Not long ago, when asked to describe my professional focuses, I wrote on a piece of sketch paper: “I am a therapist for blocked artists.” Then, quite quickly, crossed off the word “blocked.”
I sat there looking at the sketchpad, absorbing these words:
I am a therapist for
While the whole sentence seemed accurate, the strikethrough felt profoundly important. A mere crossed-out word, this strikethrough reflected back to me the deeper meaning I find in my work.
Sure, in my private psychotherapy practice, I work with a lot of folks who identify as artists and wish they were making more art in their lives. We work on reclaiming the (often frightening) childlike joy of making things; we negotiate with inner critics, imposter syndromes, and perfectionism; we gently explore where blocks began, how doubts settled in, how self-hood became a scary thing to express.
But I don’t exclusively work with professional creators, let alone exclusively work with artists going through a dry spell.
And so I got to thinking: what made that crossed-out
blocked feel so right? And I came up with the following four reasons why:
- All artists are blocked artists, to some extent, so to say I’m a therapist for “blocked artists” is redundant. I don’t know of any artist that never once doubted themselves, held themselves back, or felt that their muse was out of reach. Martha Graham famously said that “no artist is pleased,” and that we are all driven by a “divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching.” There’s always a deeper truth to mine, and no matter how wide open we are to inspiration, there is always something that feels out of reach, that “blessed unrest.”
- All humans are artists, and so while not all my clients are published authors, gigging musicians, or commissioned metal smiths, I relate to them as artists. To create is human. We are creating relationships, businesses, art projects, families. We are creating vegetable gardens, laundry piles, dinner parties, Insta posts. We are creating meaning, we are creating purpose. And because we are all artists, we are also all blocked artists to some extent (with the exception of folks who’ve achieved Enlightenment…congrats to you!). To doubt our creative powers is equally human. Many of us long to craft more meaningful lives, to create more intimate relationships, to sculpt difficult conversations, to chip away at unhealthy patterns. Many of us also secretly long to be “serious” artists – to publish a book, to record an album, to hang a painting on a gallery wall. We look for permission, we offer excuses, and we dance with fear. This is all perfectly normal. The things that hold us back from expressing ourselves in creative arts are usually the same things that hold us back in other areas of our lives.
- The therapeutic process mirrors the artistic process. Most working artists will confirm that the path to creation is rife with doubts, fears, obstacles, and roadblocks, as well as moments of blissful flow. In other words, in the pursuit of truth and beauty, we encounter our basic human crap. We have to work with that crap if we want to become a fuller expression of ourselves. The very same could be said for most therapy journeys. Many of us work with therapists so that we can understand and free the blocks that keep us from being our fullest selves. Our lives are the art project. We want it to be great.
- We are all artists of our own lives. If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, you’re probably already bombarded with inspirational quotes from internet-famous life coaches reminding you that you create your own story and are the artist of your own life. It’s important to say that, when we are dealing with cripplingly serious mental health issues, we don’t usually feel like we have much power to create anything. I am regularly blown away by the courage shown by clients I work with who are transitioning out of being hospitalized from mental health issues. We celebrate even the teeniest bit of choice – choosing to get dressed, for example. The creative power of getting dressed in the morning can be as transformational as the creative power of painting a Renaissance fresco. As a strengths-based therapist, I vehemently believe in the creative power of the clients I work with – whether it be the power to make music together, or the power to create the lives they want to live – and it’s that life-force that drives the sessions.
I am a therapist for
blocked artists, because to be human is to be a blocked artist, and therapy is (IMO) the process of unblocking our life-artistry. However, the power of using music in therapy is that we can engage instantly in the wellness-generating nature of creativity. We’re not just confronting our crap, we’re making something out of our crap. A song, perhaps. A drumbeat. A melodic line.
It is practically impossible to feel depressed when we are in the midst of creating something new. Sure, the depression may return the second we finish improvising that one line of a song, or writing that next verse of the poem, or sculpting that piece of clay. If we are in a depression, it may take all the energy we have that day to get to that moment of creation. But in the moment of creation, the life-force of creativity takes over.
It’s my job as a therapist to support clients to get to that moment – to feel, despite all the roadblocks and obstacles, moments of blissful flow. And once we leverage that moment, we can create new stories for ourselves. We can see new possibilities. We become unblocked artists of our lives.
*token Instagram inspirational quote about being an artist of life: