When talk therapy fails – other learning styles


By David Joel Miller

Not everyone learns things the same way.

Art for the visual learner

Art for the visual learner Photo courtesy of Flickr

Therapy is often conducted as if everyone learned in one way and only one way. In traditional therapy, we copy Freud, the client talks and the therapist listens. Eventually, the client says something and then hearing their own voice they have this insight moment and suddenly they know what is wrong and what to do.

If only it was that simple. Sometimes just talking does not help everyone.

Several other methods of counseling have been developed to help those who learn or communicate best in another way. Unfortunately, those other styles of therapy do not always get the respect they deserve.

The three learning styles and therapy.

Some people are good at learning by listening to verbal directions. Verbal learns can reach decisions from listening to themselves talk things out.  Some people learn best by seeing things, they are visual learners. Some people need to be guided through the motions to learn. We call that kinesthetic learning. Some people learn best by a combination of methods.

While talk therapy may work well for verbal learners it is not always equally helpful if you have a different learning style.

Some people can’t find the words.

What if you can’t find the words to describe how you feel? There are a variety of reasons why someone would not be able to communicate about their experiences or feelings in words.

Young children may have been the victims of abuse or neglect; they may have grief or loss that is troubling them. What they do not have is the words to talk about those problems. That does not imply that a nonverbal person is not troubled by their problems.

People with a disorder on the autism spectrum may not be adept at verbal communication. Those who dissociate or are disconnected from their feelings have the same issue.

One method of working on those issues is to employ art therapy.  Art therapy does not mean the therapist and the client sit around and color or draw pictures. There is a reason for the art and it is therapeutic. The child who could not explain something bad that has happened to them can often draw a picture of that experience or of the feeling that event created. Once the picture has been drawn they can begin to describe the things they pictured. Amazing insights can develop as a result of using visual methods to supplement the client’s vocabulary.

Sometimes you can express yourself best by moving.

kinesthetic learners need to move and feel the situation.  One technique that I have used in a group setting is to have a client who is unable to describe how they feel about their family create a “family sculpture.” They make up a list of family members which we display on a white board. Then other clients are asked to play the roles of those family members and positioned around the room. The client tells each “family member” where to stand.

The group then asks the client why each person is standing where they are. Clients discover that they always felt that one person was closer to them than another or that two family members stay apart from the rest and excluded them. This becomes a topic to talk about and sometimes exercises to do at home to improve relationships with those family members they saw as distant from them.

Other clients may find dance therapy or physical activity to be helpful in learning to understand and regulate their behavior.

Why other therapies?

The intent here is not just to engage in fun activities with clients as therapeutic as that can be, but to help the client to grasp their thinking, feeling and behavioral issues in a way that fits their essential learning style.

To apply these alternative therapeutic modalities the clinical counselor needs to be trained in assessment and diagnosis of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

For more on Clinical Counselors and the things you do please look at past posts on LPCC’s and check out the CALPCC (California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors. website.

Two books that I find especially helpful in working with young children or less verbal adults are:

Windows to Our Children: A Gestalt Therapy Approach to Children and Adolescents by Violet Oaklander

The Healing Power of Play: Working with Abused Children by Eliana Gill

For the full list of recommended books check out the listings over on counselorfresno.com at Recommended Books 

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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5 thoughts on “When talk therapy fails – other learning styles

  1. Thanks for noticing!
    I really have found the information you have provided to be reassuring, healing, and helpful as well as other sources of information. It is just now becoming easier to take things in as it has been almost 2 years that I escaped the horrifying experience and filed my board complaint. It took a year to place the guy on probabtion, heavy fines, supervision. Simply put, he sucked like a bilge pump. After he was notified of my complaint he tried to sketch into his notes that I had a “sudden onset personality disorder”. Such douchebaggery. I have always had ADHD severe combined type and nothing more.
    However, I am tenacious individual and immediately got a more experienced counselor (at one time who was the president of APA). At first he didn’t believe me about the experience I described but my trust was already diminished so I didn’t care. Eventually he soon realized I was telling the truth (I gave consent for him to speak w the atty gen). Thankfully his healthy counseling skills helped to undo the craptastic counseling of the other guy.
    Thanks again for your information.

    Like

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