Counsellor and author, Kim Billington, talks about how she uses cards to build rapport

Posted: 16/04/2021

Kim Billington, a counsellor, clinical supervisor, trainer, author and presenter, recently contacted us to share some of the ways she has used Innovative Resources cards and other tools over the years. She very generously agreed to share these experiences. And we also talk about her new book!

 Kim starts by talking about where her inspiration comes from to do the work she does. While she has two masters degrees in counselling, she says that her most profound teachers have been the people she walks alongside in her work.

‘I have learnt everything of significance about counselling from those that seek a safe place to reflect and understand their life situations. The clients are my professors and have stimulated the most change in me as a therapist!’

Over the year, Kim has used a range card sets and other resources in her work

‘I began to use the Strength Cards with adults when I was working with the City of Melbourne Parenting Services and training in narrative therapy over 12 years ago. I find the Strengths Cards are especially helpful when exploring and populating “the trunk” part of the Tree of Life exercise, where a person lists all their strengths and skills.

‘I have used Cars’R’Us with groups of 8-12yr olds in a family violence setting, and Deep Speak with adolescents in groups.  The Bears cards have been essential to my work with children who have come for Child Informed Mediation, as well as those in residential care, foster care or out-of-home care. They were also most useful in training parents in Tuning Into Kids.

‘When working with adults, even in Men’s Behaviour Change programs, I found that choosing one of the Shadows and Deeper Shadows cards was helpful in sparking a change in perspective. This was especially true when a person found it hard to articulate their problem or were overwhelmed with problems and stuck in the hopelessness of a situation. The visual metaphors they chose in these situations helped them to see their difficult situation more clearly, which often resulted in unexpected narratives and meaning making.

‘I may end a series of sessions by asking a person to choose a card from Next Steps. It is all very individual, and there is no formula for choosing which cards to use with which client.’

Kim believes there are many benefits from using card sets and other tactile resources in creating safe and engaging spaces for people to share their experiences.

‘After years of practice using the cards with clients, I now see there are several benefits.  Often it is the re-positioning that takes place that helps people feel more comfortable. When the client can talk to the card, rather than me, this minimises arousing feelings shame, or fear of being judged. The cards often prompt valuable insights for the client.

‘I find cards can be useful as prompts for unanticipated musings and reflections. Holding one in the hand, or seeing it on the ZOOM share (as a digital resource) seems to help clients externalise their problems in a way that makes difficult conversations more accessible. The cards also seem to help clients open up new ideas for coping with current challenges and future possibilities. Even cards picked randomly when they are face-down have proven to be resonant and helpful in advancing new perspectives.

‘I tell all my Masters of Counselling students on placements to get a hold of the Strengths Cards asap! For new counsellors, these cards can help facilitate identity development conversations, and promote a deepening of therapeutic work in an engaging and playful way.’

Kim is selective about when she uses the cards, and finds that different card sets are useful in different situations.

‘When I come across a reluctant hero, who feels they have failed more than they achieved success, I may ask them to choose 3 Strength Cards for each member of their family, and then ask them which cards each of them would choose for themselves. This identity exploration exercise has been of significant help to many clients from 8-yrs-old and upwards. This works well with family groups too.

‘In the Tree of Life exercise, I always begin by asking clients to list all their strengths and skills, which we put on the trunk. Starting with naming strengths can be the catalyst for change as it stimulates the client’s curiosity about how these strengths came to be part of their identity, and encourages them to think about where they have they may have come from. The strengths form the core of conversations about the individuality that sits between the past and future.

‘For example, I might ask: Who saw this strength in you as you were growing up? Who helped you develop these strengths further? Why is this strength important to you, and who would understand why you value this strength? How do you use or express this this in your day-to-day life?’

Kim shares a few tips for using the cards.

‘I mostly say ‘choose 3 (or more)’ if they are choosing from The Bears or Strengths Cards, so the person does not feel they have to find the perfect one description of themselves.

‘Also, I may demonstrate the many stages of enquiry and exploration in my own identity development so they can get more deeply into why they chose their cards. So I might choose a card and say something like:

I am selecting the Patience card, as I can see myself even this morning not becoming rattled by slow traffic. I know I have developed this from my mum’s skillset. However, the flip side of patience is that others may take advantage of my calm behaviour and dismiss my wishes. My earliest memory of practising patience is being about 5yrs old, sitting in front of a mirror for what seemed like hours, watching my mum putting my hair in a bun. I value this strength because I also value peace, and when I am around impatient people their energy can disturb me and others.

‘Talking about this flip side is crucial to using the cards. For example, if they choose Caring or Helpful, their main problem may be related to struggling with compassion fatigue from being TOO caring and helpful to a family member they are caring for, leaving little energy or time for self-care. The cards can help reveal just such situations. This can then help open up therapeutic conversations about where and when they learned this behaviour – maybe modelling from a parent or trying to meet expectations that they would be the caring and helpful one.’

Kim has just released a new book called A Counsellor’s Companion: Creative adventures for child counsellors, parents and teachers is a Masterclass in working and living with children, which was illustrated by award-winning artist, Tamar Dolev.

‘Inspired by narrative therapy’s founders, Michael White and David Epston, I have been developing the art of asking quirky questions, woven with metaphors for years, with all ages of clients. This adventurous style of counselling seems to stimulate new perspectives and ideas that can make “The Problem” look quite different and not as daunting.

‘As a counselling trainer, clinical supervisor and counsellor, with over 30 years’ experience working with families from all walks of life, this book celebrates and demonstrates ‘what works’ with children and young people. ‘The book includes a variety of simple, expressive arts interventions and includes real-life examples of how to facilitate sensitive, imaginative and playful conversations about serious problems.’

Kim’s book can be purchased form my website: or


Strength Cards     


Deep Speak     

The Bears     

Shadows and Deeper Shadows     

Next Steps     

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