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Dawn Ferrara Aug 16, 2011

Out of the Box

Like a lot of counselors, I get quite a few journals. Some I read. Some I say I’m going to read and never do. Every now and then, a journal article comes along that speaks to me even though I may not realize it at the moment. Not long ago, I got a chance to use something I had read in Counseling Today. When I received the issue on Creativity in Counseling (February, 2011), I read through it. I found it interesting but I remember thinking, “Cool ideas but probably something I’m not likely to use.” I thought that because I am about as creative as a pile of laundry on most days. So, I read the issue and tucked it away never thinking that I would come back to it later.

A few months later, I found myself working with a 16 year old who would rather listen to her iPod than listen to me. Every time I greeted her in the waiting area, the earphones were in and she barely acknowledged me. The first couple of sessions were a lesson in patience – for her and for me. She patiently waited to return to her iPod. I waited patiently for her to respond on a meaningful level. As I sat watching her eyeing her iPod wondering where to go next, it hit me. Meet her where she is and when you get there, speak her language! I remembered something from the journal about creativity and working outside the box and a technique called musical chronology. Maybe music could take us where we needed to go. I can’t sing or play an instrument but I love my iPod! Common ground! So, instead of fighting the power of the iPod, I decided to embrace it. Turns out, music was very much a part of this client’s way of connecting and expressing herself. A simple inquiry as to what was on her iPod transformed into a most productive therapeutic experience.

This experience showed me that creativity doesn’t necessarily mean being a great artist or a talented musician. As described in one of the articles, creativity can be any “out-of-the-box moment” that helps a client to move therapeutically. It is finding what works for our clients and what speaks to them. What that is isn’t always what we think. This experience also set me on a quest to find other ways of being creative with clients. Now when I meet with a client, I find myself looking for what interests them, what speaks to them. It’s been quite interesting to see what those things are and how tapping into them can facilitate the counseling process. So next time you find yourself with a client struggling to make progress, take a second look at them and what they’ve shown you so far. Or take a chance and suggest something new like a story-telling or musical activity or leave the tiger puppet on the sofa. You just might find a new way to engage them. The possibilities are endless. And the great thing is, you can be creative with your clients whether you draw stick figures or paint masterpieces! It’s about the process and what speaks to them. Enjoy!

Dawn Ferrara is a counselor in private practice and clinical manager for a community-based children’s mental health program. Her areas of interest include disaster mental health counseling, lifestyle management, and counselor wellness.

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