THERAPY & CREATIVITY
More Art, Less Angst
Los Angeles is home to a large and vibrant creative community. As an LA-based practitioner, I treat a fair number of people who engage in various forms of art, both personal and professional. They usually enter therapy to address problems unrelated to creativity. Yet it seems inevitable that at some point during our work together, my clients will ask a variation on the same question: If I start to feel better and become happier or better functioning, will my creativity suffer?
This query always strikes me as humorous yet understandable. The idea of the tortured artist runs deep in our culture, and there is a long list of famous artists who have tragically suffered. But mental illness is not a prerequisite for art-making. One can easily find an equally long list of healthy people who engage in high levels of creativity.
In fact, my experience confirms that heathy people are often more creative and produce more art than those who are functioning poorly. I do not currently have published research that correlates successful treatment outcomes with increased creativity, but drawing from my personal experience, it is a positive correlation. Clients who successfully complete treatment with me overwhelmingly report an increase in creative energy and output. That is to say, I have found that healthy people tend to produce more art more often. And more art often leads to more satisfying and better art.
Battling the Internal Critic
Nearly all people involved in creative work are familiar with the internal critic. It goes by many names, but its function is the same: to criticize and devalue our creative effort. It wonders aloud why anyone would find our work interesting. It sneers at our initial attempts and casts doubt on the originality of our ideas. It is the biggest obstacle to achieving our full creative potential.
The origin of the internal critic varies from person to person, but in many cases it mirrors early, painful interactions with important people. Internal critics can also serve as a preemptive defense against vulnerability and rejection (beating others to the punch as it were). But most often, they serve as the cruel enforcers of our deeply held perfectionism. People who can’t tolerate a “shitty first draft” (a wonderful term coined by Anne Lamott) are people who can’t tolerate imperfection in themselves.
Internal critics are the enemy of creativity because they shut down our work before it has a chance to move from “shitty” to something truly unexpected and beautiful. It narrows and often halts creative exploration and risk-taking altogether. If you want to become good at your chosen creative medium, neutralizing your internal critic is a crucial first step. But how exactly do we part with this ruthless part of ourselves?
Building tolerance for our initial shitty efforts is key. And there are numerous tools to accomplish this, many of which you can find in creativity books or classes. But more than likely, the internal critic lurks in more than one area of your life. It may be ruining your relationships and causing distress at work. It might even be fueling anxiety and depression. If this is the case, let’s talk. No one has to live with an internal enemy like this. Working together we can uproot this self-defeating part of self and replace it with a constructive and encouraging presence. You’ll likely see an increase in creative output and a new enjoyment of the creative process. The blank page or canvas will no longer strike fear but invite exciting possibilities.