There’s an anecdotal story about two Red Cross mental health volunteers who approached a man walking in a big rectangle. They introduced themselves and asked if they could walk with the man; he agreed and continued to walk. He would walk one straight line then turn, one straight line then turn. The volunteers walked with the man, step by step, until the man eventually sat down on three steps leading nowhere halfway through one straight line. The volunteers, sitting down with the man, asked if he wanted to talk. The man explained that this rectangle was where his house had been, before the tornado took it away. They had been walking the perimeter of the house.
Counseling takes place in many forms, in many settings, with various ideas behind what works and how counselors can best act to help their clients. In this case, the volunteers were providing psychological first aid following a crisis and assisting this man as best they could; by simply walking with him, before they even know why they were walking. There are several types of counseling that I had not heard of (or did not really understand) before entering the counseling field, including crisis counseling, play therapy, narrative therapy, animal therapy, and art therapy. These are just a few of many new or alternative types of therapy.
A crisis intervention generally takes place over the course of no more than six weeks, with the goal of returning an individual to a pre-crisis level of functioning (Gladding & Newsome, 2010). To the best of their abilities, counselors provide an introduction, safety and comfort, validation of the emotional experience and may also help the individual to figure out what steps to take following the crisis. By assessing the immediate needs of the individual, counselors are able to provide psychological first aid. This type of counseling is helpful in cases of widespread crisis, as in natural disasters, as well as in cases of more individual crisis, as in house fire. Some counselors volunteer with the Red Cross as part of a Disaster Mental Health Team. Crisis Counseling is now a required aspect of the master’s degree in community mental health counseling.
Play therapy allows the counselor to reach out to a child at his or her level and is an excellent option when working with children. Adults communicate by talking; children communicate by playing. Counselors may talk with children or reflect upon their playing habits, but most of therapy is spent playing with the child in a non-directive manner (meaning, the child takes the lead in the session rather than the counselor). Generally therapy focuses on allowing the child to express him or herself by playing without restrictive limits or regulations. Natalie Rogers (daughter of person-centered therapist Carl Rogers) worked extensively with a person-centered approach in a play context.
In narrative therapy, clients create a narrative about their life or experiences and then discuss how their experiences, thoughts and emotions fit within that narrative. This allows for the counselor to gain a unique insight into the client’s perspective, while giving the client the opportunity to take ownership over his or her story and create meaning around the story.
Some individuals connect better with animals. Playing with a dog may be the best way for some people to relieve stress. For autistic children, interacting with horses (called “equine therapy”) has been shown to be effective. One severely autistic boy had tried several other therapies, and his parents were incredibly frustrated when they discovered the boy’s love of horses and ability to relate to them. In their book “The Horse Boy,” they document how their son first learned to connect with the world with horses in Mongolia (Isaacson, 2009).
Expressive Arts Therapy
Art therapy provides the opportunity for self-expression in counseling. Some clients may be better able to express their current mental state through art than through their words. As in play therapy, some clients may also be more comfortable actively creating something as a part of their therapy.
Counseling student Naomi Smith is currently taking a class at Warner on Art Therapy. She describes the therapy, saying that “Many times people will use the expressive arts in a session, but the entire therapy may not revolve around art/music/etc… I think that the expressive arts are used most often with children – but that may be because it’s hard to talk to children for an hour and incorporating art can help them. It can also be used with traumatized clients or clients who have difficulty putting their emotions into words… It might be difficult to use in an agency setting when the sessions are limited in number… We are being taught, in the class, not to offer our interpretations of each other’s work, but to explore along with the client.”
There are many ways to reach out to a client in counseling; these techniques and approaches to counseling offer unique perspectives on innovative methods for connecting with clients in a counseling setting.
Gladding, S., & Newsome, J. (2010). Clinical Mental Health Counseling in Community and Agency Settings (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Isaacson, R. (2009). The Horse Boy. New York, NY: Little, Brown & Co.