When Lightning Strikes: Reexamining Creativity in Psychotherapy

Article excerpt

Few journals have devoted an entire issue to the topic of creativity in psychotherapy. Lorna Hecker edited a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Activities, Assignments, & Handouts in Psychotherapy Practice (JCAAHPP; Hecker, 2002), which included a fascinating and diverse treatment of this topic. Although the idea of creativity in counseling and psychotherapy is not new, a more cohesive and "scientific" treatment of this topic has not been commonplace in the literature. The current Trends article provides an overview and critical analysis of several major articles in this special issue of JCAAHPP. Implications for counseling practice are also discussed.


According to Hecker and Kottler (2002), in their article "Growing Creative Therapists: Introduction to the Special Issue," neither creativity as a construct nor the role of creativity and creative thinking in mental health practice is commonly emphasized in counselor/clinical training programs. However, creativity is central to the therapeutic process, partly because counseling is a moment-by-moment experience. Yet it is not something that happens automatically, nor are most counselors trained to be able to tap their own creative resources and use them effectively with clients. On the other hand, to a large extent, creativity is a skill (i.e., a way of thinking and working with clients) that can be learned, developed, and fostered over time. Hecker and Kottler laid out three assumptions: (a) that creativity tends to beget creativity, (b) that most counselors/therapists feel "stuck" in the counseling process with at least some clients some of the time, and (c) that usually the problem of "stuck-ness" lies not with clients but with ourselves as clinicians (i.e., not client resistance or lack of motivation). Counseling is a cocreative process between clinician and clients that provides fertile ground for creativity to develop because creativity "is a process typically born from frustration or the need for a solution" (Hecker & Kottler, 2002, p. 2). Indeed, frustrations on the part of therapists and clients "are often the thunderstorms guiding the lightning bolts of creativity" (Kottler & Hecker, 2002, p. 8).

These authors delved more fervently into their own ideas about creativity in their key article "Creativity in Therapy: Being Struck by Lightning and Guided by Thunderstorms" (Kottler & Hecker, 2002). One striking yet profound insight was found early in this article, namely, that it is often when therapists are trying to be creative or innovative that they are least creative in their work with clients. One reason for this is that trying to be creative in therapy can easily detract from the natural flow of interactions and process as clients come to be treated as objects or challenges to be overcome, rather than as people with real feelings and existential struggles.

Other important components of the creative process of therapy, according to Kottler and Hecker (2002), include the central role of convergent and divergent thinking as well as intuition. These three capacities play out in the context of the three major components of creativity in counseling: person, process, and product. That is, creative therapy involves a synergistic combination of the unique personalities involved in therapy, the process of therapy (the way in which change and growth occurs, often involving novel, original or imaginative methods), and the product of therapy (that which is different about people and relationships at the end of therapy). Creative interventions may at times involve play, just seeing things differently than before, and "reckless abandon." Being able to access our own creativity at peak levels in an effort to help clients tap their own creative problem-solving abilities (internal and relational) and creative resources is a prerequisite to effective therapy. Creative problem solving involves the four critical steps of preparation (chance and opportunity perhaps favoring the prepared mind and heart), incubation (periods of rest in which no conscious work is done on the problem), inspiration (when lightning hits), and verification (confirmatory evidence of movement or change). …


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