WFU Department of Counseling: Creativity in Counseling with Dr. Sam Gladding – Ep. 1

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Audio Transcription:

Bob Nations: Welcome to Wake Forest University’s department of counseling podcast. I’m Dr. Bob Nations and we have faculty members from the department today. We’re gonna be talking about creativity in counseling. And let’s let them introduce themselves.

Shannon Warden: I’m Dr. Shannon Warden.

Sam Gladding: And I’m Dr. Sam Gladding.

Shannon Warden: Bob, I’m pretty excited. Sam Gladding –

Bob Nations: I know we’ve got Sam.

Shannon Warden: I know you’re a modest man Sam, but – modest person, but in truth, Sam is the – is patriarch okay? Let’s say patriarch. This guy, he really is Wake Forest department of counseling.

Bob Nations: He is, yes.

Shannon Warden: He is. And so as we’re talking to him in this segment about creativity, we’ll reference some of his many, many books. I don’t know Sam that you even have a count on how many textbooks and other creative books that he has written, but wow, Bob, so I’m pretty excited about this. We’re gonna be talking about creativity with the man himself, Dr. Sam Gladding. And Sam, let’s just start it off with asking you what is creativity?

Sam Gladding: Creativity’s been defined in a lot of different ways. But probably the best way I think is a definition Robert Sternberg gave and he said that creativity is a two-part phenomenon. It is both something that is new and something that’s useful. So, if you go in the grocery store and you see a big sign that says new, it may not be creative. And if you also see something that also says useful, it may not be creative for that time. But if you see both new and useful, by George or Harriet, that’s creative.

Shannon Warden: All right, new and useful.

Sam Gladding: Right.

Shannon Warden: All right. And for the counseling field, wow, we have to constantly, it feels like, stay creative, be creative, find the creativity inside of ourselves, the new and the useful. Sam, and I know you’ve been teaching this for years, talk to us a little bit about why creativity is so important in counseling.

Sam Gladding: Well, I think a profession either advances or it stagnates. So, if counseling is not creative, it’s not advancing. And if it stagnates, it becomes like the horse and buggy days where we no longer buy buggy whips because we no longer have horse drawn carriages. So, it’s really important for counseling to be creative and we find that in a lot of different ways.

For instance, we find people who have created theories or invented theories or developed theories, however we want to frame that, are usually very creative people. They seize on the moment. They see what is not there, as well as what is there. And creative people, many times, take that intersection of what is not is there as well as what is there and look at that and say what could be there? And that possibility emerges for them. So, if you take everyone from Carl Rogers to Albert Ellis to Salvador Manuchen, etc., they have all seen what was there and what was missing and have created something that is new and useful for counseling.

Shannon Warden: Yeah, and client work is so unique in itself. You know, when you sit down with one client versus another, there can easily be two separate needs or two separate skill sets, strength sets. And so to be able to think creatively as to how am I gonna approach my work with this client or if it’s a school counselor, how am I gonna approach my work with this student? It really does require a healthy amount of creativity. And I’m guessing somewhere in there’s gotta be an intentionality toward creativity. Or else, you might be back with the horse and buggy, those days passing us by or those opportunities passing us by because we’re not being intentional with creativity.

Sam Gladding: Your point is really well made that people who become creative or are creative are people who expect to be creative. And so, if you don’t have an expectation, you don’t get a realization of what can be. Think of it like the little song in South Pacific, Happy Talk. If you don’t have a dream, how are you gonna have a dream come true? If you don’t expect to be creative, how are you going to be creative?

And so sometimes it’s spur of the moment and sometimes, and usually it’s hard work. I’ll give you a quick spur of the moment in counseling. As you know, I was a mental health counselor for many years before I became an academic. And I once had a woman who would come in and she’d just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, but she’d say virtually nothing. She’d just talk about the bridge club and the dishes and her children and nothing about yourself.

And so finally, kind of on the spur of the moment, I said to her you keep talking about a lot of things, but not about anything specific in regard to you or why you came here. And she looked at me and she said I think talk is cheap. And I thought for a moment and I said, well it used to be, but I just doubled your fee. And she began to talk about a magpie about herself.
Shannon Warden: She picked up the pace.

Sam Gladding: Right, she picked it up quite quickly. I don’t know that that’s the most creative thing I’ve ever done and I don’t think I would recommend that necessarily for most people in most places or most cases. But for that particular woman at that particular time, it was new and it was useful.

Shannon Warden: Back to that definition, new and useful.

Bob Nations: Yeah.

Shannon Warden: And you realize that right, Bob, he’s kind of conceptualizing that client and that’s what counseling students and thereafter professional counselors do as you’re interacting with that client, trying to conceptualize who is this and what are their specific strengths and what are their specific needs. And then comes in the creativity. So, you’re getting a sense after those number of meeting with her. She’s just not really getting there. She’s not talking anything that’s really truly pertinent to why she’s here. And so in realizing that, so you saw conceptualized who is this, what are your strengths, what are her needs? You realized and, you know, for some that would have been a risk, but that’s creative. You do have to make those sorts of moves to advance the work sometimes, often times even.

Sam Gladding: Right. Most of the time though creativity comes about as hard work. We have – well, there’s a theorist by the name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and even though that name is a very hard name to pronounce –

Shannon Warden: I was gonna say congratulations, that’s amazing.

Sam Gladding: And you can’t spell it so don’t even try. But he basically says, as do many other people, that creativity requires usually about 10,000 hours or 10 years in a profession. So, it’s not something as the old Mayberry RFD TV show with Goober in it would say shazaam. It doesn’t happen, shazaam. It happens after hard work. And so when we look at what’s a symbol or a metaphor for creativity, a lot of times our culture puts it as a lightbulb. But really, the better symbol for creativity is an iceberg. There is a lot more that has gone into building the creativity, the part you can see, than is obvious from looking at the top of the iceberg. And so, most things aren’t just instantaneous. They are, after long and hard and careful work and a knowledge of the field. That’s when they begin to come into play.

Shannon Warden: Or maybe you become a little bit more confident. You’ve done all that –years of growing and building in your skill. But then there is some progression there that happens where maybe you’re more confident with being creative.

Sam Gladding: That’s true. Look at Carl Rogers for instance. We think of him coming into prominence in about 1942 or so. But Rogers had been in the field a number of years before that time. And he had been more psychoanalytic than anything else. But, a couple things happened. One was the clinic he was in would divide people up and different people would see different parts of the family. And finally one day, he was talking to the mother of a child and she said do you ever see people individually? That it’s fine for me to talk to you about the family like that, but I’d like to talk to you about myself. And Rogers realized here’s an opportunity.

He also realized in that day that EG Williamson in Minnesota had formulated a theory called counselor centered theory where you didn’t ask you what they wanted to be. You told them what they should be based on a number of tests. In fact, his theory was sometimes referred to as three interviews and a cloud of dust, because the first interview they would talk, the second interview he’d give them a test, the third interview he’d tell them what they should be and the cloud of dust was they left.

Shannon Warden: They’re gone.

Sam Gladding: Yeah.

Shannon Warden: That was counseling centered. Or counselor centered.

Sam Gladding: That was, counselor centered. But Rogers realized with his first called non-directive and then client centered and then person centered theory, that it was more important for people to be able to express themselves and talk about themselves and to find answers within themselves than for someone to either tell them what they should be or for someone to interpret how they were based on Freudian theory.

Shannon Warden: Okay, so then it seems like there’s a natural evolution of sorts –

Bob Nations: Yes.

Shannon Warden: – where you’re progressing in your profession and you begin through conversations, through training as new insight comes to us. You become more creative that way. There’s intentionality and Bob, this makes me think there’s hope for someone who would say I’m not creative. Right? Don’t you know –

Bob Nations: Yeah, absolutely.

Shannon Warden: You’re bound to get that sometimes Sam of I’m not creative, what do I do?

Bob Nations: Yeah, ‘cause I think students that might be listening to this or potential students for the master’s online or on campus mental health counseling program are thinking about this – well, how can I become creative? What is it that I can do – and what does it look like? What does creativity look like in counseling? And I’d like to hear some more about that Sam. You gave one example of double the fees of somebody and I think I’m gonna use that next time. What would be some examples of creativity in counseling? What does it encompass?

Sam Gladding: Well, let me just say as you were talking I was thinking of Ringo Star and the whole thing about Ringo Star is that he has that great little song of gotta pay your dues if you wanna sing the blue and you know it don’t come easy.

Bob Nations: It don’t come easy.

Sam Gladding: Well, you’ve gotta pay your dues. You’ve gotta be in the field for a while.

Bob Nations: Yes.

Sam Gladding: But, here’s the good part. While you’re paying your dues, you begin to, again, see what’s there and what’s not there. Let me give you an example of somebody who I think was very creative and who saw what was there and not there and who literally kind of stumbled upon something but realized when she did that it was an important something and that’s Insoo Kim Berg. Insoo Kim Berg as we know was one of the people who formulated a solution focused theory. And one day she was working with the client and she was not getting anywhere. So, she said just out of frustration if you woke up tomorrow and everything was better, how would you know that? And the lights went on in this person’s eyes and the activity in her brain and she described Insoo Kim Berg what that would be like.

And Insoo Kim Berg said that you know this is kind of a miracle question. And she tried it several more times and found out it was working. And we know that the miracle question is now a part of that theory and that theory evolved from strategic family therapy. And so it was somebody who came up with creativity, not expecting, necessarily, to come up with that. But realizing that once she had stumbled upon it, that it was like a minor mining gold that this was something that was very valuable and something useful and something that could move on from there.

Shannon Warden: That’s right, new and useful. Have I got that right? New and useful.

Sam Gladding: new and useful.

Shannon Warden: Just recognizing this is a need and it seems, in many cases, there is that challenge, right? I guess that makes me think of the – what do we say about the mother of invention?

Sam Gladding: Necessity.

Bob Nations: Necessity.

Shannon Warden: Necessity. There it is. Right? And so there’s that need that came about there with Insoo Kim Berg and I’m thinking too Sam as you’re talking the miracle question is one of those that many students gravitate to or they might graduate in as well, but they gravitate too, because it’s so clear. It’s such a concrete tool that they understand, they see the value of it and they, often times are early in their practice comfortable with solution focused approaches and with the miracle question in particular. And I think, again, that shows that not only the newness of it at that moment, but it’s value across time and the usefulness of it across time that students do gravitate very naturally to that.

So, there again there’s hope of a person can be creative. You don’t even know at the moment that a creative idea or intervention is gonna be born, but it takes that readiness, I suppose, that expectation that it could happen at any moment. That it’s sometimes coming out of need. And who knows where it’s going, but if it really is new and useful, it often times has some traction for time to come.

Sam Gladding: That’s true and one of the other things about creativity is this, that you need a lot of ideas. So, it’s diversity, diversity, diversity. And then you need to be able to select the good ideas from the bad ideas, or the ideas that just aren’t going to work. And so creativity is one of those aspects of live that, again, doesn’t come from just a single moment or a single idea. It comes from a lot of ideas. And it’s social. So, if you think of Florence, Italy in the 14th century or if you think of Silicon Valley in the 21st century, there’s a social aspect of both of those environments. So, find yourself an environment that is social and where people wanting to be creative like let’s just say Wake Forest and the counseling program. And if you find that environment or live in that environment or study in that environment, your chances of becoming more creative are enhanced about a million percent.

Shannon Warden: You know I’m glad you mentioned the program Sam. I think sometimes Bob the student is so – I’m gonna say overwhelmed of okay, I know I wanna do this, how do I find the right program and can I really invest two years or three years? And they’re making some big life decisions and so in the midst of those big decisions, we’re hopeful that we’re coming to them as a program saying here we are, we’re very student centered, as Sammy said of being client centered, we’re very student centered. We’re very invested for years and years now in training the best counselors. We offer the clinical mental health counseling master’s degree and we offer the school counseling master’s degree. And so we’re doing it at a high level, but we hope students are hearing, okay this is a program where I can fit in. This is a program that can stretch me. This is a program that I need to get to that professional goal that I’m pursuing. And so I love that invitation in essence there that they’re offering up that we are, a creative environment. We want to be an environment that fosters creativity.

So, while they’re overwhelmed with a lot of logistics, I hope too, they’re recognizing, and certainly as they get further into the program that this really is a place that is student centered, trying to be creative in all the different ways that we try to be creative. But, as much as anything, trying to foster a sense of creativity, ‘cause they’re gonna need that in their profession. They’re gonna need to be creative.

Sam Gladding: Very much. I was once in the Army and as you know the Army is by the numbers. You do things according to certain rules, certain numbers and the Army would always tell you what you were gonna do beforehand. They’d tell you what you were doing while you were doing it, and they’d tell you what you did afterwards. Well, we’re not going to do that at Wake Forest, nor is it a very good idea if you wanna be creative to try to do that. I will say that this is my fourth university and I find my colleagues and the students here very creative, very open to what’s new and useful and how can I get there? So, it’s a really good environment.

Shannon Warden: Well, and too, you’re reminding me Sam of something a great importance is that we have the cohort model, Bob and so when a student signs on with us, they’re gonna matriculate through their program typically in a cohort. Meaning, they’ve come in with that same X number of people and they’re gonna go from start to finish, typically, with that same group of people.

And when you do have that sort of connection and Sam as you’re saying as you’re hearing those ideas, as you’re being encouraged to support one another, you’re being supported with the ideas and the creative approaches, wanting you to be creative, but also wanting us to be an open environment for creativity. There you are in that cohort. So really, it becomes a great feeding ground or support center for fostering creativity. You’re with those people. You begin to know who they are, you create some sense of safety. It’s a diverse group so that creativity hopefully really can take flight.

Sam Gladding: Well, I think it really does and when you’re talking about flight and feeding and all of that, I have blue birds in my backyard right now. And so I notice what they do and the parent birds are always stuffing things down the throats of those little fledglings. But we don’t stuff anything down anybody’s throat at Wake Forest. We give you a lot of information. But finding people who have different ideas than you do, a heterogeneous group which we try to foster at Wake Forest, always good. It makes you uncomfortable in some ways, but it makes you think in many other ways. And it’s thinking, especially thinking in metaphors that makes a difference in how you progress as a creative person.

Shannon Warden: Yeah, I’m a big, big fan.

Bob Nations: Yes.

Shannon Warden: I think often times everything comes back to metaphor Bob, so I’m a fan. Sam, years ago, I had the great fortune of studying under you at Wake. I did my master’s at Wake Forest from ’96 to ’98 and I think I came to the program creative and I think I was helped to be more creative in particular with metaphor. And I have to just thank you for that great influence that you have had in my professional life and personal life. It’s great.

Sam Gladding: My pleasure.

Shannon Warden: Well, Bob, so not only is Sam big in these subjects of creativity and metaphor as part of that, but he is also not only big in talking it, he’s big in writing it. Sam, tell us a little bit about either some of your books or some of those go to sources that students might want to think about in terms of helping advance their understanding and practice of creativity.

Sam Gladding: Well, there are a number of sources out there. I’ve certainly written one of them, but it’s not the end all be all on creativity. It’s called the Creative Arts & Counseling. And it’s in its fifth edition now, so it’s fairly – the ink is barely dry. It’s pretty new right now. But let me say that a lot of people aren’t going to want to wade through a book like this because of time and other things on their agenda. So, I would advise going to the Association for Creativity & Counseling, the ACC. And I know at Wake Forest, we think of the ACC as the Atlantic Coast Conference. But it’s also the Association for Creativity & Counseling. They have a wonderful journal called the Journal of Creativity & Mental Health. And we all want good mental health and creativity is a part of that.

Shannon Warden: Yes.

Sam Gladding: And they have an excellent website. And so, the journal and the website, and they also have an annual conference. So, there are a lot of things that you can do to help yourself be more creative and learn more about specific types of creativity. I always kind of have a hard time with S.

Shannon Warden: That’s wonderful. That’s a great set of resources then for folks who are interested in advancing creativity. And I think we, most all of us, have to be interested, Bob in advancing our creativity. It’s such a core part of counseling, so important in counseling. So, those are great resources and Sam, I think, Bob, we have other thoughts or questions we wanna get to here or Sam if not, we’re gonna wrap up.

Bob Nations: Okay.

Shannon Warden: Yeah? Sam, thank you so much.

Bob Nations: And we appreciate you being with us.

Sam Gladding: I’m glad to. I’d love to do a rap going out, but I think maybe I’m not that creative right now.

Bob Nations: Oh, okay.

Sam Gladding: But, thank you so much for having me.

Shannon Warden: Thank you.

Bob Nations: Thank you.