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Bringing Creativity to Counseling by Tara Edwards 0 K. Clayton 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.  
by K. Clayton
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Grief and Children by Kristen Hauck 0 K. Clayton 2014 Scholarship Recipient Grief is a universal topic in mental health. Even if you have not lost a loved one, you have experienced loss in some way. Whether it is loss of a relationship, loss of security, loss of identity, or loss of a parent - grief binds us together in the wide scope of human experience. Despite this point, grief is a taboo subject in many cultures. Through my own experiences of losing four grandparents and one parent, I have seen firsthand how uncomfortable death and loss makes those around us. When a child loses a parent, their network of support is likely to diminish. Those around that child are in the throws of their own mourning. The last thing they want to do is make their mother cry, or alienate their peers by talking about their loss, which forces those peers to confront their own fears and ambiguity about death.  When you lose something or someone important to you, the last thing you need to worry about is how other people will negatively react to your need to be heard. My passion for grief work was not sparked until the seventh semester of my counselor education program. My group counseling class required that we attend several sessions of a counseling group as an observer or participant. After casting a wide net, I landed myself in a grief group, talking about my father who passed away in 2008. Even as a counselor-in-training, I did not realize how severely I had stifled the grief over losing my father. I did not know many people my age that had lost a parent, so my pool of valuable and empathic social support was small. The rest of my family was grieving in their own ways, and it seemed burdensome to include them in my struggle. I am a self-aware individual, focused on mental health and wellness, yet I did not know to seek the help I desperately needed. There were few people around me who could recognize and understand my need for grief counseling. This makes me consider the countless children in the school system that are in desperate need of a safe space to work through their unique experiences with grief and loss. Regardless of how my counseling interests have changed or expanded throughout my graduate program, I remain steadfast in my desire to work with children in the school setting. Children are at a disadvantage when it comes to seeking mental health services, because often they do not have the language, intellectual development, or maturity to know what they need, or how to advocate for those needs. At the conclusion of my group counseling class, I developed a thorough grief group proposal that can be used at the elementary or secondary level. I plan to advocate for this group as a school counseling intern, and in my practice as a professional school counselor. I am eager to continue to learn about grief work, and how to apply that new knowledge in the school setting. Issues of grief need to be heard, understood, and normalized. Children need a space where they can confront their feelings; where it is not only okay, but encouraged to talk about their loss. Ignoring grief does not make it eventually disappear. Unresolved grief has a way of manifesting itself negatively in all areas of one’s life. I learned that the hard way. I do not want children struggling with grief to go unnoticed in school. I want their grief to have a voice, and I want to be a part of the team that hears that voice.    
by K. Clayton
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
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