The importance of creative techniques in counselling

Counselling is principally a talking therapy but many clients understandably find it difficult to talk about their innermost thoughts and feelings which may have been buried for many years and are overwhelmingly painful to start to look at. Particularly where clients have never discussed such difficult experiences before and find themselves one-to-one with a counsellor, someone they do not know. Creative techniques such as stone work, drawing, imagery, writing and music can be of great benefit to the counselling process. They offer clients different ways of expressing what they feel and think, providing a direct route and immediate connectedness to inner parts of themselves that they struggle with.

Some helpful, creative techniques include:

(a) Stonework

An example of stone work involves a client picking from a collection of stones those which represent how they are feeling, how they would like to be feeling and significant others in their past and present. The way they can be set out in relation to each other tells one a lot about closeness and distance in given relationships.

(b) Drawing

Drawing in counselling is not about artistic skill and I often need to reassure clients about this. In the counselling room, a client and I learn a lot about what the client is experiencing from whatever form the drawing takes; it’s about size, placement, choice of colours and tones as much as the detail of the piece.

(c) Imagery

It seems to be quite natural for many clients to think in images, to visualize images which reflect how they feel about themselves and others. Such images vary widely and include living, non-living, abstract things for example animals, fable characters, objects, landscapes, elements of nature. Working with these images can provide great insight into a client’s inner world.

(d) Writing

Writing can be helpful both in sessions and between them. It is important that in sessions a client takes responsibility and does the writing rather than telling the counsellor what to put and letting the counsellor undertake this task. In the same way that drawing is not about artistic skill, writing is not about writing skill and clients often need reassurance about this too. Through writing, a client can clarify confusing thoughts and feelings, particularly with the benefit of being able to see something written down as a record to refer back to. Where a client experiences deep-rooted anger towards another, expressing this anger in writing can be cathartic and enable a client to let go and move on.

(e) Music

Both in sessions and between sessions, music provides a client with another way of acknowledging painful thoughts and feelings and working through them.

I encourage clients to look on creative techniques like those above as a means of enhancing our counselling work and not to be wary of them. These techniques are complementary to, rather than in conflict with, talking therapy.