When I began my counseling career many years ago, I worked with the adolescent population. Many of my clients had so many thoughts on their mind they could barely talk about what was bothering them because it seemed that everything was bothering them. I remember a client who was so overwhelmed she just grabbed her head and started crying. She was experiencing loss, cutting, abuse, and extensive worrying. When we would try to narrow down her problems to prioritize and create a treatment plan, she couldn't do it. She had very little coping skills to be able to deal with her problems and she struggled to say what was on her mind. To my surprise I found more and more adolescent clients in the same situation.
I'd go home and think, how do I help them if they don't even know themselves what they need help with. So I came up with a plan to create a "thought poster" a way for them to express their feelings, alleviate stress and bring clarity to their thoughts. What I had my clients do was to draw a picture of their head and inside the head they would write or draw everything and anything that came to mind. I had them use a poster board so the head could be big enough to hold everything. I had more than a few of them say they couldn't do it because there was so much they couldn't pinpoint one thing, so we would do a relaxation visualization and deep breathing. Then try again, if they still couldn't do it then I would assign it as homework. Every time I assigned it as homework they would come in their next session with their posters FILLED with words and thoughts and worries and names. They were so eager to show me and then we went slowly, I would have them tell me about one of the items in their head and to my delight they were able to focus on that one item and talk about it and it led to so much opening up and feelings pouring through as they talked. We usually never got through all the thoughts in one session, each session we would talk about what was in their thought poster and they were encouraged to add thoughts as we went along. This project led to some very insightful sessions and healing of the client, getting out what was stuck inside them they said they felt better. They also were encouraged to put in things/secrets they didn't want anyone to know about and they could do that by drawing a symbol to represent it but most of the time they wrote it down and pointed to it and let me take the lead on asking about it and with each revelation healing took place.
I look back over the year at how many thought posters that were made and shared with me and how much I learned from my clients. This technique is so simple yet so revealing it is like the anger volcano yet even more revealing. The anger volcano is another technique used often where the client is told we are like a volcano because we hold so much inside and don't let it out and eventually explode in negative ways. However if you let the anger out instead of holding it inside then you don't explode and anger is let out in safe ways. They then draw a volcano and put inside everything and anything that makes them angry, names they are called, people that make them mad, EVERYTHING and also told to symbolize things they don't want other to know about and in the same way as the thought poster most of my clients have wanted to share their anger volcano's with me and even talk about the "forbidden" topics. I have seen some very revealing volcano's and gained understanding of my client in ways I wouldn't have if I just made them sit there and talk. Not that I'm against talk therapy, that works very well and I like to use creative counseling to enhance talk therapy.
It is my hope that other counselors reading this blog are able to use these techniques and gain more understanding of their clients. I use these techniques not only with adolescents but also with adults who are very responsive as well and seem to appreciate the activity. I had a 54 year old client ask to use the crayons for his anger volcano and he said "I haven't used a crayon in ages, this is nice" It was cathartic for him.
Kimberly Beck is a counselor and a doctoral candidate with a special interest in Self-injury. Other interests are PTSD, trauma, and Borderline personality disorder