I had the privilege last week of guest lecturing in a Marriage and Family Therapy class at The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago. My role was to discuss creativity as a tool and an opportunity for working with families in therapy sessions. Working with kids and families sounds easier than it is and requires flexibility and fluidity which creative thinking helps promote. An article entitled, The Importance of Creativity in Family Therapy substantiates this contention. University of Wyoming’s Dr. David Carson asserts:
Family therapy requires a flexibility, a creativity, and an ability to fly by the seat of your pants….This is particularly true because change in marital and family relationships is often a slow and painful process. Creative thinking and maneuvering may be necessary to break therapeutic impasses.” Dr. Carson argues that creative approaches to family therapy allow family members to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening environment.
The budding therapists I addressed, while very well intentioned, were pretty tightly wound. My hope was that helping them relax and gain self-awareness into their own strengths, weaknesses and motivations could only help them become more accessible therapists.
I have found creativity can be an intimidating concept especially if someone does not tend to view his/her self as creative per se. Adult women have literally bolt from the room when I’ve proposed a creative exercise. “I’m not creative at all,” they wail. “Give me a book to read or something else to do”. That reaction hurts me to the core. I truly believe everyone is creative in some form or capacity. Sometimes you just have to get back in the habit, which is why I encourage “exercising your creativity” much like we exercise our brains and bodies.
So that is what I proposed for this class – creativity exercises.
The first was a “Blind Pinch Pot” exercise designed to promote mindfulness. I guided the students through a relaxation exercise (the relaxation part was a must for this group) after which they created a pinch pot from a ball of clay while keeping their eyes closed and focusing on their breath. Invariably the exercise produces beautifully created pots. And this class was no exception.
The second exercise is one I’ve dubbed Self Awareness in Six Words. Before a therapist can guide their clients on their journey to self-awareness they need to understand their own strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Expressive writing can be a vehicle on the route to self-exploration. Six word stories are the perfect little drive-by of emotional expression. Legend has it Ernest Hemingway bet fellow writers he could write a short story in just 6 words. As the tale goes, Hemingway believed the resulting story to be his finest work ever: For Sale, Baby shoes, Never Worn.
I never fail to be moved by the results of this exercise in Flash Fiction. Here is a sample from the class.
The final activity was a coloring exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic…
Coloring is a stress free activity that relaxes the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, allowing your mind to get the rest it needs. Coloring has the therapeutic potential to reduce anxiety, create focus, and bring about more mindfulness.
I really love when the left and right sides of the brain get to shake hands. As a self-avowed creativity evangelist and a statistical data hound, it was fun seeing the marriage of science and art in this Marriage and Family therapy class.