When I first started my counselling internship, my supervisor suggested this really simple opening activity involving only a file folder and some markers, crayons, or pencil crayons. It’s a bit like Pictionary, but the client gets to create their own folder to keep. Prep time is nil and I’ve found that children up to about 10 years-old enjoy the activity. Drawing takes some of that first session pressure off. Furthermore, the activity gives the child a sense of empowerment by turning the tables: the child is the one with the knowledge the counsellor wants and can reveal that information as he/she is comfortable.
1) At the beginning of counselling, give the client a blank file folder. Tell him that this folder will be his special folder that you will keep all of the fun things you do together inside of it.
2) Explain to the client that you are going to ask him to draw four of his favourite things (one for each section of the folder) and that, as he draws, you are going to try to guess what they are. I always preface the drawing part with a statement like “I’m not always the best guesser, so you might have to help me out”. We don’t want any kids feeling down on their drawing abilities in the first session!
3) Pick four favourite things and ask them to draw them one at a time. I normally used a favourite food, a favourite activity, a favourite place, and a favourite person, but you can use any favourites you want.
This activity serves as great jumping off point for further discussion and assessment. If “Mom” is Daniel’s favourite person, then we can talk about what makes Mom so special.We can then switch and talk about the other members of him family, or we can talk about who is his least favourite person. Likewise, his favourite activity can lead to conversation about strengths and weaknesses, and so forth.
I’ve also done this exercise with regular paper that the child can take home, which is a good option if it’s going to be difficult to keep track of a bunch of special folders on top of regular client files. This is also a good option if (as is often the case for me) you want the client to be taking home activities each week instead of keeping them. In that case, you can also send the file home with the child and as the weeks go by, remind him that he can add the various take-home activities to his folder.