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Counsellors aim to fill need clinical support need

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Cathy Dobson

A trio of social workers has started a new private counselling service they say offers traditional as well as newer strategies to combat Sarnia’s most prevalent mental health problems.

“The three of us worked in London together in the child welfare sector and saw the need in Sarnia for more clinical support,” said Dawn Whalls, one of three owners/counsellors at Southwest Counselling Services.

Sarnia struggles with a high incidence of youth suicide, post-traumatic stress disorders and grieving, all issues that present regularly at the new counselling business.

Whalls met co-owners Matt Barnes and Taryn Barnes while all three were child protection workers at the London and Middlesex Children’s Aid Society. Each of them has a Masters of Social Work degree and is registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers.

Whalls, 48, has 20 years’ experience in her field while Matt and Taryn Barnes, both 30, are married, each with five years’ experience, two of them with aboriginal youth in the Yukon.

“A lot of what we see in Sarnia is mental health issues with youth and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) with first responders,” said Matt.

Their research has drawn them to an innovative treatment called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, based on the premise that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts.

“It differs from talk therapy, which is a lot of what is out there right now,” said Whalls. “It also takes less time.”

The World Health Organization recognizes it as effective for PTSD, according to Matt.

All three social workers are trained in EMDR therapy and say it works to relieve symptoms such as anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

Each counsellor has their own area of expertise.

For instance, Taryn Barnes specializes in play therapy for children and teens to help that age group describe emotions and memories.

“It’s not offered a lot in our community and I find it relieves a lot of behavioural issues that children come in with, like physical and sexual abuse, divorce or loss of a parent.”

Whalls is certified in critical incident debriefing and tends to work with families with complex issues.

Matt Barnes is, among other areas, interested in helping clients deal with bereavement and grief.

Soon after opening, Southwest Counselling Services recognized a need in the community to help those going through a loss and started a walking group in September.  Members meet weekly to walk three kilometres through Canatara Park with Matt and other professionals. They share experiences, memories and find emotional support.

Walking with Grief has proven so popular its initial five-week schedule is being extended.

Anyone interested can call Matt at 519-871-8571 or email [email protected]. There is no cost to join.

Southwest Counselling Services is located at 704 Mara St., Unit 207 in Point Edward. Call 519-336-3100 or visit

Got an interesting business story? Contact Cathy Dobson at [email protected] or 226-932-0985.



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