Lisa Mitchell

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Do you play enough in your sessions?

Lisa Mitchell | Sep 3, 2015 | 47 comments

Do you play enough in your sessions? How play and spontaneity can lead to help clients unlock their emotional brain.

Spontaneity, humor, and play have been knocking at my office door lately.  I’ve drawn the line at ridiculousness (like this picture),  but I have been answering.  I’ve been flinging the door open, arms wide and ready for laughter and the incredible lightness of being that floats in and inhabits the session.

It hasn’t always been this way.  I’m a fairly serious person.  I like to think things through.  I like depth and intensity of emotion.  I don’t shy away from darkness or pain.

But Courtney Armstrong’s book, The Therapeutic “Aha!”: 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck (Norton, 2015), has planted a seed that’s been growing for many months.

In her book, Courtney Armstrong, reminds us that a therapeutic alliance cannot rely solely on positive regard, empathy and compassion.  It also requires a charismatic connection.  That connection comes from “igniting a spark of energy that lights the way out of suffering for our clients”.

She says, “Inviting our clients to laugh and play with us can discharge the emotional energy in a way that feels less daunting.”  In this way, we are unlocking the emotional brain and creating uplifting moments in which our clients have a felt experience that is transformative and healing.

Of course, The Therapeutic “Aha!” has wonderful examples of Courtney’s playful approach, complete with scripts and worksheets.  I recommend it wholeheartedly.

But I’d like to talk about the seed that she planted and how it relates to being a creative therapist.  That is, a therapist who sees her work as her art form.  In my online course, Artfix, and in my forthcoming book, Creativity as Co-Therapist, we look at the creative process and use it as a guide to understand the therapeutic process.  Within the five stages of the creative process there are what I’ve come to think of pivot points.

Pivot points are moments in time with a client when you have to choose which way to go.

We face these pivot moments several times a session. 

We choose whether to guide our client away from an emotional storm…….or to accompany them into the squall head on.

We choose to facilitate understanding and new cognition…….or to sit with the felt experience without words.

The choices span out through a course of treatment, one after another.  The ability to choose in the moment, without rigid adherence to preconceived rule or method, is the art of therapy.

We have to be artists willing to pivot at a moment’s notice, even if we don’t know exactly where it will take us.  We are nimble brained, light in our thoughts, and spontaneous.

One of the pivot moments that I’ve avoided in the past is to turn straight into silliness or laughter. 

I’ve been hesitant because I feared that my clients might think I wasn’t taking their issues seriously or that I was minimizing their pain.  Courtney Armstrong voiced these same concerns in her book, however her clear understanding of neuroscience helps make sense out of the fact that “amusing interventions [can] diffuse resistance, empower clients, and reduce fear and anger.”

So, lately my pivot moments have lead me straight into silliness with a client.  

I’ve conducted full sessions with a British accent, created ridiculous imaginary t-shirts that say “Therapy is magic—poof!”, and ended my day covered with paint from a jubilant splatter painting duel.

Thanks to the creative process and Courtney Armstrong, I’m reminded once again, to “trust the process” and embrace the pivotal moments that invite play into my life and my clients’ lives.

Adding more spontaneity and creativity into your sessions is enlivening for both you and your clients.

Many of my workshop participants and readers have found it very helpful to use my Permission Slip Worksheet to expand their creativity and to see themselves as artists of therapy.  If you’d like to take a look and identify some tangible things that you can do to add more spontaneity to your pivotal moments, leave a comment in the reply box. I’d be happy to send it to you!

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47 responses to “Do you play enough in your sessions?”

  1. Lisa Loomis says:

    Thank you!!! I would love to get my hands on this permission slip!!

  2. I always love learning more creative ways to work with clients, so toss me that worksheet! 😉 Thank you!

  3. Keri Feldkamp says:

    I’d love the permission slip! Thank you!!!!

  4. Emma Cameron says:

    I love that you wrote this post, Lisa! I read Courtney’s book this summer too, and like you, I have been finding it resonates so well with my approach as an Integrative Arts Psychotherapist. And your permission slip sounds a bit like something I sometimes give my workshop participants to help them allow themselves to be playful and spontaneous. Great stuff!

  5. Jennifer Ziegler says:

    Hi! I would love to get the permission slip. Thanks!

  6. Yes! Please send me the permission slip worksheet! Thank you!

  7. Cynthia Davis says:

    Yes please! I would love to receive the permission slip worksheet! Thank you!

  8. Lisa Rakusin says:

    What fun! Please send me your permission slip worksheet.

  9. Brenda says:

    Love using laughter and play in therapy and loved your examples!! I think these techniques raise your vibration. Thank you Lisa and I would live your permission slip!!

  10. Christine Livingston says:

    Thank you Lisa Please send me the worksheet. I’d love to give myself permission to play more often. Christine

  11. theresa says:

    I think silliness and laughter usher in a new level of intimacy that help us trust and develop appropriate bonds. At its best, it models healthy spontaneity and enjoyment of shared experience and positive response to life’s absurdity… I don’t know where I’d be without it!!! I do love your posts, Lisa 😀

  12. Michelle says:

    Bring it on! Love the picture too of the caped man on the couch!!

  13. Wonderful article as always Lisa. Humour and laughter are integral to my sessions. Looking forward to reading yours and now Courtney’s books and I’d like a copy of the worksheet too please!

  14. Gail says:

    Thanks for this. I would love to receive your permission slip.

  15. Fiona says:

    I’ve also developed Permission Slips for clients. People really like them. Love to see your take on this tool in therapy. Thx Lisa.

  16. Ellen Fox says:

    Some of my best moments are when client and I crack up.
    Whenever appropriate I always bring in humor and playfulness. It’s part of the search for creativity. I’d love to see the permission slip.

  17. Peggy says:

    The spontaneity and playfulness of art making has always bode well for me and my child/teen clients. We have many silly and magical moments that restore and rejuvenate our brains in transformative ways. Thanks for writing about this oh so important part of therapy…of life!

  18. Lynda says:

    Hi Lisa, I love what you share & really radiate with sharing fun in therapy & would love to receive your permission slip 😊 thanks Lynda

  19. Linda Pang says:

    Yes, Lisa, please send me the permission slip. I’m very curious about your thoughts.

  20. Nancy says:

    Yes, please send me the permission slip. Thanks!

  21. courtney says:

    This is such a great topic and I would love a permission slip! Thank you for giving me something to think about tonight!

  22. Joy Molaro says:

    although the dark places are important, playfulness can make them less heavy I imagine. I’d love a worksheet to continue exploring!

  23. Elana says:

    Hello! Grateful fot the worksheet!

  24. Kristen Funkhouser Pierce says:

    Yes! I’m curious about the permission slip as well Lisa. Thank you! I just recently purchased Courtney’s book and am loving her creative perspective. Pretty sure I learned about her book from YOU.

  25. Sharon Eakes says:

    I love the pivot points. I think of laughter and play as openings to learning. Please send the permission slip!

  26. Brittany says:

    Sounds great! Please send over the permission slip!

  27. Lynda says:

    You are always inspiring, Lisa!

  28. Liz says:

    I would love to see your permission slip, thank you.

  29. Yes Yes Yes would like to see the worksheet, thank you.

  30. Marise says:

    The permission slip sounds like something I would like to use with my clients. Thanks Lisa for sharing.

  31. Scott Wilcox says:

    Love using play with clients of all ages, and always looking to recharge my own batteries.

  32. Lanie Smith says:

    Love laughing with clients but would love to see your permission slip…always room for more spontaneity!

  33. Sally Swain says:

    Love your ways of expressing creativity within therapy.
    Love this sentence, for example:
    ‘The ability to choose in the moment, without rigid adherence to preconceived rule or method, is the art of therapy.’
    Keep up the good play, I say.

  34. Jenny Herdson says:

    Thank you so much Lisa. Reading your post has validated several things for me which needed validating! I feel much better now about the spontaneous moments that happen in my art therapy practice and it’s always good to hear that there’s scientific back up as well. Please may I have your permissions slip worksheet? I’m intrigued!

  35. Leslie anderson says:

    Please send me the Permission slip

  36. cindy wilson says:

    I would love this worksheet; humor works well and I am always looking for ways to improve!! Cincy

  37. jeri corbin says:

    GREAT newsletter, Lisa. I am soooo impressed with what you do! Even though I have retired, please send me the worksheet, too. THANKS!

  38. Fatimah says:

    The permission slip sounds like something I would like to use with my clients. Thanks Lisa for sharing 🙂

  39. Mary Rose Baldacchino says:

    After visiting your blog I am always sure to leave with a little something that stays with me and comes occasional comes handy when I am with my clients. I would appreciate your permissions slip. Thank you

  40. I frequently use humor even in first sessions, especially with couples as both partners feel fairly tense at the beginning. Humor helps them relax and know that we can have some lightness as we also tackle the serious issues that brought them to my office.

  41. Allie says:

    Hi Lisa,
    please could you ping that worksheet to me too – many thanks,

  42. Christina Morris says:

    Love it!!! I will check out Courtney’s book… Thank you for sharing!

  43. Margie says:

    Always ready to try something new, which is not only invigorating for myself but others as well. Thanks for your inspiring website and sharing your experience & information.

  44. Carolina says:

    Wonderful article Lisa. How to bring in humor in my therapy sessions is now my challange. I would love to get the permission slip. Thanks for your inspiration!

  45. Trish Lanier says:

    You have helped me to better understand that connection and really positive feeling that I have with my adolescents when we end our sessions with laughter. Would love your worksheet!

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