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  • Jen Walsh

"Be creative? But I can't draw!"

(the expressive arts) "...are ways to release your feelings, clear your mind, raise your spirits, and bring yourself into higher states of consciousness." Natalie Rogers

In all the years I've been working as a counsellor, I have experimented with different ways of introducing the idea of adding creative expression to the therapeutic process. It can be such a valuable addition to talk therapy, and can provide new awareness or insight, help clients focus, release emotion, or create a vision for the future. But 9 times out of 10, when I suggest a creative activity I am met with a look of fear, even panic, and a firm statement including the words "but I can't". This is very different from a statement such as "I don't want to", some clients really just prefer to do straightforward talk therapy and that is just fine.

I can relate to the discomfort and fear that bubbles to the surface when creativity is suggested. I remember thinking I might like to do Art for GCSE, and a teacher told me in no uncertain terms that I was not "good enough". I was crushed. I could have internalised that message and stayed away from art and creativity for fear of failure. But I couldn't - I absolutely love to create, make a mess, play with materials and colour, express myself. Let's be clear, this does not mean I am good at art, or even bad at art, that's not the point. It's the DOING that's important, not the end result.

Being creative in sessions with me might mean using paints, crayons, oil pastels on paper/card, making collages, using photography, and/or creative writing. I have used creativity in sessions with couples, adult parents and their adult children, as well as with adolescents and children. I'm not an analytical therapist, in the sense that I would tell you what your image is about...it's whatever it means to you...and sometimes it might take weeks, months, years for it to make sense to you.

When it comes to using art in therapy, I never ask my clients to do something I haven't done myself. And there's always a good reason for why I'm suggesting something in session. I am always seeking new ways to help clients find their inner creativity. We all have it, and the task is to quiet the critical voice. Don't let it get in your way! Discovering your creative energy, and experimenting with it will allow you to relax, unwind, get some of your thoughts into a visual image, and all of this will have a positive ripple effect into other aspects of your life.