What’s creativity got to do with therapy?
Are you creative? So many people respond with a resounding “Oh NO!“, or “not really”, or, ” I was when I was younger”, when asked that question. It is clear from their tone, that they think that creativity is reserved for only certain kind of people – and not them.
If you have seen some of my prior posts, you may have noticed that I write about creativity frequently. While I have always been interested in it, I am very interested in it in terms of the role it can play in helping people. What does creativity have to do with therapy, you ask? Well, I think creativity has everything to do with therapy.
Dr. Sarah Seward, a PhD, and talented, compassionate therapist practicing in Hadley, Massachusetts (who I had the pleasure of training years ago), wrote her dissertation on the role of creativity in the therapeutic process. I recently asked her about creativity and therapy. Here are some of my questions, and her answers:
1. What is creativity?
Creativity is the activity of making the possibility for something new (e.g. a thought, a perception, a reaction, an experience, an interaction, a feeling, a behavior, a belief). Creativity is an activity that fosters discovery. Creativity is a form of play that encourages us to stand next to “impossibility” and ask, “Why not?”
2. Is creativity, or creative activity, something all humans are capable of engaging in?
3. Is the notion of creativity often considered as part of the therapeutic process? If so, how? Does it include the patient, and/or the therapist?
In the sense that many forms of therapy have as a treatment goal an increase in the patient’s insight/awareness, perhaps. One might argue that such insight/awareness is “created” by making apparent or visible what was not before (therefore creating the possibility for something new). However, making something apparent/observable isn’t in and of itself creative. Making something observable could be described as scientific as opposed to creative.
What I find to be creative in the therapeutic process is that which comes from collaboration. The activity of collaboratively attempting to discover something. The patient and therapist each offering what they have to give, with some of what is given being discarded, some elaborated upon, some deconstructed, some combined to create a new element.
5. Do you think that creativity is important in therapy? If so, why and how?
I think it is vital. Without creativity I am not sure we can really grow emotionally. I also feel that when creativity and new discoveries are not taking place in treatment, the therapy feels less productive. I don’t mean to say that every session results in new discoveries, but that the activity of building toward them is so important.
What I find most challenging in fostering the building of creative momentum (e.g. toward a discovery) is that the “path” cannot necessarily be charted. This is where the idea of play comes in for me. I often feel that some of my most creative experiences in treatment are in the midst of playing with ideas, words, rules, concepts, beliefs, feelings, etc… It is as if play allows for a suspension of the elements in life that constrict us, enabling us to see and experience something new.
I couldn’t agree more. One of the challenges in therapy (and in life), is that often, what is most constricting – how we see and understand, our rules and beliefs about ourselves and the world – is that which needs to be played with, challenged, liberated, if you will, from the hold that we have on them, and consequently, on ourselves.
One of the strongest beliefs that people (clients and therapists) have, is that they aren’t creative, or that creativity for both parties isn’t an important element in the curative process. They are most comfortable with (stuck in), a formula, a technique, a rule governed way of living and working, that de-facto rules out the life-sustaining, emotional pain-relieving capacity to create one’s life, with whatever it is that is going on.
Untold numbers of clients and therapists alike adhere to a passive structure, a framework, a charted path, as Dr. Seward describes. A “fix me please”, or “here is how to fix you” philosophy, that leaves untouched and untapped, the creative resources of both parties, leaving little room for discovery, or for creative capacity building for the client.
In my view and my practice, engaging creatively with my clients, and teaching them how to practice being creative, has enormous curative potential, and results. It helps them develop the tools to create their lives.
How amazing would it be if we could all access the innate capacity that we humans have to create, in all aspects of our lives. The possibilities are endless.