I’m a musician, artist, therapist, and coach. When I tell other therapists about my practice where I work with creative people, I often hear the reply “Oh, I’m not creative at all.” I get this notion. I used to think of my therapeutic work as something separate from my creative work. However, over time I’ve realized therapy can be just as creative as writing a song or painting a picture.
I often wake up with an original lyric or melody in my head. I have to jot it down quickly or I might lose it. As a therapist, an idea of how to work with someone might jump up and I have to do the same – run and write it down so I can work through it later on. Sometimes just a moment from the day will bring up a universal message that I share immediately via Facebook or Twitter. Often, I’ll bust out a blog in an hour after a random idea in the same way I might quickly paint something that appeared to me, fully formed and ready to go. These are all creative moments with a similar feeling.
Therapy also has its ups and downs, just like the creative process. As therapists, we have some days that just flow. We feel helpful, sessions feel intense, but meaningful and even inspirational. Other days can feel like a long hard slog. We feel like we’re not saying anything good. Creative work is like this. Sometimes it flows beautifully and other times we feel completely blocked, like nothing we create is any good.
As MFTs we are consistently thinking outside the box – less linear, more cyclical, systemic, or postmodern. We have to challenge ourselves and get beyond what people are saying. “What does it mean? What is the process? What metaphor can I use? How does this family view things?” While we have a lot of research and theory to back us up, being with someone in session requires us to quickly combine all that training with experience and even a little intuition, mixing and molding it all to fit with our client, right at this moment. One therapist’s work with a client will be quite different from another’s. The same goes for artwork. Artists often have to ask themselves “What’s the perspective? What’s the story? Who is speaking?” Skills are used to help with execution, but the work is unique to that specific artist.
The mothers and fathers of therapy are creative geniuses! Think for moment how outside of the norm it was (and still is) for Rogers to suggest that people are the experts on their own lives, for Bowen to recommend therapists work with more than just the “sick patient”, or for Hare-Mustin to point out that the systemic understanding ignores the fact that women are not seen as equal to men. These people looked at the therapeutic process, thought about it differently, and changed the way many of us work today.
So, if you’re a therapist, you’re definitely creative. When you think of your therapeutic work, what do you do that is similar to the way an artist works? What is it about you that is different from your colleagues? How do your clients inspire you to shift your perspective?
Lauren A. Anderson, MS, LGMFT, NCC