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Bringing Creativity to Counseling by Tara Edwards
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6/19/2014 at 2:27:51 AM GMT
Posts: 54
Bringing Creativity to Counseling by Tara Edwards

2014 Scholarship Recipient


I have a keen interest in the use of art therapy and expressive arts within the counseling setting.  My curiosity is rooted in my experiences. 

I describe myself as analytical.  When it comes to drawing, I color squarely between the lines.  A few years ago I took a drawing class.  When I drew, my mind went silent.  The whirling of all my worries stopped.  It was blissful.  I still found myself wanting my teapot drawing to resemble some form of a teapot.  The joy, however, came from seeing what came out of me when I simply let go - of the pressure to draw to impress and the pressure of all my life stressors. 

I did not consider applying my therapeutic experience with drawing to my studies.  When one of my first semester professors shared her work with creativity in counseling it struck a chord.  I researched the topic and became intrigued by how various techniques and tools enriched the counseling experience of myriad populations, including two areas I was most interested in working, grief and loss and eating disorders. 

I began to attend creativity in counseling workshops whenever I could.  A mandala art therapy workshop strongly resonated with me.  I found myself drawn to the idea that colors and placement might provide a deeper meaning but that the client held the key to the interpretation of the creation.  Using mandalas as a tool for increased mindfulness and presence also made sense to me. 

I took an expressive arts class and gained a deeper understanding of the nuances of using art as a dialogue tool rather than mechanism to be interpreted.  My professor challenged us to get in touch with emotion and to become comfortable with its expression.  Our emotions were much more palpable within the expressive arts framework.  If it was so hard for us counselors-to-be to stay with an emotion, it must be exponentially worse for our clients.  What a powerful lesson to learn - the power of art within therapy to evoke, to access, and to witness authentic emotions. 

I was fortunate to have found a practicum site that specialized in eating disorders and a supervisor who share my interest in expressive arts and art therapy.  With her guidance and support, I brought some expressive arts techniques into my individual client sessions and group sessions.  Most of the clients showed skepticism, some from past experience and others from believing they weren’t artistic.  I assured each that if she was not comfortable we did not have to pursue the exercise, or we could stop.  I underscored that the emphasis was not what the picture looked like, but what it meant to them. 

Through the expressive arts exercises, each client accessed a narrative, a perspective, an interpretation, and an insight that was different from their own expectations.  All clients tapped into emotion, even if it was a fleeting glimpse.  The drawings or expressions of themselves from that day were referenced by them at later sessions.  Their emotions remained more accessible in the following weeks.  There was a noticeable shift in their willingness to explore their feelings.    

Expressive arts and art therapy techniques transform.  The transformation may only last a few seconds, but it resonates.  Using creativity in counseling provides a different access point for clients to view their narratives, a resource for accessing and regulating emotions, and an opportunity to pause and be present in a way that is not always available in our society.  Without question, I will continue to explore and learn about expressive arts and art therapy to better serve my clients and our therapeutic alliance.  

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