Are You Ready to be Creative?

If you have spent any time reading my blog or listening to my podcasts you know that I am a big proponent of using creativity in psychotherapy. I see too many good therapists who could be amazing therapists if they would just allow themselves to be more creative in their work. The straight jacket many therapists put on themselves by strictly sticking to the textbook can inadvertently dampen their effectiveness.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to fall back in love with your work, have more fun, and gain the confidence to embrace more playfulness in your practice. This is why I am excited about this upcoming  event.

I’m speaking at a virtual event ­­ Create Fest 2016 ­­ that you can attend from the comfort of your home.

Create Fest is all about empowering therapists like you to awaken your creative spirit and reignite your passion for your work. What we do as mental health professionals is vital to healing in the world, so my fellow speakers and I are passionately committed to helping you revitalize and enhance your practice.




Join me and a dozen of my “outside­ the­ box” colleagues. Each of my fellow speakers brings a wealth of experience, insight, and one­ of­ a­ kind creative thinking to the mental health field. Come discover some new approaches.

Each day, you’ll get to watch 6 fun and inspiring interviews PLUS 6 live experiential activities, designed to help you integrate and prepare to apply what you learn. This is not your average professional development conference! Create Fest 2016 will be 2 days of powerfully playful and practical ways to invite more creativity into your practice.

To sign up for this unique event, go HERE

If you are ready to have fun, be inspired and learn to expand your effectiveness as a therapist, then I know that I will see you there.


Brief Reflections on Erickson Congress 2015

I recently was able to attend and present at the 12th International Erickson Congress in Phoenix, Arizona. My trip was very enjoyable and was a moving experience for me. Getting to see old and new friends was great as usual. I enjoyed connecting with people such as Bill O’Hanlon, Bob Bertolino, Michael Hoyt, Mike Munion, Suzanne Black, Rachel Hott, Bob and Sandie Wubbolding, Eric Greenleaf, Betty Alice Erickson, Richard and Susan Hill, Rob McNeilly, Gabrielle Peacock, and far too many other people to list. It was a lovely time to be around like minded practitioners whose high skill level was only matched by their deep desire to help others.


Bill keynote

Bill O’Hanlon during the keynote address

The primary thing that I gained from the conference was a reinforcement of my belief in the importance of focusing on the potential each client brings to his or her therapy session. Every presenter I talked with shared my views that a constant focus on pathology rarely leads to change. Dr. Eric Greenleaf said it best in one of his sessions, “Psychotherapy seems to be the only profession in which constantly discussing the history of the problem is seen as somehow contributing to solving the problem. You don’t find this in any other profession. If a plumber has a problem, he or she just makes adjustments in how the plumbing operates. There isn’t all this long drawn out examination of the history of how the plumbing issue started”.


Dr. Eric Greenleaf

I have attended many conferences in the past but the Erickson Congress is my favorite as it feels so much like a family reunion. Even people I did not know at first quickly became friends. Having a common goal for utilizing client resources over emphasizing diagnostic dysfunction seems to draw us together in a way that I don’t find at many other psychotherapy related conferences. The staff did a great job at helping everyone connect and enjoy the event. Dr. Jeff Zeig, the head of the Erickson Foundation, and his team made a wonderful occasion even more wonderful by exhibiting much care and professionalism to ensure everyone had ample opportunities to learn and interact.



Dr. Jeff Zeig

On a personal note, I was honored to have been able to have a small, private tour of Dr. Milton Erickson’s home and office. His home has been turned into a private museum and kept how it would have looked if he were still living there. I was accompanied on the tour by some of my friends, including Dr. Suzanne Black and Dr. Rachel Hott. We all enjoyed seeing many of Dr. and Mrs. Erickson’s personal items and getting a sense of how humble Dr. Erickson really was. Just standing in his home I felt a sense of awe mixed with sadness. In some way I could sense the physical pain Dr. Erickson was constantly in toward the end of his life due to polio. At the same time I was overwhelmed by the feeling of how much he loved being alive and helping others. Just being in his office was inspiring for me and several of us were able to sit in his chair and soak up the ambiance of where he worked. Being in his home gave me a deeper sense of who Dr. Erickson was as a person. Even though I had written a book about his work, I didn’t have that personal sense of connection with him until after visiting his home.


Erickson backyardGetting a quick group photo in Dr. Erickson’s backyard

suzanne erickson

Dr. Suzanne Black in Dr. Erickson’s office

There is a certain feeling of sadness I had as the conference came to a close. I know it will be another year or so before I get to see my therapy friends and mentors. Having had several days surrounded by people who share my passion gives me a renewed feeling of possibility for my profession. I encourage anyone who works in the mental health field to make sure you are able to have some time throughout your year to interact with like-minded souls as our profession can be a very lonely one. By interacting with our peers (friends) we can share new ideas which can help not only us but also our clients. I am grateful not just to be able to attend but also to be invited to present a short course. I am anxiously looking forward to the next one and I hope to see you there.

You are part of the action!

When we are conducting therapy it is not uncommon for many of us to feel as if we are outside observers as to what is going on with our clients. We think we have a different perspective as we are not directly experiencing what they are experiencing. We often hold that we can be objective as we are outside the action that is taking place in our clients’ lives. Even though this view sounds logical, it may be that this view is limiting our ability to create change for clients.

When we have this perspective as being outside the interaction our clients are engaging in, we can sometimes struggle to adjust their behaviors and thoughts in order to create a shift in clients. If, on the other hand, we view ourselves as being part of the interaction, we find that our very presence can create openings for change to occur. Let us consider how being a part of the interaction is different from interpreting clients’ actions.

If we are interpreting clients’ actions as an “outside observer”, we can only give clients our perspective. This can sometimes be helpful but it can also just take the form of merely giving information. Having information can be helpful but it does not guarantee that our clients will change anything in their lives. Just knowing information does not create an experience for clients to feel firsthand what the adjustment to the pattern of interaction is like. Some clients may take the information they are given and run with it but many will hear it, think about it and find that nothing changes as the patterns of interaction have not been altered.

In contrast, by assuming that you are now part of the pattern of interaction, it becomes much easier to create therapeutic shifts in clients by the use of your own behavior. If your therapy session is an interactive process that now incorporates you the therapist (which it is), anything you do on your part to adjust the interactional patterns can result in shift in those patterns. By no longer believing you are outside of the interaction, you now have the ability to adjust the patterns clients bring to therapy by merely adjusting yourself.




As Keeney wrote in the classic text, “Aesthetics of Change” (1983):
“The traditional view is that a therapist treats a client through a given intervention. However, it may be useful for a therapist to imagine a client’s behavior as an intervention. His interventions, so to speak, attempt to provoke the therapist to come up with a useful directive or solution. In this reverse view the therapist’s behavior is problematic when he fails to help the client. Treatment is successful; when the client provokes the therapist to say or prescribe the appropriate action.”

Essentially, the patterns of interaction involve the therapist and to believe the therapist is not a part of the interaction is limiting to the ability of the therapist to create changes in those patterns. By changing yourself in the session, your clients cannot help but be impacted. Any action you take to shake up the pattern will be felt by your clients, unless all you are doing is giving them more and more information.

Since you are a part of the interaction, imagine how freeing this can be to you as a therapist! You no longer have to rigidly adhere to treatments and theories. No matter what therapeutic orientation you have you can become more effective as your mere presence in the session is able to open the doorway to new possibilities.

Are you a Lazy Therapist?

Are you a lazy therapist? If not, could you try to become one?

To me a lazy therapist is one who does only what needs to be done. He or she will relax and let the therapy session move into whatever direction it needs to take without feeling like he or she has to control it. Lazy therapists go with the flow and even sometimes shift the flow in surprising ways.

Most of us have been taught that if we are working harder than the client then something is not right. It may be that we want to the change in the client more than the client wants it. It could also be that perhaps we are attempting to get the client to fit into our therapy model. If we are lazy therapists we just let new therapy models happen all by themselves. We take whatever the client gives us and we use it to create new possibilities for the client. If we are trying to force a client into a model it feels like “hard work” and that means you aren’t being a lazy therapist.

lazy therapist

To be a lazy therapist does not mean you have to be an ineffective therapist. Quite the contrary. You may find that the more you let go of control and let the client do whatever he or she is going to do, often magical openings appear for you to do great therapy. These openings may not appear if you are working hard to get the client into a set pattern of interaction.

To be an effective “lazy” therapist I believe you need to do two things:

Improvise and Utilize

When we improvise we let the client takes us on a journey. We see what magically appears and we do things which seem natural in that specific moment.
After that we then utilize what has occurred in our improvisation to move our clients toward new resources for healing.
This is so different from “working hard”. This can be quite a fun, lazy way to help people.

Instead of badgering a client to change their thinking, why not start a discussion about something they enjoy which could lead to an experience of interaction which might shift their thinking in ways beyond anything you might have thought possible?

Instead of pushing a client into facing his or her fears, why not do an out of the ordinary activity where he or she can feel in charge of the situation and access the resource of confidence?

Instead of working hard to label a client, why not pull out your DSM and ask the client what label they would like to have, which could start a great discussion about the power each of us has to choose our own labels?

You could easily do all these kind of things but you may feel you are being lazy. That is a good thing.

Present and accounted for

As therapists we are taught to focus on our clients and be as present as possible to their needs. This one aspect of therapy is one of the most important things we can do to activate the potential in our clients.

It has been shown many times that it is the relationship between the therapist and the client which aids in creating real change not simply theories or techniques. The best gift therapists can give to their clients is the gift of their presence. In our culture, which has become a constant stream of distractions, people are rarely aware of the importance of simply “being” with someone. By the simple act of connecting with another human being we can foster incredible transformational changes.

But we have to be present in order to be present.

It is not uncommon for us to drift off and focus on other things as our clients are speaking with us. We begin to wonder about things that do not pertain to the person who is courageous enough to share their life story with us. It doesn’t mean we are bad therapists, it just means we are not present. If we can catch ourselves drifting off and return to embrace even the most mundane parts of what our clients are telling us, we may find that our effectiveness expands.



Recently I had a situation in which I learned first-hand how important being present was to assisting others heal. I had a client, who I will call “Tony”, who had come to see me for anxiety issues. He had been having panic attacks which kept him from performing at work and at home in ways he would have liked. He also suffered from a variety of health issues which caused him to dip into depression from time to time. We had done some good work together in his first few sessions and his panic attacks were gone and his attitude toward his health issues had improved. He was doing so well that I had even attempted to terminate the therapy. He declined to terminate and told me he felt he need to continue coming. Most of the time when I saw him, he mostly talked about his day to day life which I thought had little serious content to it. I would often find myself drifting off and slightly dreading his visits as I was getting bored with our interactions.

One day he was talking and I found myself drifting off and focusing on things that I had to do later that evening. He pleasantly talked and shared many things about how he interacted with others in his work place. I began to watch the clock and ponder how soon I could end the session. Finally, it came the time to stop our session and I let Tony know that we had come to the end of our time.
As I stood up to walk to the door, I noticed Tony’s eyes were a little moist with the beginning of tears. He looked at me and told me with a slight quiver in his voice, “Doc, I really appreciate our sessions so much. Since I lost my father and brother I just don’t have any other male I can talk to and be myself around. Being in here with you has really helped me in a lot of ways. I don’t know what I would have done without our talks.”

I was shocked. I told him that I was honored to work with him and that it was all part of the job. Inside myself though, I felt horrified by my behavior of not being present in our sessions. I felt like I was a phony. I had not really been listening. I had thought that since Tony’s initial problem was mostly gone there was not much reason to stay as focused. I was ashamed by my lack of insight. I was just too busy in my own little world that I had, unknown to the client, cheated him out of my presence. I learned a lesson in that moment.

From that point on, when Tony came to see me I worked very hard to focus on him and stay as present as possible as this is what he needed more than any technique or theory. He taught me a wonderful lesson without knowing it. The more I am present with my clients, the more I can help my clients. I have always known this idea but yet I had forgotten. It is good to be reminded.

BOOK REVIEW: The Therapeutic Aha!

Lately it is rare that I get to read a good book on counseling that makes me sit up and say, “YES!” But this is exactly what happened when I read the latest book by Courtney Armstrong entitled, “The Therapeutic Aha!: 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck” . Courtney has written a wonderful book which is easy to read and easy to implement in your practice.


Therapeutic Aha

The focus of the book is how our clients often need novel experiences within the therapy session to create a shift in their lives. While praising the effective treatments of Cognitive based therapies, Courtney also points out that many times clients may be already challenging their thinking but still need something else to create a change in how they interact with their world. The needed “something else” is a new experience. This book gives an easy to understand explanation of how the emotional/reactive brain works and fun, creative strategies on how to help it change. The case stories in the book are really interesting and the lessons they contain are worth re-reading.


In essence, this is a book which will teach you how to help others heal from trauma while igniting (or re-igniting) your passion for being a therapist. I highly recommend it and I have personally told Courtney that I wish I had written it. I look forward to much more fantastic work from Courtney Armstrong.