New Counseling Tool for Vision-Oriented Students

Due in part to media saturation and the amazing advances in visual technologies, which make movies, TV and games more immersive and retain attention for longer periods of time, students are growing more and more visually-oriented. Adding this to young people's already high focus on visuals, while their ability to work with ideas expressed in words is still developing, and those of us who are verbally-focused are finding ourselves on the short end of the stick when we counsel students. While we may not find it easy to change our own focus, nor is it wise to do so, a tool is emerging this winter that addresses counseling starting on a visceral level.

Dr. Diana Jacks is a psychologist and artist. Faced with a divorce later in life, she channeled her confusion and anger-energy into painting a set of portraits, at first for her own expression, to show how she felt in each stage and paint that feeling into the open where she could identify it and confront it. When the nine paintings drew a great deal of attention in a solo show, and friends (and strangers) began telling Dr. Jacks that the portraits clearly showed the emotions they felt in their own times of grief, the artist wrote out a short guide for using the paintings in counseling situations. That guide has recently been expanded into the book "Here to There: Grief to Peace" being published by Quality of Life Publishing.

Many traditional counseling methods rely on words, both the helping words of the counselor and the self-story of the counselee, to explore and work to solve emotional problems. With increasingly limited vocabularies of emotions, these methods are often difficult to use with students. Who knows how many words a picture is worth to a student who identifies with the emotion it shows?

The set of paintings in Dr. Jacks' book are printed in cards, pre-punched to be removed from the back pages. One of her points about using them is that the process of grieving does not move from 1-9 in a straight line, but frequently loops around. The cards, used by a student, can be rearranged visit-by-visit to show where he or she is that day, and the images of the person in the pictures powerfully draw out comparisons to what is going on in one's own life.

Artwork in counseling is not a new idea. The power of these portraits is that they were created by a person deep in grief, not constructed after study. They are authentic and in-the-moment.

Hearing the author speak about her book, I heard her genuine love for art, and for words-- the chapters of the guide are peppered with quotes on grief and healing. Combined, artwork and helping words can be the key to the door a student would never open otherwise. As a tool, the book is informal and full of the author's own story-- two clues I look for in evaluating whether or not I would use material with students. As a show of good faith on the part of a youth minister, it tells the student who is offered the cards that I am willing to see the way he or she sees, not only demanding that my student speak my language.

The book is "Here to There: Grief to Peace" by Diana Jacks, PhD. Published by Quality of Life Publishing, it is available on Amazon.com.

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