The trouble with creativity

What can possibly be the trouble with creativity?

Creativity comes out of that wonderful energy that proves, time and time over, that we are unique individuals in possession of limitless inner resources for coming up with new ideas, thoughts, plans, schemes, shapes, textures, sounds, experiences and ‘things’.

There is one important potential problem with creativity: never existing in its pure form, except when it is convenient for philosophers and other theorists to talk about it like that, there is always a person attached to it!

It barely makes any sense to talk about creativity without due consideration of the psychology, character, hopes, desires, fears and disappointments of the person in whom it is embodied. ‘Due consideration’ is the absolute minimum in such discussions on creativity. Beyond this – and there is a great deal beyond it – lies the vast wealth of knowledge and understanding arising from the exploration of the hearts and souls of real, living, creative persons.

Counselling and psychotherapy have been – and continue to be – contributors to this field of understanding of the personal, individual dimension of creativity. Therapists see it – close up – on a daily basis in all its forms, represented in everything our patients say or cannot speak of. Creativity up-and-running. Sometimes flying, sometimes sauntering, other times struck down.

Leaving aside the ongoing debate around the correlation of creativity and neurosis (the idea that the more mixed up you are, the more creative you are likely to be) it is well known that how (and what) a person feels about themselves can have a big impact on how well (from various perspectives) they function creatively.

Being creative is good for the self and the self is - in its own way - good for creativity. There are many examples of artists and creative people whose personal anguish and distress found expression in their creativity. Indeed, there are so many instances of this that we may well wonder why any creative person would want to seek help with their personal problems. Surely, you would think, they just need sufficent space, materials, surfaces and audiences so they can get on with transforming their troubled selves into consumable art?

It is not uncommon for this kind of discussion to rage away without a distinction being made between dead artists and living ones! We can’t bring back a deceased artist to offer them the kind of choices  available to those who are with us now. The scope for working at being creative, as well as developing ourselves as persons, has never been greater. And this is where present day counselling  offers up a resource - a treatment - for attending to personal and creative developmental needs.

The sacrifice of the self in the service of creative endeavour is no longer the price that has to be paid for the sake of one’s art and for the benefit of other people’s pleasures in consuming it.

Anyone who feels that their personal suffering plays a crucial part in their creative work will not seek out counselling. That much is obvious. Why would they? And no one should be pressured into seeking help that they do not fully choose for themselves. Less obvious to many, but well known to counsellors and psychotherapists, is the way in which creative people hold onto their belief that the distressed self is the whole self that ‘does’ the creativity. Counselling provides the scope for exploring this self-perpetuating belief system. Increasing self-awareness, understanding inner conflicts, recognising acts of self-defeat and self-neglect are key tasks in therapy

For those who suspect, or know only too well, that their creativity has come to a stop, dried up, shrivelled, fallen away, or taken a long walk somewhere, there is the distressing prospect that it may not be coming back or that it may do one of its repeated reappearance acts – returning, but only ‘sort of’ or experienced as ‘in there’, but refusing to come out!

Undertaking work on the self that creativity has walked off from, so to speak, is itself a further challenge for any creative person, but one which is faced with the therapist. This new form of collaboration – new for the person who comes to counselling for the first time - provides a rich field of possibilities for learning about one’s own creativity and one’s relationship to it, in action. The client who comes to therapy merely to talk about their creativity and its ups and downs, soon discovers that therapy offers much more – even more, since stories are the creative foundation on which counselling is built  – than somewhere to tell stories about the flights and crash-landings of their creativity. These can be seen ‘played out’ in the work itself, providing the opportunity – uniquely, since no one but a therapist is able or motivated to provide this -  to see and understand the self that one’s creativity may not be very ‘at home in’.

Where collaboration is the client’s problem (it is always part of the problem, since real creativity is driven by all aspects of the self) counselling offers the opportunity to see why sharing and collaboration are so problematic. Therapy offers the opportunity to think about, understand, resolve and dissolve the blocks, inhibitions, self-doubts and self-defeats that can reduce and spoil the pleasure and success in doing the creative things we do.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, SE6
Written by Jon Edge, MSc, MA, MEd, MBACP, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist
London, SE6

Jon Edge is a qualified and registered psychotherapist specialising in providing therapeutic support to people working across a wide range of creative organisations and industries.

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