The Spirited School Counselor


Expressive Arts and Brief Therapy

Expressive Arts & BriefWhile at VCA I attended two sessions on art and counseling. Although both sessions focused on two different populations and with two different theories I left feeling very encouraged to incorporate more art in my therapy sessions.

Jamie Wyatt, from a Community Service Board in Virginia, spoke about his experience using brief therapy techniques and expressive arts with clients living in homelessness. I found this session really impactful, especially when he spoke about the importance each session holds – assuming that each session, even the very first session, is the last session. After my internship this last semester I found that many of the students I encountered I was only seeing one time or that they transferred over night and I was unaware that our last session was our last session. Since VCA I have made an effort to look at each session as possibly the last session with that client. I found that doing this made these sessions more meaningful.

Mr. Wyatt spoke about the basics of brief therapy – finding the survivor in the client, gaining an understanding of the problem(s) and attempted solutions/possible solutions. He also mentioned the importance of celebrating with the client and finding hope with the client.

Here are a few of the ways he suggested incorporating expressive arts into a counseling session:

  • Have a client use a sand tray to create his/her world of hope. Ask the client questions like: “How are you like this object?” “What is it about this object that brings hope?”
  • Ask the client to create a collage before a miracle and after a miracle (in schools I would change the wording to wish, change, or hope). Ask the client questions like: “Why did you change that?” “What helps you when you feel certain emotions?”
  • Ask the client to -act, write, draw, move, play, dance, talk, express in some way – what they would do if they had 24 hours left to live.

Each of the above activities pairs nicely with a brief therapy question:

  • “If you had a picture of hope on your wall that you would look at each day, what would it look like?”
  • The miracle question – “If a miracle happened while you were sleeping tonight how would you know the problem was gone?”
  • “If you had 24 hours left to live what would you regret not having done?”

Do you incorporate expressive arts into school counseling? If so, how?

Do you have any recommended reading on the topic?

Thanks for stopping by!




Relax! Yoga Interventions to Combat Students Stress & Anxiety

YogaThe first session I attended at the VCA conference this year was on yoga. Yoga is something that I have been interested in using with students for many years. I recently attended my first “adult” yoga class this past week, but before this I had the opportunity to work at a Harvard University affiliated preschool that offered yoga to our students once a week. Imagine an adult yoga class and then picture yoga with three year-old children. The two classes appear to be very different but I think the results were similar. Relaxation, self-awareness, and mindfulness occur for children just as it does for adults.

During this session the presenters gave us lots of research & resources, as well as techniques to use with students.

A few of the academic benefits students gain when practicing yoga include a decrease in anxiety, improved concentration, decrease in the number of fights between students, and an increase in decision-making skills.

Here are a couple of the actual techniques they shared with us:

Yoga Breath (Belly Breath): This is exactly what it sounds – taking slow deep belly breaths. One of my professors suggested using a small beanie baby type animal with students. Have the student put the animal on his/her belly and rock the animal with their breath slowly.

Dangling Vines: This is a calming pose that allows the muscles to relax. To do this pose you allow your arms to dangle like a weeping willow, bending at the waist. To add movement you can ask students to let their vines (arms) move in a soft breeze. As a preschool teacher I also would ask students to stretch their arms up high into the sky like tree branches and then dangle like vines to add an additional movement to the pose.

Seated poses are also a great option, especially around testing season.
Many yoga poses can be modified to be kid friendly. For example the cat, cow, and cobra poses are fairly well known. When doing these moves with children you can have them make the animal noises during the pose. Not only does it make it a little silly, it helps students control their breath allowing them to deepen their relaxation.

I attached a lot of links above. You can find many other poses and relaxation techniques on those sites, as well. Remember they aren’t just for the students – yoga can be a great self-care activity for you, as well as the parents and staff that you work with on a daily basis.

Of course it should be stated that the term yoga (as well as meditation and guided imagery) can be attached to religious practices so I would try not to use those terms in public schools. During the session we had a big discussion about what to call these yoga poses in schools. After I moved back to VA I incorporated many of the yoga techniques I learned in the classes in Boston, but I did not call it yoga. Instead I simply called it “stretching” which is exactly what it is. A participant in the session shared that she had a time in her classroom lessons called “brain breaks” and during those few minutes she would have students stretch into yoga poses or practice relaxation techniques. Another counselor suggested calling it a “stretch & breath” and explained to students how they both helped to calm the mind and body.  As counselors we are focused on the mental well-being of our students and I have found for myself and my students that yoga really does help relax and de-stress.

It should also be noted that students should never be told to close their eyes. Instead you can give students an option of either closing his/her eyes or directing her/his eyes down to the floor so they can focus on themselves during that time.

Parental and staff buy-in was also discussed during the session. It was suggested to cite the research (and there is a lot out there). Emphasize the impact these practices can have on stress and anxiety reduction, as well as academic performance, when talking with administrators, staff, and families.

Have you used yoga with your students?

Do you think this is something you would try?
Thanks for stopping by!


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Virginia Counselor’s Association Convention Update

Hello World!

I feel like I am finally feeling like a human again after a very busy semester full of learning, growing, and just enjoying the internship experience. With that said, it didn’t give me as much time as I had hoped to blog about my experiences but that’s what break is for, right?

I have been anxious to write about the sessions I attended at the Virginia Counselor’s Association (VCA)convention this past November at the Homestead. I learned so much and made a few contacts for the future. I am amazed how inspired I feel after each conference I attend.

Here is a list of the sessions I attended that really stood out to me (I will write a blog post for each individually):

Following the first day of sessions there are many welcome receptions to attend. I was lucky enough to pick up some leftover resources from a few sessions I was unable to attend at the receptions. There was so many interesting and informative sessions that I felt torn as to where to go!

The keynote speaker this year was Trevor Romain. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak – Go! He is funny, inspiring, and really knows how to pull his audience in and pull on each person’s heart strings. He is the author of several books and dvds. If I knew I would be working in an elementary or middle school next year I would have scooped up a couple of them at the conference. Image