Often, in the bush with participants, or with clients in the office, we use Howard Gardner's 'Multiple Intelligences Theory' as a frame of reference for how young people may learn in a therapeutic setting, and develop skills tailored to their needs. We use this theory loosely, as much of our work is based on a diverse range of theories, knowledge and experience as well as our relationship with the young person.
One size shoe size does not fit all. However using a key intelligence can help us to find ways to communicate with a young person, and for the young person to express themselves, to learn and grow. The multiple intelligence theory is a theory of learning in educational psychology.
Today I'd like to focus on the verbal/linguistic key intelligence and expand a little more on how it and creativity may be useful within the realms of therapy. The verbal linguistic key intelligence is associated with reading, writing, responding to tone, tempo, rhythm, focusing on spoken word, sounds and different languages. A person who may be seen to be a verbal/linguistic learner may be a good story teller, a writer, a poet, and become a teacher or journalist. Often we can spot a someone who may fit into the verbal/linguistic category as they may be hiding in a book.
This is not to say they are pigeon holed of course, many of us learn well in multiple ways. For example, I relate most to the logical/mathematical key intelligence. I like lists and order, but I also associate myself with the interpersonal learning style (key intelligence). An example of how we can apply this theory in practice can be seen by looking at the experience we had with a participant a few years ago, who spent a great deal of time reading while we were in the bush and excelling at writing in her journal, but having some difficulties thinking about the future, and experiencing anxiety and sadness. We gave her a journal exercise that involved writing song lyrics or poem about the past, present and future. This participant wrote an incredible three piece story in the form of lyrics over three different songs with a focus on the sadness of the past, an acceptance for the day and a readiness for tomorrow. This exercise allowed this young person to be expressive and creative, using her strengths (her key intelligence) to begin to find perspective and create change within herself. It gave her the chance to create a storyline of her life, in a creative and quite an objective way – which for her, was the beginning of change.
Another example of the use of this key intelligence may be asking a participant to write a letter to their self, from a 60 year old version of themselves. These exercises and use of the verbal/linguistic intelligence allows the young person to step outside of usual thought patterns concerning themselves. It has been an excellent tool for facilitating the 'preparation' stage of change. Once a young person can begin to prepare for change, a lot of the hard work may have already happened, simply by the introduction of new thoughts and the disruption of old thought patterns.
I am particularly interested in the verbal/linguistic key intelligence as it involves a huge element of creativity. Specifically, what is happening when we are being creative? How can creativity be therapeutic? When engaging in a creative process, research has suggested that often the brain is in a flow state, or 'the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task'.
The flow state is a term derived from positive psychology. It happens when we are fully immersed in one thing. It is a lot like mindfulness, or 'living in the moment'. The 'flow state' is what is happening in the brain. It is a state of consciousness. Neuroscientists have discovered that pleasure seeking chemicals are released into the brain, whilst in a flow state. Researchers have also found that many rappers and jazz musicians are often in the 'flow state' whilst engaged in creative improvisation. So for a young person, who is more inclined to engage verbally, or with writing, providing them with a creative task allows them to not only view their life and the world around them differently as mentioned previously, but might also allow them to enter this flow state.
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.