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Bring a Creative Self to Your Sessions

creative practice Apr 23, 2018

A concept I found most compelling while studying for my MSW was “use of self.” The term described the intersection between acquired knowledge and skills on the one hand, and the personal characteristics of the social worker on the other.

Maybe it goes without saying that helping professionals use themselves to do the work, but for me the idea of “use of self” got at something subtle and easily overlooked: that the helper is a kind of instrument or tool with unique qualities. I think it’s more common to think of ourselves as using tools rather than being them. It was eye opening to consider myself a tool - as a self with characteristic features that are instrumental in the client work.

When I tell people of the new business I’m creating to help therapists and other helping professionals be more creative, they usually assume that I’m teaching art therapy techniques - interventions therapists can use in their client sessions. Doing...

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Permission to Create

I’d always been a maker as a kid, and I loved teaching myself by reading books and magazines. By the time I was a teen, I was designing and sewing many of my own clothes, and crafting stylish macrame bags and vests. I was confident in the stylish space I created for myself. But all that changed as I grew older, left home, went to college, and entered the world of young adulthood far from the life I’d known.

Making became a big deal, filled with anxiety. While I can now appreciate the earnestness of my artistic and literary aspirations, it came at a cost. Creative paralysis became common the more serious my hopes and dreams. College was a whole new world, one for which I was unprepared, filled with smart aspiring peers. I felt small, and I grew increasingly ashamed of my creative efforts. They seemed clumsy and awkward, as if I was trying to speak a language I barely understood. It was tough.

The thing that helped was being taken seriously by someone else. I had a...

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Beautifully Broken

Many years ago I found a striking photograph in a book, of a broken Japanese teacup mended with gold. It communicated so much: about a culture, mindset, and values. I was used to the western way of repair that tried hard to make things look “as good as new,” as though nothing had ever happened. The Japanese teacup conveyed the opposite. The brokenness wasn’t something to hide or disguise, but something precious to be honored.

I was delighted to find that someone had just posted a video in a Facebook group I’m a member of, documenting this mending process: kintsugi.

I’ve talked about the teacup I discovered in that book often. And when I’ve described it to clients, their faces light up. They get the metaphor and the larger message. They reconsider their own brokenness, now recognizing the underlying cultural values that have reinforced their sense of shame. A new possibility opens: beauty.

We’re able to talk about therapy as a kind of...

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The Creative Season

It’s funny how much the weather affect our moods and expectations. Saturday was sunny, Sunday overcast, and today snow! A few days ago I heard the sounds of spring clearly outside as birds returned to the neighborhood. And I noticed the usual array of spring flowers peering out of the ground and bursting into bloom.

It’s easy to think of spring as an especially creative season, since so much is perking up after a long winter and fall. The images of spring (eggs hatching, blossoming flowers) signal birth, new beginnings.

Are you hatching something new this season? A new focus for your private practice? A new approach with your clients? Maybe you’ve weathered the winter and come out the other side, realizing you need to reduce your daily wear and tear. Maybe ease is in order this season.

Let yourself daydream and see what drifts into your thoughts and feelings. Let yourself be led by what appears - by what draws you forth. Put one foot in front of the other and...

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Cultivating a Creative Mindset

Yesterday, I gave my first online workshop, Cultivating a Creative Mindset. I talked about 2 states of mind that typically help AND hinder us when we try to create.

At one extreme is that state of mind that loves to plan and organize. It’s filled with ideas, opinions, and anticipation, ready to make things happen, usually as predictably as possible. Some people call that our left brain. It’s great for executing ideas, but often preoccupied with control. It gets anxious easily when things don’t go as planned. This is the mind of checklists, blueprints, clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and tasks. This is the mind that’s comfortable with the kind of success that comes with well-executed strategies.

Is this you?

At the other extreme is that state of mind that’s dreamy and imaginative. It's also filled with ideas, but maybe a little too comfortable with beginnings that never quite come into fruition. Some people call this our right brain....

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Planning for the New Year

While I welcome each new year, I always make an effort to say goodbye to the old. On the final day of the year, I consider all that has passed and attend to the thoughts and feelings that arise. Many emotions: relief, gratitude, frustration, gladness. It’s a great opportunity for self-reflection, taking inventory, and anticipating the year to come.

No wonder many of us begin each year with resolutions. Planning is a tool for strengthening our resolve. And at the end of the year, motivation is high for acknowledging unfinished projects, recommitting to big dreams, and prioritizing time and resources for the coming year.

So I end this year with that mix of wistfulness for the year passed and excitement for the year to come. I’m planning for big things.

Toward that end, I’m doing things differently.

Years ago, I left behind most of the organizing practices I’d relied on to structure my days. I set aside my agendas and planners, my checklists and folders. I was...

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Putting Yourself Out There

I did my first Facebook live yesterday. Wow! It was as terrifying as everyone says. Especially for someone like me, not especially interested in mediated exposure, an introvert at heart. Still, when you’re growing a brand new business and an online community, the willingness to make yourself known through writing and images in the form of posts - whether on a blog like this or social media platforms - is a must.

It was an extemporaneous ramble in the form of a Facebook group “open house” that turned out to be just me, my iPhone camera, and a few visitors. Fortunately, my new business offering is on creativity, and the subject of fear naturally came up. Isn’t that one of the biggest creative hurdles? I was able to share my own anxieties openly. I was in feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway mode. It was so helpful to just admit it. And keep going. On camera no less. Live.

Creativity opens us to vulnerability. Putting ourselves out there is tough. It’s hard to...

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Fast Failure

When I worked as a designer, trying things out was a natural part of the process. Making models and sketches were ways of testing ideas by making them visible, tangible. Once real, we could put them in front of people for feedback. What worked? What didn’t? Revisions were based on that feedback. “Back to the drawing board” was the norm. Then another cycle of feedback, and another, honing in on our final solution.

As you can see, failure was the norm. For each thing that worked in a given round of design, were all those that didn’t. Failure wasn’t a big deal. It was a natural part of figuring things out. Honing in. Refining. Improving. In the business world “fail fast” has become a mantra for companies trying to foster a culture of innovation. It helps ease the inhibiting fear that can come with the prospect of failure.

Often my clients express a sense of failure in the many thoughts, feelings, and attitudes they bring. The therapist in me...

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Visual Dialog

creative doing drawing Nov 26, 2017

I’m mostly a “talk therapist,” something I’m a little embarrassed about given my background in art and design, and my training in Somatic Experiencing, where the body is the focus. I think I’ve always been drawn to words. My parents fostered a love of reading when I was a child, since reading was the key to knowledge and advancement. Early on, I taught myself through the written word. My favorite books were “how to” books that taught me skills. I loved going to the library and looking at back-issues of Popular Mechanics, reading cookbooks, and studying needlework through Victorian handbooks.

So even though words predominate in my therapy sessions, I do shift focus now and then, a shift that benefits my clients and me. Sometimes the shift is toward sensations in the body, the felt experience of a moment. Other times, the shift is toward imagery.

One activity I’ve done with clients individually and in groups involves taking turns...

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Therapists & Their Offices

creative doing Nov 19, 2017

I recently attended a small meeting of therapists interested in creativity. We met in the office of one of us, a studio-like setting rich with media, materials, light, and a wonderful view. It was perfect for the kind of work she does, and the clients interested in working with her. At one point, our conversation meandered to the topic of our therapy offices: what we choose to display, how we decorate our spaces, and how clients sometimes respond to what they find. We also talked about what our spaces convey about us.

Some therapists personalize their spaces extensively, either deliberately (or unintentionally) communicating who they are, creating spaces in which they feel comfortable and at home. Others strive for a studied neutrality that doesn’t impose too much of themselves, decoratively or otherwise, in keeping with the neutral stance many find effective and necessary as therapists.

When our offices declare too loudly who we are as therapists and people, does it crowd out...

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