[The Clinic] : The Creative Life
At a time when the goals of therapy are often presented as “management of one’s symptoms,” “greater control over one’s emotions / becoming less emotional,” or simply “being more objective,” it seems imperative to draw attention to the ways such “goals” both fail the patient and betray the radically transformative power of good psychotherapy. The point of therapy should not be to instill an ever-vigilant internal micromanager that must monitor and squelch every “bad” thought or “wrong” emotion. A psychoanalysis should, instead, aim for a working through of symptoms such that there is nothing left to “manage,” thus freeing up the patient to more effectively attune to their own inner voice and engage in creative life.
Therapies that emphasize mastery over oneself, control of one’s emotions, or management of oneself do a great disservice to patients by (mis)leading them to believe that such complete mastery is both possible and desirable. Such a stance leaves no space for the unknown, for mystery, or for accompanying curiosity. When patients are inevitably unable to exert such control over themselves, they feel a sense of failure (other people can [supposedly] do it; why can’t I?), leading to increasing desperation that only worsens symptoms. No one has—nor should they have—that degree of rigid control over themselves. All vitality is shut out in this straitjacket—this demand for and glorification of control—and yet, the development of these traits is hailed as a “benefit” of therapy. Patients often seek help because they don’t know what they want or have lost a sense of purpose for their lives. Patients report feeling “flat,” “deadened,” “hopeless,” “disconnected…..” Most just want some experience of feeling alive, in touch, in tune. I can think of no more deadening intervention than to place the responsibility in the head of the patient by saying, “In order to manage your emotions…..” This type of intervention encourages the patient to take her/himself as an object rather than facilitating the coming into being of a Subject who feels her/himself to be real, embodied, and integrated.
The answer lies not in MORE thinking (we live and die in our heads these days), but in attuning to our inner lives and being courageous enough to actually engage and FEEL our feelings rather than distancing ourselves further from them through endless scrutiny and management. When we allow ourselves to be present and feel, we do not need to manage. We only have to manage what we push away in fear (which then, inevitably, returns in some fashion—typically magnified—demanding to be dealt with). An experience of being ALIVE is found in our connection to our instincts and the creativity that springs forth from this connection.
Thus, good psychotherapy does not aim at management of symptoms! It aims at freedom from the neurotic tangles that constrict and bind so that one can feel open, expansive, capable of creating and feeling enlivened through one’s creative capacities.
It is an unfortunate truth that our lives are largely spent performing work from which we feel utterly divorced. Days spent begrudgingly doing work that feels meaningless, serving only as a means to an end to pay the bills. We feel little connection to the work we produce; experiencing ourselves as simply cogs in the machine, workers in the assembly line, mindlessly following an agenda set out by others. In short, we have no sense of personally creating and contributing something uniquely our own—derived from a voice that exists outside of the demands of others. We, quite literally, come to experience ourselves as completely conditioned automatons. Sleepwalkers. The walking dead. It is not surprising that people complain of feeling unengaged, flatlined….as impostors. We are often so very far away from ourselves.
When we are able to feel we are something other than simply another spoke in the wheel—when we are able to deeply hear and attune to our internal life and create something from that space—this is when we feel awake, revitalized, and engaged. This is the creative life. This is the bursting through of the stifling plastic of neurosis that provides for an experience of purpose and beauty, where one feels able to impact and transform the world.. This is what our analyses should seek to inspire—persons who think freely, are curious, driven to share their unique visions and act upon the world.
An incredible person on this journey commented, “It's amazing how our sessions make room in me for a burst of creativity. It's like I've off loaded something. I feel all sorts of yearning for creating and surrounding myself with beauty after we talk.”
Let’s aim for more than “management” and “control.” .Let’s aim for life.