Many of us come to therapy seeking solutions to problems for which we’d like quick fixes and simple, easy-to-implement solutions. While therapy does help us to feel better, it can simultaneously offer a deeper journey of self-exploration which can be experienced as a thoroughly creative process.
Therapy as a creative representation of self in words
We can think of creativity as the experience of resonating with- and representing emergent self-states. These are then translated and demonstrated either through musical notes, paint, voice, or any other typical artistic medium. Similarly, therapy can be thought of as a creative representation of emerging self-states that are put into words. Words become the medium through which previously diffuse, confusing, powerful, intense, overwhelming, pleasurable, painful, or ambiguous parts of ourselves get represented and known.
When we allow ourselves, to the best of our abilities, to free-associate or to spontaneously feel curious about our intimate thoughts and feelings, we can get to know ourselves in a deeper way. By attempting to put these new and freely emerging thoughts and feelings into words that best approximate what we are thinking or feeling, without judgment, we can share or represent new parts of ourselves with our therapists and get clearer about these parts as well. For example, many of us have had the thought that we might not be accepted or that we might be rejected by our friends, family, or romantic partners for sharing our honest feelings. This can leave us with a sense of isolation, loneliness, sadness, or anger that we, at times, blame others for. Bringing up these honest feelings with your therapist might allow you to not only have a corrective experience of just being yourself, but also help you understand the ways in which not understanding our feelings can be destructive to our relationships with those we love most. This process can facilitate an increased sense of openness to the world and to others, a greater sense of confidence, an easier time finding meaning day-to-day, and a profound sense of connectedness and warmth between you and your therapist. Creativity, in the therapeutic context, is ultimately about cultivating the most authentic voice you have and sharing it.
Accessing ourselves in art and in psychotherapy can be hard
Creativity can at times feel difficult to access, and traditionally — writers, artists, and musicians have periods in which they feel stuck; where they cannot access themselves. This too can happen in therapy, and many times it can stem from our fear of rejection, judgement, and criticism. So, we protect that which is most vulnerable — the parts of us we keep to ourselves — that we don’t even quite really know either. The process of cultivating the space internally to gain access to thoughts and feelings that feel real and important to you can facilitate more traditional forms of creativity as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, many artists, writers, and musicians have thought that analytic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis would strip them of their creative drive because it would expose and make known the mysterious quality that helped them produce work. And that by making it known, it would lose its capacity to facilitate their creativity. However, at its best, the analytic process actually nurtures and cultivates the ability to have access to oneself, and with that access, we can allow ourselves to flow freely and spontaneously.
Therapy or the analytic process asks the client to go into his or her mind with the only requirement that it’s done curiously. In therapy, we might discuss a specific event that happened, but allow any feelings and any old patterns to come up. We give them space and let them be present in the room for our exploration. No event or reaction or feeling are “bad” or “silly.” They are all processed in an open and loving way, thus allowing further internal aspects of ourselves to come out. This process is the creative aspect of psychotherapy, and the reason it can facilitate the access and the increased creativity and knowledge that so many of us seek.