5 Benefits of Therapy for Creative Artists

therapy bunny

Aw….right? We all have low times, no matter how magical our lives might seem. And sometimes even carrots  chocolate and hugs aren’t strong enough medicine.

I first learned the value of therapy when I’d returned to Minnesota from Paris, where I’d been diagnosed with an eating disorder. I figured the doctor of behavior and emotions would supply the answers I lacked and I’d soon be off on my healthy, happy way. The moment I sat down in her office, I started babbling. (That question list was LONG.) When I finally paused to breathe and listen, the smart-looking woman with a silver-gray pixie and glasses that could only be described as spectacles smiled and asked, “What do you think?”

Agh! Where were my answers? Little did I know that my endless talking would comprise much of my battle, and that my fast-paced monologue was merely a brief, if important, beginning.

Those of you who’ve had therapy know that an answer grab bag, psychic readings and instant clarity aren’t it. From what I understand, psychotherapy works well when our counselor is skilled and a strong personal fit, and we are ready and willing to dig deep—no matter how challenged or vulnerable we might feel. He or she helps us understand what we’re feeling and why, and discover answers we likely hold within.

power along

If you read my recent post about the blues, you know I’ve experienced some emotional bumps lately. When they started to feel like more than the occasional blip on the life screen, I decided to see a therapist. Nothing earth shattering was happening, but having experienced major depression in the past, I’ve learned not to let such minor red flags enlarge into deafening sirens.  I’ve observed that some people view therapy as emotional chemotherapy, a sign of serious health problems. To me, it’s preventative medicine, and a place I can turn to in doubtful times. I’ve also come to believe that the occasional “check up from the neck up” (or the chest cavity, really) is beneficial for most everyone, particularly artists.

Therapy for Creatives: 5 Mega-Perks

1. Empowerment and support. We creative types tend to be highly sensitive, cerebral creatures. The ability to explore our thoughts and emotions with a caring professional who gets that can help us feel less alone. The less isolated and obscure we feel, the more likely we are to feel empowered.

2. Blockage prevention. I don’t much believe in writers’ block, but I strongly believe in life block. When we’re stuck, stilted or confused emotionally, I feel it shows in our writing—or lack thereof. Therapy can help us find or maintain freedom from issues that stand in the way of our expression, freeing us up for growth and success.

3. Hope springs! Even the cheeriest of us are susceptible to lulls and hardship. Whether you see the glass as half full, half empty, beautiful or smash-worthy, therapy can instill a sense of proactivity. Knowing we’re working through challenges and doing whatever internal work is necessary inspires a sense of hope—the seed of many creative dreams.

4. Problem recognition. You know when you’re reading a mystery and suddenly realize a crucial plot point you missed? One sentence or scene can reveal what’s been happening all along. Therapy can have similar effects, bringing light to hidden, attention-worthy issues. As with novels, such epiphanies often make way for happy endings (and new beginnings). And every writer knows that problems make for great plot additions. 😉 (Consider it research!)

5. Dream fuel. Some years ago when I was grappling with career decisions, a therapist suggested I close my eyes and imagine I was holding a magic wand. If I could use it to create my ideal work day, she asked, would it entail? My impromptu answer spilled out as though scripted, and within weeks that wish was coming into fruition. (I’m sure many of you can relate.) Sometimes we simply need someone to ask the right questions for the proper path to appear. Stating our dreams out loud gives them—and us—power.

Fabulous related links:

9 Steps to Finding a Therapist, by Louise Behiel

The Link Between Depression and Creativity, and How It Can Be Good For You, by Tanner Christenen

You Are Beautiful and Strong, Sweet Child of Abuse, by Kassandra Lamb (While not directly related, Kassandra’s points on healing and thriving seem suitable to most anyone. Beautiful stuff!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you a fan of therapy? What’s your favorite benefit? Has it helped your creative work? What would you do with that magic wand? Special thanks to everyone who offered support at my mention of feeling a bit low the other week. I’m on the up-and-up, and haven’t taken a word of your encouragement lightly.  Lots o’ love! ♥

Leave a comment

32 Comments

  1. Thanks for this honest and encouraging post! I’ve had a few rounds of therapy in my life, and I’m seeing a counselor right now. It always takes courage to set up that first appointment with a therapist–it involves swallowing a little pride, but it’s worth it.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you found it encouraging, Maria. I hope your current round is helping you in myriad ways! Kudos for making that call—as you said, worth it. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Seeing a therapist used to (and still probably does but to a lesser extent) have a certain stigma attached to it. An ex once judged me over it. Two years after she left me, I got a random email explaining that she was sorry for how she treated me and finally discovered that she was never happy w/herself (insert the “duh” comment here…wasn’t news to me).

    I no longer think something’s wrong with me for seeing a therapist. I feel like I am ahead of the curve because I see at least one random being/day that makes me think “that person needs therapy!” Long live the “check-up from the neck up!”

    Reply
    • Good for you, Steve! Such stigmas certainly do linger, probably less so in S. Cali. than other regions. Truly happy for you, your growth and all it’s provided.

      Reply
  3. Glad you did this for yourself, and very cool of you to spread the word. I think it’s a great idea for ALL types, now and again (at least).

    And thanks for the reminder to get back on the new-therapist search I’ve let slide for months now. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks! And you’re welcome. 😉 I hope you find a great one.

      Reply
      • I’m sure you’ve heard it a bunch, but do you remember “What Do You Hear in These Sounds” by Dar Williams? It occurs to me that that’s probably the thing that first made me think about therapy as a serious thing.

  4. I am a big fan, having first seen a therapist during graduate school after suffering a pretty devastating loss. I definitely agree that it can be part of keeping oneself well. I’m glad to hear you don’t ignore those red flags!

    The great thing for me about the work I’ve done with therapists on and off over the last 30-plus years is that I have finally internalized some of it. I have more coping tools at my disposal and a much greater ability to recognize what’s going on with my emotional state before it runs me over. Thank goodness for that!

    Reply
    • I know exactly what you mean, Audrey! Therapy and internal work really do provide tools we can use indefinitely. I find that it works more rapidly for me as time goes on, likely for that very reason. So glad you’re on a healthy, happier track as well. 🙂

      Reply
  5. I love your posts!

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  6. I am a fan! It’s all about SELF-CARE which we need to do in order to radiant contentment which in turn flows to our family dynamic, friends, career – everything! Finding a good therapist and working with them can only lead to self awareness – it is all about empowerment and self-help. I saw one a few months after my mom died and a few years later I went back to her with other issues I needed to figure out when I felt out of control in my life and my behavior and my self worth was low. I always came away with an AHA! moment from each session. Don’t give up if your first counselor doesnt work – try another! Great post August – and the first step in transformation is becoming aware that you need help to transform.

    Reply
    • Amen to those AHA! moments! (I miss Oprah. *sigh* :)) I’m so happy to hear that you’ve benefited so much from therapy, Donna. It truly is about self-care; without that, where are we?

      Reply
  7. What about a guy like me? Due to severe, irreversible health problems, I have no libido. Been eight years. (I’m 63) When I first learned that “it’s over,” I was nearly suicidal. I was married. There was nothing to be done. But there was love. We hung in there. We have a better relationship now than ever. (Being older makes a difference.) I still live a joyful, purposeful life. I’ve written six novels, two have been published, and that’s just the beginning. There are many more men than people would think who have the same problem as I. Has Steve Harvey and the real men all stepped over us? I believe that in his mind, he has. But our bodies are breakable. What do you do when THAT happens? I don’t think Harvey thinks much about that. I mean, he’d have to heard a huge crowd of men into that place he has reserved for the people out there who are here to tell him he’s wrong.

    Reply
    • This post was a mistake; it belonged on the one where Steve Harvey had made some comments. Please disregard, and refer to the blog about Steve Harvey’s 90 day sex rule.

      Reply
      • You got it, Rob. So sorry for your health and libido struggles. Thanks for your openness! You make great points, and I agree that Harvey has negated serious issues, including those you mentioned. Good on you for living a joyous life with purpose. I hope many take notes. 🙂

  8. Great post! I must admit, I’ve never considered therapy as beneficial & it’s been great to read your post and the comments showing that it is. Small story there. When I was growing up, my family doctor persistently put anything he couldn’t diagnose (which was most things) down to ‘psychological problems’, followed by a ‘diagnosis’ of some character defect which he’d announce was the ‘real’ problem, and if only the sick patient admitted to their character flaws, they’d feel better. It had way more to do with this idiot doctor’s ego not letting him admit to his own incompetence than it did with medicine, but it reduced going to the doctor, for help while sick, into an assault on self-worth. The guy was a general practitioner and, as far as I know, neither a qualified psychiatrist nor expert in psychology. I left home when I was 18, moved cities and that was that, but it left me associating ‘psychology’ and ‘therapy’ with ‘bullying’, and I’ve kept well clear of it ever since.

    My only exposure to ‘psychology’ as a profession since has been through workplace psychometric testing in which some stranger tells me what sort of person I “really” am, based on a few arbitrary questions framed around ‘psychological’ theory re-framed for corporate purposes…I still recall, years ago, going through the same test twice, some months apart (new people on board). The second time, I gamed it – it wasn’t hard to reverse engineer how it worked. Sure enough,the moderator (who was the same person) told me what my character “really” was based on the new results, not twigging for a moment that I’d rigged it..Sigh….More pseudo-science, more discredit to the profession.

    So without doubting that proper therapy by decent professionals who have genuine duty of care for their patients, absolutely will help people…(‘psychiatry’) my experiences have been so bad with people who conflate that with their personal interest in the underpinning theories (‘psychology’) that the whole thing, really, isn’t for me.

    (As far as I can tell, incidentally, that old doctor’s version of ‘psychology’ was Jungian pseudo-science, lurching into Reichian gibberish, with all that this implies. Ouch.)

    Reply
    • I imagine many folks have similar notions about therapy, Matthew – and there certainly are unhelpful examples and resources of psychological information out there. Good psychologists don’t put people in boxes, but help them evolve authentically as who they are, IMO. I’ve been lucky to work with a few great ones.

      I’m with you on people or tests telling us who we “really” are—tough to see benefit in that. Thanks so much for sharing!

      Reply
  9. I’ve actually never gone to therapy. Maybe it’s because I was born with a talk it out/write it out/cry it out/sing it out gene. I’ve also got a great support system. I have definitely recommended it for other people, but have not really felt as though I’ve been in a place mentally/emotionally where I’ve needed it. I think it’s great, though…

    Reply
    • Sounds like you have awesome outlets and support, Kitt—so great. 🙂 Music actually helped me a heck of a lot more than therapy during my first round, though I think therapy helped me channel my emotions through song. Finding ways to stay happy and healthy are what it’s all about, right?

      Reply
  10. Raani York

     /  October 4, 2013

    Dear August,
    I want to thank you for your open post and you sharing how you feel! (It’s kind of you free some of my secretly and jealously locked away secrets). You’re my encouragement!! In many ways!!
    I have seen a therapist, yes. Actually twice in my life so far. First time it was years and years ago – and instead of just “scratching” the surface, he really went digging – and revealed what really bothered me. He helped me a lot… and I lost tons and tons of fear that lay like stone and rock on my personality.
    The second time It was a few years back when I was bullied at work and got sick to the chore. This young lady really was into it – and supported me with all her strength, doing much more than it was “her job”. Bless her!!
    It’s not easy for me to “spill my guts” so to speak. In many ways I’m quite private. But recognizing and working on a problem is just as important as building a shell.
    Thanks again for your open heart.
    (Uhm… me with a magic wand? *chuckle* Believe me: You don’t want to know. LOL)

    Reply
    • I’m so touched, Raani. So glad you feel encouraged! I’m also glad you’ve had positive experiences with therapy. (Bulled at work—AGH! No good.) I think you hit on another attribute of great therapists; they know how to make you feel comfortable sharing. I tend to spill my guts out with ease in any office (maybe too much – ha!), so for me, the sounding board and expert observation seems most helpful.

      LOL I’ll use my imagination! 😉

      Reply
  11. When I went through depression about 5 years ago I decided to seek therapy and it was a breakthrough for me because I come from a community who raises its eyebrows such things. But I would seriously recommend it to anyone, even if you don’t suffer from severe depression/mental illness, it’s just awesome to reveal your thoughts to a third neutral party.

    Although I don’t think they’re directly linked, I did start writing during this time and that’s how my short story collection came to fruition. As a result I actually see that dark period in my life as a blessing 🙂

    Reply
    • I’m so glad therapy helped you out of such dark times, Nisha! So many artists endure depression, and I think we owe it to our selves, loved ones and readers to work through it. I agree that it’s helpful even with smaller issues. Most folks get physical exams annually, so why not emotional?

      Therapy and songwriting coincided for me, so I relate there. I bet there is a link. 🙂 Stay well, lady!

      Reply
  12. My challenge was to find a therapist who forced me to dig deep — to the root cause of my problem(s). This was back-in-the-days that were hell to live. Anti-anxiety meds, wine…anything, for a quick and easy fix.

    Prior to rehab (alcoholism), I felt as if I was paying my therapist to have a chat session with me. No digging. Just listening. Laughing. Commiserating. Expensive lunch date, IMHO.

    The psychiatrist? After the first one hour visit, follow up visits were fifteen minutes. He did his psychiatrist duty, asked how I’d been feeling, gave me new prescriptions. End of session. See you in 90 days.

    The right therapist — the one I was blessed to have during rehab — dug deep. He’d nod at my surface-level answer, then tell me to dig deeper. I was only giving him what he wanted to hear. Each session opened doors for me. I credit him with showing me the path to serenity without self-medication with wine.

    Yes. I’m going through major life challenges. AA keeps me grounded in sobriety. My challenge is to find a therapist who digs deep enough. Or (whacky notion!), I should be honest with my therapist. I’ll be using that link-love for tips on finding a good one.

    Reply
    • LOL I have been dishonest with a therapist, Gloria—I definitely relate there! I prefer deep digs, too, and have had great and not-so-great therapists (only one was borderline freaky, but to each their own, right?).

      I’m so glad that you have AA to support you and recognize the value of internal work throughout your latest challenges. I’m rooting for you all the way!

      Reply
  13. August, I really appreciate appreciate this blog because there was a time when I SHOULD HAVE been in therapy, and I wanted to be in it, but there was too much of a social stigma (even within my own family) about it that I never spoke up or asked. I’m lucky that journaling helped me and I had good friends I could be open with. I’m also thankful that society’s opinions have changed surrounding mental health. I don’t remember growing up with so many commercials about depression on TV. Or knowing people who suffered from mental anxieties and more. It’s only been in the last several years that i feel it’s become more mainstream. I think it’s so important that we talk about it! Thank you for your words, August. They. Are. Powerful.

    Reply
    • Aw. I’m so glad that you found respite through writing and friends, Jess! I’m lucky that my parents raised us with the belief that therapy and emotional issues are just as worthy and health-promoting as physical checkups and managing the flu. I wish more people felt that way. I think it’s less commonly embraced in the midwest, versus S. Cali., though I think you’re right—the stigmas have definitely lessened. I wish we all sought mental health annual exams instead of just physical. Maybe someday. 😉

      Thanks so much for the encouragement!

      Reply
  14. Great post, August!! I have experienced therapy from both sides of the couch, so to speak. Personally I would not be who I am today, and might not even still be alive if it weren’t for therapy. And professionally I’ve known or heard of hundreds of people benefiting from it. But as you said, there are crucial components to that success.

    Motivation and a good fit between client and therapist are two biggies!

    I’ve never really seen the perks for us creative types spelled out quite so clearly. We are indeed more sensitive than others might be, and are more likely to need that occasional assistance to stay on an even keel.

    Thanks for this post and also for the gracious words about my earlier post.

    Reply
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