As psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts it, creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. It is “a process by which a symbolic domain in the culture is changed. New songs, new ideas, new machines are what creativity is about.” Everything in our surroundings is the result of inventiveness, of creativity. Csikszentmihalyi’s idea is that the creative process emerges in five steps: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation and elaboration.
When we take a close look at what we do in counseling, we find the above five steps also, and we see the interfaith of creativity and the counseling process. At the core of the preparation step is awareness —becoming immersed, consciously or not, in a set of problematic issues that are interesting, that arouse curiosity, and that are usually the impetus that moves clients to seek us out. Most counselors strive to bring to clients’ awareness what is happening in their surroundings and how they are impacting what is happening. In the interaction of our observations and their awareness, incubation begins. We want to awaken clients’ sensitivity to the ways they interact with their environment, or to use Thich Nah Hanh’s language, how they are “interbeing” with the world.
During incubation clients begin to see how different situations and events impact them, and even how their actions impact others. Only then can they start conceptualizing change. The moment of insight touches on the spiritual realm, on what brings meaning to the person’s life, as they move, however slowly or quickly, toward an increasing sense of wholeness. Evaluation is related to how values and beliefs inform the client’s decisions, and how the world around them impacts their circumstances and vice versa. The elaboration step, or the step into action, culminates in the transformative movement, or creative peak.
Essentially, I am arguing that creativity is at the core of counseling because clients come to us seeking ways to transform aspects, or the entirety, of their lives through the counseling experience. They entrust us with the task of accompanying them through the process of changing aspects of their lives that they view as problematic. Creating new ways of being is the optimum outcome of counseling. My point is not that counseling is about manifesting artistic endeavor, although that’s not a bad idea, but that we should utilize the power of creativity to change the way individuals can view and approach challenging situations. The creative counselor offers different mirrors so that clients can look at themselves from various angles. As I illustrated in last week’s blog, poetry is a transformative tool for clients, as are theater, music, and painting. Learning to transform undesirable behaviors is also a creative act.
Counseling in general is an invitation to embody change, both in awareness and behavior. As Joseph Zinker asserts, creativity is a changing process, where “changing” means transformative. Counseling and creativity converge at the point of transformation. As counselors we use imagination to help individuals design new shapes for their lives. We create in the first encounter with a client: we start right then and there to create a relationship, and as the counseling progresses, we mold new shapes, and play with hues to create the right ambiance, thus living creativity to its fullest.
Marianela Medrano-Marra is a Dominican writer and counselor living and practicing in Naugatuck, CT. She writes poetry, essays and creative non-fiction. Her publications include essays and four books of poetry.