunity to reveal their emotions through the act of play, and a therapist can interpret the child’s feelings in an interactive and healthy way.12

For some clients, talk therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapies are simply not enough. Today’s counselors are leading the change when it comes to client care, providing healthy alternatives to more traditional forms of therapy.

For those who hope to make a difference as the counselors of tomorrow, Wake Forest University Online gives students the necessary skills to compassionately provide the highest quality care for their future clients. As the next generation of counselors emerges, Wake Forest graduates will emerge as compassionate leaders.