The power of creativity to spark change and progress in clients has fueled the growth of play therapy, wilderness therapy, animal-assisted therapy and other interventions in recent decades. But when Samuel Gladding first began to use creative approaches with clients in the 1970s, it was far from mainstream.

Gladding, a professor in the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and past president of the American Counseling Association has made creativity a focal point of his storied career.

“Counseling is a profession that focuses on making human experience constructive, meaningful and enjoyable both on a preventive and on a remedial level,” Gladding writes in The Creative Arts in Counseling, of which ACA recently published a fifth edition. “It is like art in its emphasis on expressiveness, structure and uniqueness. It is also creative in its originality and its outcomes. Both are novel, practical and significant.”


Counseling Today sent Gladding some questions, via email, to learn more:


In your opinion, what makes the creative arts a “good fit” for counseling?

Counseling is a creative process. It is both an art and a science just like medicine. The ideal Holland Code for a counselor contains the artistic element as well as the social, enterprising and/or investigative code. As counselors we are always trying to figure out how we can help our clients solve or resolve a problem. The creative arts offer a number of ways to do this. For instance, we know from the research of James Pennebaker that writing about one’s stress on a regular basis has a way of alleviating that stress and promoting mental and physical health. We also know that moving, whether waltzing or walking, is incompatible with depression. Likewise, humor releases endorphins into the blood stream and helps elevate feelings. It may also add years to one’s life – as in the case of Norman Cousins who documented his use of humor and how it positively affected his life in Anatomy of an Illness.

Overall, the creative arts are a tool that counselors can use regardless of their theoretical orientation. They help clients work through the difficulties in their lives and learn how to be more resilient.


What would you want counselors to know about this topic, considering that creative approaches (dance and movement therapy, play therapy, etc.) have grown in popularity in recent decades? Are there any misconceptions or things to be aware of?

I would like counselors to know that the creative arts have been used to foster health and healing since ancient times. The creative arts help us maintain or regain balance in life. Furthermore, while there are only antidotal stories from earlier times, such as David playing the harp to calm King Saul or drama as a relief for depression in ancient Greece, there is a plethora of evidence research now that shows how the creative arts – music, movement, visual art, writing, humor, etc. – work in promoting emotional and physical wellness and well-being.

The creative arts are not a luxury. They are a necessity if we want our clients and ourselves to live productive and meaningful lives. Well-designed and significant scholarship on the power and potential of the creative arts in human life is abundant and important.

The creative arts are not a panacea for all the situations clients bring us. They can help clients gain insight, a new perspective and even make needed changes. However, before using the creative arts in counseling situations, counselors should read the research.


You write [in The Creative Arts and Counseling] that the creative arts “help to make clients more sensitive to themselves.” How so — can you elaborate?

Let’s take the visual arts as an example of how a creative art helps make clients more sensitive to themselves. It is impossible to paint or draw without recognizing after the process has been complete (and actually during the process) that you are representing your perception, feelings – and indeed yourself – on paper or canvas. Most of the creative arts are projective in nature and leave a trail or weave a story into a reality whether physically, as in the case of photography, or mentally, as in the case of movement (e.g., muscle memory). Once you experience yourself drawing, writing, dancing, acting, making music or getting involved in telling a story or creating humor, you can never be the same again. As in the case of Julius Caesar, you have crossed the Rubicon and the only way to go is forward.

Overall, the creative arts help people see and feel differently and become something they were not before. The process and sometimes the product involved in creating moves individuals forward in ways they may not have expected. In other cases, it makes dreams become tangible and sets up a new lifestyle for the person involved.


What advice would you give to a counselor who would like to introduce creative methods into their counseling practice but is unsure on how to get started?

For novice counselors who are unsure on how to get started in using creative methods in their counseling practices, I would recommend three things. First, join the Association for Creativity in Counseling (ACC), a division of the American Counseling Association (ACA). ACC produces a first rate journal edited by Thelma Duffey: the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health.

Second, go to the conferences of ACC and ACA. Both have outstanding workshops by experienced professionals that can help counselors learn how to use creative methods appropriately.

Finally, read the books and research articles in the field that have a historical and practical significance. Look up research on creativity under Google Scholar or download videos that show what to do when and how. Also, attend webinars or summer courses on creativity in counseling that are offered on a number of platforms and at a number of counseling programs worldwide.


What prompted you to work on a fifth edition of this book? What’s new and different in this edition?

I was prompted to work on the fifth edition of The Creative Arts in Counseling because there is so much new in the field. The fourth edition had become dated. There is a lot that is different in the fifth edition but let me point out three. First, new research has been incorporated into the book and readers will find the latest information on how practitioners are using the creative arts and creative methods in their work.

Second, I have included a new chapter on animal-assisted therapy, horticultural therapy and nature or wilderness counseling. Creativity encompasses all aspects of life. Sometimes we compose, paint, or dance to find relief and be more productive. At other times, creativity is inspired from other living life forms. I worked at Pier 94 after Sept. 11, 2001. The therapy dogs there were a very meaningful part of my work as a counselor and I saw how they helped others in stress and distress. Thus, I wanted to include pet therapy in this edition of the book. I am also aware through the research and observation that many people find solace and peace through digging in the soil and growing plants or through communing with nature. Numerous studies show the power of the earth and nature to calm, enrich and inspire people while giving them solace and hope.

A third new aspect of the fifth edition is that I have included a chapter that contains all of the 121 exercises in the book, where they can be found in the text and how they can be used. This is a user-friendly chapter. It will help readers in locating information that they can incorporate in their counseling practices.


What makes you, personally, interested in and passionate about creativity in counseling?

The first five years of my counseling career were as clinician in a rural mental health center in North Carolina. I did not have wise, experienced mental health professionals to help guide me. Instead, I was one of a staff of five serving a population catchment area of 70,000. There was little time to receive supervision or even talk over cases. I used all of the theories and techniques I learned in graduate school but I found that on occasions that was not enough.

In the midst of this immersion into the mental health world, I noticed that clients often brought me pictures, poems, songs and other creative aspects of life that they thought were significant. While other clinicians saw these tangible ways of expressing emotions and thoughts as secondary, I did not. Clients were doing a lot of work on their own without a lot of knowledge about how it was helping them. It was important to recognize what they were doing for the power it had in their lives.

Unfortunately, there was not a lot of verifiable evidence on the uses of the creative arts then (This was the 1970s). However, I saw the potential of using creativity and the creative arts in improving the lives of individuals with whom I was working. Bob Dylan was singing: “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.” I realized I was in the midst of a time when the climate of mental health was changing and blowing in different directions. I was anxious to learn all I could about creativity and the creative arts. Thus, I saved up my money and attended every workshop I could on the subject, bought every book I became aware of and read journal articles in reputable periodicals. In the process, I discovered scholarship on creativity and the creative arts. I also uncovered a passion in myself to use the creative arts in the service of humanity.

The first edition of The Creative Arts in Counseling was published in 1992. ACA took a chance with me in publishing this book. Now creativity and the creative arts in counseling is considered mainstream. There is an abundance of scholarly articles and evidence-based practices on using creativity and the creative arts in counseling and, of course, thanks to Thelma Duffey and others there is an ACA division on creativity in mental health. I know from firsthand experience how creativity and the creative arts work in clinical settings. They are transformative. I am committed to helping other counselors learn about them too.

The creative arts are but one more tool in a counselor’s toolbox. They should be used thoughtfully and with care. They are like knives in that they have the power to help or hurt. That is why it is important to see the creative arts used in empowering, evidence-based and therapeutic ways.





The Creative Arts in Counseling, Fifth Edition is available both in print and as an e-book from the American Counseling Association bookstore at or by calling 800-422-2648 x 222




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.



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