This is a guest post from psychotherapist Heather Austin. Heather works with many of her clients from a depth psychology perspective and then incorporates creativity into the counseling process. I hope that you enjoy her post on the importance of depth-work and how creativity can be helpful in that process.
By: Heather Austin, MA, NCC, LPCC (Alternate Roots Counseling)
Depth style counseling has taken a backseat lately to cognitive-behavioral work, solution-focused work, and technique driven work. Those all have a place, but they are not the only way to do the work of counseling.
Good Depth work has multiple levels to it. First it is essential to listen deeply to what a client is talking to you about. Solid connection, empathy and attunement are the foundation for the other things. Part of that deep listening is focused on finding out what lies beneath the surface of what’s presenting. Call it the subconscious, somatic insight, soul work, any number of labels can be fitting, but it’s assumed that there are levels available to work with that simple talk therapy won’t discover.
Sometimes just finding those layers and bringing them to the surface can do incredible healing for people. But often it then becomes time to do something with what’s been found. Here’s where the creativity comes in!
Storytelling is one of my favorite things to recommend. Using colorful metaphor and language choices, we can craft a tale of daring and intrigue, romance lost and regained in a surprising way, journeys through treacherous lands with mystical allies, or rebellious forces that overthrow a corrupt ruler, all with the client and their life taking center stage. Many times we find through the course of therapy that someone’s storyline has changed. The one they were living has become ill-fitting or unsatisfactory. Then it becomes time to do a rewrite. We get to talk about what role the client wants to take on now, what allies they need to look for along their way, or what new genre of story fits them better at this point. That story becomes something like a treatment plan or a goal-setting worksheet, guiding them toward what they most authentically feel drawn to.
Another thing I love to do with a client is hand them a piece of clay to play with while they talk. I ask them to simply let their hands work on it while the words come out into the room. Then when they’re done, we look at the thing they made and see how it applies, either to the emotion they were channeling while they talked, or the subject matter they were addressing. For instance, someone speaking about something they felt a lot of anger about in their relationship once found that they made quite a clear hammer out of their clay. It spoke volumes about the impact that this situation they were in was having on them, and the intensity of how they felt it needed to change.
I’ll close with an example of some powerful work that I got to help facilitate for someone. Details are changed to protect confidentiality. A client of mine was struggling with getting over the effects of trauma, feeling like they were always being followed by a sense of impending doom. I asked them to describe in colorful language what that feeling was like, and handed them paper and some pastels to assist in that process. A funky looking creature emerged, and I asked them to take the drawing home and think about what further action they wanted to take with it. Did they want to burn the paper? Draw on it more? Add words? Tear it up? In the end they decided to make it into a cute little stuffed thing, which ended up totally taking the power out of this sense of doom they’d described.
I believe the deepest healing comes from within the client, and it’s our job as therapists to help them unearth it. Using various creative processes is a fantastic way to get to that point where they can heal themselves with what they find there!