When is Talk Therapy Not? Adapting Approaches for Different Abilities

Posted by: Katherine Paxton on October 9, 2012 2:19 pm

It starts off looking like any usual counselling session – people meet, greet, and get comfortable in their seats. And then not a word is spoken – is this really counselling? I’ve had a few of the students I supervise ask this question of me on several occasions. Sometimes people loose the idea that not everybody who seeks help with personal issues are fluent in the spoken language. My primary client base are people who have different abilities, frequently very bright people who have an autism spectrum disorder. For them, using verbal communication is not always the most effective – they can often express themselves best through writing (typing) or drawing (no I am not an art therapist).

The challenge becomes discovering how people best express themselves and finding ways to adapt your approach to better fit that to facilitate communication and expression. Providing pens and paper is easy – using an iPad as a conversation tool can be a bit more challenging! And, I do have to admit it is quite humbling (and educational) when my clients can see that my typing skills are not executive-secretary quality!

What I find the most fascinating is: once I use the same communication modality or tool that my clients are proficient with, the sessions unfold with new levels of complexity and understanding… Something that seems to get lost if I only talk back to respond to their writing or drawing. (I tend to talk about what I write,  just to cover my bases…) One aspect of using these digital means of supplementing or augmenting communication with people is that there unfolds a written record of the session for both parties to reflect upon between sessions – a lovely benefit!

I wonder how many other counsellors and therapists have stretched the idea of talking in other ways… I am continually amazed at how resourceful and creative people can be!

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

2 comments on “When is Talk Therapy Not? Adapting Approaches for Different Abilities”

  1. Good day Linda!

    A picture is worth at least a thousand words, and is a powerful form of expression. There are so many different ways we can express ourselves, and different ways our clients can share their experiences and understandings/meanings with us. It is wonderful when we can let go and work with a client in their perferred form of expression – maybe being a bridge to expression and meaning.

    Silence, as you have pointed out, can be so very powerful – making the space and time for silent contemplation and experiencing. Perhaps more sacred in our ever-busy world?

    Wishing you something fabulous, Linda!


  2. Linda Thompson says:

    Good morning Katherine – I enjoyed your article about meeting our clients on their ground/comfort zone to facilitate disclosure towards healing. Some of the most amazing moments arise in shared, sacred spaces of silence. Some moments are difficult to transcribe into words. An old saying – a picture is worth a thousand words comes to mind. I continue to encourage clients to create pictorial representations of their healing journeys, inner landscape (resources) which they can gaze upon during healing sessions. Progressive graphic symbolism of life journeys is an ancient art form. Mandala origins have Hindu/Buddist roots made popular in Jungian pschoanalysis. Where there are no words – images can be our manifesto.

    Thanks and regards Linda

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