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Therapy for Creatives, Part 14: Creating Art vs. Doing Therapy

In an earlier essay, I explored how the creative process works and how that process intersects with the therapy experience. Lately, I’ve become more aware of how art evokes feelings in contrast to how therapy facilitates experiencing feelings.

Conversations about works of art are overtly or indirectly about how the work makes us feel.

Even a process-oriented technical discussion about art is based on how to communicate a feeling. The game gets more interesting when music, visual, or performative art evokes a complex set of feelings. (Artists and art lovers probably enjoy talking about art as much as experiencing it!)

Doing psychotherapy with creatives would, at first thought, seem to be a slam dunk: artists are adept at evoking feelings in novel ways, so they should be naturals in doing psychodynamic work. While that hypothesis seemed true enough when I started doing therapy with creatives, I soon found out that the talent of evoking feelings in others is not necessarily based on perceiving and understanding one’s own feelings. I realized I had ignored the all too common cautionary tale of the brilliant artist who publicly suffers from an untreated mental disorder.

In some cases, it has actually been harder to help creatives pop out of the familiar context of eliciting feelings in others. While most artists can talk about the mysterious inner process of combining intellectual insight with emotion, that skill may create an emotional blind spot that prevents identification and processing of feelings. The inability to identify and experience emotions is considered a primary underlying cause of non-organic mental disorders.

Lately, I’ve found that a creative’s inner narrative can be externalized in therapy in a way that resembles the process of creating art. Perhaps deconstructing art is a better analogy. While doing an intake interview, I’ll invite the creative client to talk about their process of making art. At the appropriate time in our therapeutic work, I’ll begin to draw upon the client’s process as a way to discover hidden emotions. Maladaptive thoughts, feelings and behaviors become the clues that lead back to the origin of the ‘broken’ narrative.

My interest in working with creatives has increased over the years. I’m energized by learning each patient’s unique creative experience and consequently a way to start the therapeutic journey.

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