The joy and healing power of creativity

"A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life." - Elizabeth Gilbert – Big Magic.

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Creativity can be instrumental in a healing process as well as a joy and a companion for growth the rest of the time. The general positives of creative expression include:

  • helps us to increase our sense of identity
  • it can help us feel more connected with others if we engage in creative group activities
  • gives us a sense of accomplishment
  • it can be a way of conveying something important to others or simply a way of memorialising an emotion, event or period of our life to keep for ourselves
  • creativity can be fun
  • helps us to find our voice
  • it can bring colour beauty and interest to our life and to the lives of those around us

Unfortunately, we aren’t always encouraged to be creative. Some of us may feel that we were discouraged from creative pursuits when we were young by our families or schools. Or, for some people, it may be that when they reached the age of 10 or 11 that creativity seemed like a waste of time or was childish.

It may not be that everyone would want to pursue a creative career (although there are many who find a creative career hugely satisfying) but it is often overlooked how positive creative pastimes outside of work or education can be. Furthermore, we don’t necessarily need to be doing a creative job to be creative. By developing our creativity outside of work or education we can develop and hone creative thinking skills which can be valuable in any environment, as well as helping us live a richer, fuller life.


Creative healing: benefits and strategies

Here are some ways that creativity can help us with our healing process, both in the therapy room and outside it.

  • It can help people to express difficult emotions through writing or art.
  • Whilst it might never be possible to gain complete closure when it comes to difficult experiences and trauma, creative endeavours can help to release emotions and put traumatic experiences behind us. For instance, writing an unsent letter to someone who we are unable to speak to in person can be hugely beneficial.
  • Creativity can help us to imagine a new future.
  • It can help with problem solving as writing about a dilemma or drawing a picture of it can help us to see things differently.
  • Doing something creative can be a very sensory experience so it can help us to come out of our heads and be more in the here and now. Dance, working with clay or plasticine and painting are excellent examples of this.  
  • When we become more confident in our self-expression, we may feel more comfortable to share things with people in our lives. We could even share our creative work with others if we feel comfortable to do so, improving connection and understanding.
  • Engaging in creative pursuits can help us to be in contact with our inner child, something that is hugely important. You could try drawing a picture of an important time in your early life to help you understand it better or you could write a letter to your younger self, telling them what they needed to hear at the time.

There are wonderful examples of how writers, artists and other creatives have used their experiences in their work. It has both assisted their process and growth as well as communicated something important to others. The activist, visionary and writer Maya Angelou immersed herself in poetry and other written words, after a life changing trauma, until she was able to speak again and eventually put her own pain down on paper. The artist, Frida Kahlo nearly died in a bus accident as a teenager. She suffered multiple fractures of her spine, collarbone and ribs. She began to focus heavily on painting while recovering in a body cast. She was plagued by pain and discomfort for most of her life but was able to escape and express herself through her art whilst also conveying important things about the human condition to others. 


Obstacles to creative expression

It would be remiss not to acknowledge that it isn’t necessarily easy to express ourselves creatively. Our critical voice can step in, telling us that our work is going to be ‘rubbish’ or ‘pointless’ or similar. Creativity, particularly when we are doing it for our own leisure or healing, should never be about whether our finished  articles are good or not. It might be helpful to remember that perspectives on creative projects are always subjective.

If you would like to try something creative but find your critical voice stopping you, here are some tips that might help to get you started: 

  • In her book Big Magic (which is all about embracing our creative self) Elizabeth Gilbert suggests leaving the ego out of our creative process. She suggests that we treat any creative ideas that we have as if they are a muse visiting us, rather than something that we own. This makes it less personal, and we might be more able to immerse ourselves in the idea.
  • Talk to a young child about creativity and notice how differently they view it. It could help in freeing yourself from self-judgement. You could even embark on a creative project with them.
  • Before you start something creative, visualise locking your critical voice out of the room, leaving them relaxing on the beach somewhere or anything similar that works for you.
  • Think about if there is an underlying limiting belief about yourself that is stopping you from being creative. It is possible to work with a counsellor or coach on this but also possible to work on it yourself. Try journaling around the belief, challenging it wherever you can.

Let’s finish with this beautiful quote by Jacob Nordby, writer of The Creative Cure

You know that crazy heart of yours? The one with lightning crackling and moonlight shining through it. The one you’ve been told not to trust because it often led you off the beaten path. The one so many have misunderstood your entire life. Trust it. Feed it. Grow it. It’s your greatest treasure and will point the way to your highest destiny. It is the voice of your soul.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Oxford OX3 & Southampton SO19
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Written by Beth Roberts, Integrative Counsellor, MBACP
Oxford OX3 & Southampton SO19

I am an integrative counsellor currently working online. I work with issues including trauma, depression and anxiety. Creativity can be an important part part of my integrative therapy.

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