Saturday, August 30, 2008

Therapy as Art

by Lawrence H. Staples

Therapists often work with creative people who are painting or sculpting or potting or writing. Therapists often envy the creative gifts of the people with whom they work. It is as if they are like the Rabbi of Krakow, who traveled around endlessly looking for the very treasure that was lying right under his church. Some therapists are sitting on a treasure and do not know it; they have not been able to give their own work the name they give to the creative work their patients do. They have been unable to say “Rumplestiltskin,” to name and become conscious of the creative treasure they themselves have.

Therapy is a kind of art in which we help broken and shattered patients do for themselves what Frida did. We help them put back together a life that has been broken and has fallen, apart. We provide a mirror that helps them see themselves and enables them to bring back the lost pieces, and then to paint them onto the canvas of their life. In this case I do not mean, necessarily, literally “painting” with a brush, although it often involves that, but painting as a metaphor for the psychological reconstruction of self. Such “painting” produces a portrait that includes what they knew themselves consciously to be as well as that of which they were unconscious. The canvas starts blank, and then begins to fill up with colors and hues of their lives that get stronger and stronger and that evolve and change as the mirroring continues. The portrait a patient “paints” of himself early in therapy is very different from and much less complete than the portraits he later paints, just as Frida’s self-portraits evolved and became fuller and richer as more and more of herself emerged onto her life’s canvas.