Are you creative? That’s the question I want you to consider as you read my column. This month’s Counseling Today cover story focuses on creativity in counseling, which caused me to reflect on my personal journey of incorporating creativity into my work and getting comfortable with the notion that I am creative. You see, I was never one of those kids in class who could color or paint very well. In fact, I can barely draw a stick person. Sure, I love music and all forms of dancing, but creative was not one of the words I would have used to describe myself or what I did in my counseling practice. That is, until I met Thelma Duffey, professor of counselor education and department chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio and founder of the Association for Creativity in Counseling.
ACC is a fairly new division within the American Counseling Association that focuses on creative, diverse and relational approaches to the work of professional counseling. Thelma and I engaged in hearty conversations regarding the word creativity and discussed how counselors are often resourceful and creative in ways we may not even realize. After listening to her and exploring various definitions of creativity, I walked away feeling more enlightened and better about what I was doing as a practitioner. It caused me to realize that I am creative.
Creativity involves the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns and relationships to create meaningful new ideas, methods and interpretations. Creativity involves originality, progressiveness and imagination. I believe I demonstrate these qualities in all areas of my work. Reflecting on my work with young clients in detention facilities, I remember exploring different ways of connecting with them. Although I was grounded in traditional counseling theories and techniques, modifications were needed to connect with these clients effectively. That was my creative moment.
Although some counseling professionals seek specific credentialing in the creative arts, others simply access their inborn creativity and use it within their scope of training as counselors, remaining mindful of the ethics and parameters of their practice. As ACC attests, creativity, when used within the scope of a counselor’s professional competency, can provide innovative opportunities for everyone involved.
During the winter break, I helped my oldest daughter, a teacher, move into her new second-grade classroom. Looking around the school, I noticed all the wonderful colors and beautiful new learning centers. I thought about how we are taught as kids to be creative, taught that it is OK to take a book and sit on the floor or color outside the lines. My smile started to fade, however, as I reflected on our progression through academic training. As we got older, we had to stay more within the lines, and there were no longer any bright colors present in the classroom. Being a teacher and an administrator myself, I realize the importance of having rules and order, but do we lose something really valuable in this process? Can we keep both the color and the order? Can we have structured creativity? This seems like an oxymoron.
I recently read an article by Jeffrey Baumgartner titled “10 Steps for Boosting Creativity.” The steps included listening to music, brainstorming, carrying a small notebook and a pen/pencil to record ideas and, if you are stuck looking for an idea, opening a dictionary. Other tips: defining your problem, going for a walk or engaging in gentle exercise, not watching TV, not doing drugs, reading as much as you can and, finally, exercising your brain.
Reflecting again on the concept of creativity in our professional lives, I believe this is a skill we all must possess to be effective counselors. I hope you do as well.
I wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day!