SKILLS FOR IDENTIFYING POSSIBILITIES FOR A BETTER FUTURE
At its best, counseling helps clients move from problem-centered mode to “discovery” mode. Discovery mode involves creativity and divergent thinking. Do an Internet search on creativity and divergent thinking and you will be overwhelmed by the results. Dean Simonton (2000) reviewed advances in our understanding and use of creativity as part of positive psychology. According to Taylor, Pham, Rivkin, and Armor (1998), however, not just any kind of mental stimulation will do. Mental stimulation is helpful to the degree that it “provides a window on the future by enabling people to envision possibilities and develop plans for bringing those possibilities about. In moving oneself from a current situation toward an envisioned future one, the anticipation and management of emotions and the initiation and maintenance of problem-solving activities are fundamental tasks” (p. 429).
Your role in helping clients become more creative in their thinking about the future is important, even essential. Uzzi and Spiro (2005) debunk the myth that creativity is the “brash work of loners” (p. 448). The research shows that creative thinking and acting at its best is a social enterprise. When it comes to therapy, one (the client on his or her own) is not enough. Too many cooks—the client with therapist, friends, relatives, and others all providing noisy help—can, predictably, spoil the broth. Helping is a two-person collaborative exercise in creativity. You are truly a catalyst for the client’s elusive creative abilities. The research also suggests that small-group therapy, done right, can be powerful.
Trying to imagine a future in which the problem situation is being managed well is not just fantasy or rumination because of its link to the problem situation. If I ask a married couple, “If you are to stay married, what kind of marriage do you want?” Their answer is rooted in what they have but don’t want. They are being asked to move beyond the problem situation that they know only too well. They are being asked, to use Simonton’s phrase, to “harness the imagination.” Here are some ways to help clients do precisely that.