Listen to the Prosocially Yours podcast featuring Dr. Ann Vernon.
“This volume offers a wealth of resources for creative arts interventions with children and adolescents in elementary through high school. The simple (and inexpensive) creative arts activities are designed to help students build self-esteem, cope with stress, manage emotions, form healthy peer relationships, and engage in group cooperation.
The 84 interventions grouped in sections on play and games, music, visual arts, expressive writing, literature, drama, and activity-based interventions. Within each section, interventions are grouped by age level. Each intervention includes step-by-step instructions for guiding the client through the activity. The interventions require only everyday materials and minimal preparation; one-use cameras, a CD player, and puppets are the most expensive materials required for some activities. Most interventions include handouts, such as client worksheets, poems and songs, and game cards; these 75 reproducible handouts are supplied on the CD-ROM. A final chapter offers three case studies each for elementary, middle school, and high school. The book will be useful for school psychologists, family therapists, and others who work with young people. Vernon is affiliated with the University of Northern Iowa. Barry is a retired school counselor.” (Annotation ©2013 Book News Inc. Portland, OR)
The authors clarify the theoretical and research basis for these interventions, provide numerous helpful suggestions for employing the creative arts, and detail a total of 84 interventions for three developmental levels: elementary, middle school, and high school. In the book’s final chapter, the authors provide nine relevant case studies—three for each developmental level—with examples of creative arts interventions developed specifically for each case.
Praise for Counseling Outside the Lines
“Creative, accessible, well sequenced, thoroughly researched, and supported by personal anecdotes, Counseling Outside the Lines is a good example of a toolbox of interventions in a manual format that is easy to implement and to customize for an individual or a group, whether one is a graduate student or a seasoned practitioner.…The techniques shared contain a wealth of strategies that cut across learning style, age, and gender; transcend cultural difference; allow expression that is difficult to articulate; and (I am happy to add) recognize that fun infuses positive energy into a counseling relationship.…I highly recommend this volume to anyone working with children and youth in and out of school settings.”
—Alison Hahn Johnson, MSSW, LCSW, LMFT, ACSW,
Social Work with Groups, 37: 2014
“If you work with children and adolescents as a professional counselor and are looking for ways to expand your interventions and strategies to positively impact your clients, you have found a wonderful learning experience in this resource.”
—Dr. Toni R. Tollerud,
Distinguished Presidential Teaching Professor,
Northern Illinois University
Ann Vernon and Kathryn Barry, authors of Counseling Outside the Lines: Creative Arts Intervention for Children and Adolescents, discuss their rationale, based on years of counseling experience, for using creative arts intervention with individuals and small groups.
What is the rationale for using creative arts approaches with young clients in your latest book?
Vernon: We need to remember that traditional “talk” methods of counseling are often ineffective with young clients for several reasons, so integrating creative arts interventions with talk-based interventions can be very impactful. In addition, with the increasing diversity in this country, English may not be our clients’ first language, so it is far better to engage them in creative arts interventions that are more interactive and culturally appropriate. Also, young children in particular may not be able to verbally express their concerns, but they can communicate them through drawing, play, or drama, for example. Another compelling reason to use this approach is that it is easy to address different learning styles. Whereas traditional counseling is characterized by a verbal/auditory approach, creative arts interventions are also visual, kinesthetic, and more engaging, which makes them especially important for children and adolescents, who are usually referred by others and may be reluctant to fully participate in the counseling process.
Barry: I was first drawn to creative interventions because as a somewhat creative individual myself, I found them more inviting, and I felt children would as well. After years of working in schools as a K–8 counselor, I know from experience that using creative interventions is not just about “making it fun,” but it is also about doing what works. I first realized this when I started using creative interventions with two students I had been working with for months and was getting nowhere, but as soon as I switched my approach, they started making steady progress.
As Ann mentioned, creative interventions are good with resistant or reluctant clients. I have found them especially helpful with resistant middle school students. Developmentally, they are at the stage where they want to have more control in their life, and involving them in the creative process gives them a sense of control. Furthermore, using creative interventions gives them a “voice” and a more effective way to express themselves. It makes them feel like they are in the “driver’s seat” instead of “being driven” somewhere. They are less oppositional and actually become engrossed in the intervention. These interventions also give them tools that they are more inclined to use outside the counseling office when they are on their own and struggling. Interventions such as journaling to express thoughts and feelings, using music to relax, or drawing to work out fears can all be effective strategies.
An assumption would be that creative arts interventions are developmentally appropriate. Could you explain this in greater detail?
Vernon: Creative arts interventions are developmentally appropriate in several ways. First, we know that thinking gradually progresses from concrete to abstract with this population, so using more concrete interventions such as the visual arts, drama, or play and games is essential. For example, trying to talk to a seven-year old about his or her anger is far less effective than playing an anger game and teaching anger management strategies through debriefing questions and role-playing. Second, we know that children’s attention spans are limited and they can easily tune you out, so experiential activities that get them up and moving are far more effective. Also, their ability to retain concepts between sessions may be limited, so using concrete metaphors or music and art gives them an “anchor” for recalling concepts. It is also important to remember that children and adolescents can be overwhelmed by words, so there is a mismatch that occurs when the counselor relies too much on talking. Especially for nonverbal clients, engagement in art, music, literature, or experiential interventions will work far better.
What evidence do you have that these interventions work?
Vernon: Many of these interventions have been used successfully in both school and mental health settings with children and adolescents presenting with typical developmental problems as well as more serious situational problems. The reason they work is that they are engaging, and, in some cases, “out of the ordinary.” The evidence of success is a decrease in negative behaviors, an increase in prosocial skills and emotional regulation, and improved problem-solving/decision-making skills. Feedback from parents and teachers confirms that these interventions help kids “get better, not just feel better.” Creative arts interventions provide clients with a toolbox of techniques to use not only for present problems, but also for problems that arise in the future. Proof of this for me was a teenager I began working with when he was 16, who had problems with his girlfriend. He was depressed and angry because she didn’t call him as she had promised, and he in turn assumed she was out with someone else, they would break up, and it would be the end of the world. Because he was rather short on words and was glancing out the window of my office and tuning out, I noted that he was staring at the bug zapper. Seizing the moment, I asked him what happened when the bugs hit the zapper, to which he replied that they died. I asked him to imagine that his head was a giant bug zapper and each time he assumed that his girlfriend didn’t like him, that they would break up, etc., I asked him to “zap” those thoughts so he could be more clear-headed and check out the facts before upsetting himself about something that may not be true. That metaphor resonated with him, and as I saw him periodically over the next six years he reported using the “zapper” technique and said that it helped a lot.
Barry: I would add that there has been a lot of research in the area of trauma that supports the use of creative therapies because they involve the limbic/nonverbal part of the brain, which is where trauma memories are stored. Creative therapies can tap the limbic system’s sensory memory of the event and help to bridge implicit and explicit memories, assisting with the process of integration. This gives the traumatized individual a way to express the nonverbal memory.
Why would it be important for a counselor to be aware of the connection between creative interventions and trauma?
Barry: I think that sometimes there is a misperception that counselors working with school-aged clients need little or no trauma training because children rarely experience true trauma. While I was a school counselor, my school district was struck by an EF-5 tornado. The following year, one of our faculty members was murdered in front of 20 high school students. So I have had a little more experience with trauma than most school counselors. And while I realize that it is highly unlikely that major traumas such as these would ever happen in most school districts, what I learned through the trauma training I received is that I should have been trained in trauma all along because in the population with whom I worked I saw students daily who may not have experienced a “typical trauma,” but were still exhibiting symptoms of posttraumatic stress.
Physical and sexual abuse, chronic stress, family violence, and low academic achievement are all things that school and mental health counselors working with school-aged clients deal with on a daily basis. Additionally, research has repeatedly shown that the way to treat trauma is with nontraditional therapies that engage the limbic part of the brain, which means that creative interventions are extremely useful with the school-aged population.
What are the unique features of this book?
Vernon: This book is unique in that it is very comprehensive. Seldom do you find a book that addresses elementary, middle, and high school age groups and that also offers classroom guidance/small group counseling activities for each level. This is “one stop shopping” and can save the practitioner a lot of money by not having to buy several books! Another unique feature is that the last chapter includes nine case studies: three for each level—elementary, middle school, and high school. School and mental health counselors in the real world wrote up actual cases and then I identified the key issues and designed a creative arts intervention for each problem. This chapter is meant to show readers how each of the creative arts interventions can be applied. Another feature of the book is that each chapter presents an overview and rationale for each of the seven creative arts approaches (play and games, music, visual arts, expressive writing, literature, drama, and activity-based experiential interventions), addresses which types of problems the particular approach has been shown to be effective with, and shows specifically how to incorporate each approach with other creative arts modalities. Following this introductory information are the interventions—three for elementary children, three for middle school, and three for high school. There are also three small-group or classroom activities, one for each level. In addition to the 84 interventions described in step-by-step detail, there are more interventions in each chapter that can be used for rapport building, building a sense of community, for homework between sessions, and so forth. In total, there are over 126 useful interventions in this book.
You will also find that this book is very versatile in that most of the interventions, with minor changes, can be easily adapted for another age group or issue, or an individual intervention could be modified for use in a small group or classroom.
How can this book help practitioners spend more time helping kids and less time on preparation?
Barry: To me, the biggest challenge to doing the best I can for kids is time. There is just never enough! So helping counselors save time by making this book extremely user friendly was one of the top priorities in Counseling Outside the Lines. The book is organized in a way that you can find what you are looking for quickly by glancing at the table of contents. Do you need an activity for perfectionism for an elementary-aged student? See page 138. Or maybe you need an intervention for a high school student on decision making? You can find what you are looking for on page 153, 193, or 338. Do you want an intervention for an individual or for a small group? You can easily find what you are looking for in the contents.
Also, there is no need to stand in line at the copier for hours because a CD is included with the book, which has all the handouts and forms. You only need to print them out from your computer. The CD also contains the music for all the songs in the music intervention chapter. Need a guidance lesson on teasing? Print the lyric sheet for “Give ‘em Five,” grab the CD and boom box , and go. Your lesson is ready!
The lesson format itself makes preparation very easy. The first page of each lesson/intervention outlines the rationale and any materials you need or preparations you might need to make, which generally entails reproducing questions, game cards, or handouts that are provided on the CD. After that, a step-by-step procedure is described, which guides you through the implementation stage of the intervention. Suggestions for debriefing questions and follow-up tasks are also noted. Because the format is very clear, classroom teachers should be perfectly capable of implementing the lessons designed for classroom guidance.
Today’s counselors are busy people. Is there a lot of prep time or a big learning curve that makes it more complicated to use creative arts interventions?
Barry: Not at all. In fact, quite the contrary. This is not about the counselor becoming an art , music, or play therapist, which takes lots of additional training. Rather, using the creative arts in counseling is just adding another ingredient to the mix. Using music, art, games, or drama to entice the client to become more involved in the counseling process facilitates change as they learn new skills to address the problem at hand. While these methods may be a bit uncomfortable initially because they may seem so different from traditional approaches, just like learning anything new, using them gets easier over time. In actuality, there very little that the counselor has to do other than using his or her normal skills, making materials available, and being there to help the client process the experience with appropriate questions. If you can play a CD, you can use music as an intervention, just as you don’t need special knowledge to engage a client in a game.
Vernon: Having worked as a counselor educator for many years, training school and mental health counselors how to counsel young clients, I would agree with Kathy that the learning curve isn’t very great. In my experience, counselors-in-training struggled with how to keep their clients engaged when they were using the “listen and nod” approach, but when they began augmenting this with a game, a song, an experiential intervention, or a drama activity, they quickly realized how much more effective they were. I also felt that they were much more accountable because it was much easier to really see clients learning new skills when, for example, a client played a game that involved throwing balls into a bucket for each study skill they felt was a positive one. When the counselor-in-training followed up with a contract that identified which study skills the client agreed to work on that week and checked on his or her progress in consultation with the teacher or parent, it was apparent that learning was taking place.