Expanding with creativity

 Photo by  Lucas Sankey  on  Unsplash

I’ve struggled to find my voice as a therapist. I’ve tried on some different hats: motivational interviewing, CBT, narrative therapy. Part of the challenge is that my role in this job has been nebulous to say the least: there’s no standardized practice yet so I’m just kind of… on my own. I also see such a variety of patients, I find myself constantly looking things up and reviewing interventions. It’s interesting in that way, but it also adds to the challenge of figuring out which intervention feels right, both for me as a clinician and for my patients. In order to provide the best care, clinicians need to be comfortable with the model we’re using. For a long time, I’ve shied away from being creative in my work because I felt uncomfortable. But the more I grow into this role, the more I see the benefit of some more creative thinking.

Social work lends itself to invention and innovation. There are all kinds of ways to get people to open up to you and for some patients, the outside-the-box stuff works best. I must admit, I’ve been resistant to using creativity in my practice for years. Colleagues of mine in hospice talked about using empty chairs to signify the presence of a departed loved one, or using art or music to help clients express their feelings. The thought of doing those things made me feel deeply awkward. I felt similarly as a grad student whenever we had to role play to practice our clinical skills; it felt silly and inauthentic. That feeling carried over into my work: it would be too uncomfortable for me to ask someone to talk to a chair and pretend their deceased loved one is in it; it would be too awkward for me to explore a piece of music with someone in therapy and ask what kind of emotions it brought up for them. Actually even writing that sentence feels awkward. But why is that? Why should my fear of feeling silly block out a large chunk of practice?

It’s not an overnight change. Little pieces have been creeping in over the past year as I try to figure out how to work with patients who really want solutions. I’m somewhat limited because my role is short-term but there are options. For instance, I sometimes encourage my patients to create a Tree of Life (a narrative therapy tool) so they have a visual expression of their values and goals. It’s an exercise I’ve done myself and I think that’s key: we have to be comfortable with what we’re asking others to do. Most recently I attended a training about psychodrama and sociometry and used one of the exercises (a locogram/floor check) in my supervision group. We all got a chance to move around a little and talk about what skills we have, which we want to develop, and why we’re drawn to/avoid some populations.

I’m excited to stretch in this way. I’ve written in the past about how frustrated I’ve been in transitioning to this job and this is a great way to get unstuck from that. Using my brain in a different way helps me reorient to what I love about this work: every day is a new and different challenge.