Does counseling, such as psychotherapy, help artists be more fully creative?
“Acting is telling a story, and you’re part of telling that story.
“In some ways therapy helps more than acting class. You realize why you operate in certain ways.”
Heather Graham expressed one of the most valuable and positive reasons for therapy or counseling for an actor: knowing your emotions and inner dynamics better, so you can portray being a human more authentically.
[Quotes are from our interview years ago.]
Among her many credits, Heather Graham is writer, director and a co-star of Half Magic (2018).
Psychotherapist Mihaela Ivan Holtz works with creative people in TV/Film, performing and fine arts.
She writes about her work with creative clients:
Creating or performing is what makes you feel alive, fulfilled, and in touch with who you really are. It gives your life meaning and purpose.
You know from deep in your soul that you are talented and skilled.
Yet, you find yourself feeling unhappy and stuck in issues that are not allowing you to be the true creative or performer that you are.
Emotional issues, creative blocks, anxieties, depression, or unfulfilling relationships are taking over – leaving you wondering if you can continue navigating the arts and the entertainment world and still become the creative and the performer that you want to be.
You know what you want!
You want to have an impact on your audience.
You want to connect and be inspired by your audience.
You want to be seen, valued, and rewarded for the creative and the performer that you are.
Psychotherapy is a powerful transformative journey that can take you from feeling unhappy and stuck to living with emotional freedom as a fulfilled creative or performer.
See much more including many articles on her site:
Creative Minds Psychotherapy.
Exploring the unconscious as an actor or other artist.
In their conversation for a magazine article, playwright Tony Kushner and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal talked about the values of counseling and exploring the unconscious:
Tony Kushner : We forget that the unexpected has great entertainment value — that’s why psychoanalysis is so much fun.
We’ve talked about therapy before — we’ve both been patients.
Do you believe in the unconscious?
Maggie Gyllenhaal : Yes. When I started going to therapy there wasn’t a specific, clear, rational thing that made me start, but as soon as I did, everything in my life changed, almost immediately.
Even just calling the therapist started a wave going.
Maybe three weeks into it I had a dream where I was like, “I need to change a lot of things.”
Tony Kushner : Did you find that going changed the way you were dreaming?
I had an incredible experience when I was doing Casa de los Babys [directed by John Sayles, 2003].
On the last day of my working, it was a really intense scene, and I hadn’t mapped it out.
My call was at 8 A.M., and I had gone to sleep at 11, so I was rested, but I was tired.
I got to the set, and I had maybe an hour while they got the lights together, so I lay down and had an overwhelming dream — and I feel as if I needed to have it in order to play the scene.
There’s another part of me working that isn’t the intellectual side — the unconscious — and that was not awake most of my life.
Not actively. There were times when it would push through, but now I feel I’m really honoring it.
[Interview magazine, Feb, 2003]
Therapy can also help with relationship problems, or painful life events, that can interfere with our self-esteem, confidence and energy to be creative.
Following the breakup of her marriage with Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston said, “I believe in therapy; I think it’s an incredible tool in educating the self on the self.”
Reese Witherspoon and her former husband Ryan Phillippe were open about counseling.
She has commented about therapy:
”It’s always struck me as odd that people grabbed onto that story and made it sound so negative.
“In what capacity is working on yourself or your marriage a bad thing?”
Actors, musicians and other artists explore “messy” emotions in their work.
Actor William H. Macy once commented,
“Nobody became an actor because he had a good childhood.”
Psychologist Cheryl Arutt agrees that is both a funny and a provocative remark.
She thinks that actors and other artists who are willing, in their creative work, to delve into the really “messy” feelings of being human (shame, devastations, disappointments, betrayals, traumas and more), probably have a relationship with those feelings.
And, she notes,
“Creating art has always been a way to channel emotional intensity…
“If you are an artist, you are your instrument.
“The greater access you maintain to yourself, the richer and broader your array of creative tools.”
Katy Selverstone addressed one of the concerns actors and other creative people may have [in the article Soul Workout by Laura Weinert, Backstage] –
“I’ve heard people say therapy destroys your spontaneity, that when you understand too much about yourself it messes with your imagination, and your work is going to become less interesting as a result.”
But she disagrees:
“I don’t think that’s true. My therapy was much more about not being neurotic than about being neurotic.
“Everybody is neurotic in some way, right? My experience has never been like, ‘You’re going to be like a blank slate, I’m going to strip you down, and you are going to be normal.’ There isn’t any such thing as normal; there’s just what is right for you.”
Claire Danes made a wonderfully succinct summary of counseling:
“My therapist gives me permission to accept that I’m human.”
She also explained in an interview that, as a kid, she “was on this whole perfection trip. And that’s just totally boring. And arrogant!…
“I finally realized after years of therapy.. that you can encourage yourself to move further in a nurturing way.
“You don’t have to be abusive.” [Allure, Nov, 1997]
Related article Learning to Befriend Our Inner Demons.
Jennifer Jason Leigh sums it up nicely:
“I’ve been going to therapy since I was twenty one.
“I think the more you know about your own psyche, the more you can know about other people’s, and can play them better.”
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Using Psychology in Creating Characters
In an issue of her column ‘The Craft’ on BackStage with that title (Aug 10-16 2006), Jean Schiffman noted:
“But we don’t need a shrink to uncover the psyches of the characters we play; a working knowledge of psychology can help us understand who they are and why they do what they do.”
Some resources for actors
She refers to the book Tools and Techniques for Character Interpretation: A Handbook of Psychology for Actors, Writers, and Directors, by Robert Blumenfeld as a “historical overview of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy and their uses in creating believable, deeply human theatrical characters.”
And she notes that Doug Warhit, an acting teacher and psychotherapist, “recommends that actors read the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-IV-TR… it’s full of descriptions of the psychological traits that characterize every condition from obsessive-compulsive personality disorder to paranoia.”
While many actors point out they do not judge the characters they play, it may be very helpful to explore the emotionally complex inner depths of real people.
Doug Warhit site www.dougwarhit.com
book: Book the Job: 143 Things Actors Need to Know to Make It Happen.
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See related articles:
Seeing a therapist in person can be the best choice for some people and some issues. But an alternative that can be helpful for many people is online therapy.
A CBS News article noted for people who “don’t have the time or money for traditional counseling or psychotherapy, a number of startups now offer a high-tech alternative.
“Sign up for one of these sites and you can reach out and communicate with a counselor via Internet, phone or text messages.”
The article notes “Several small studies have found the approach shows promise for certain patients.
“Research published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews… found that therapist-supported cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) delivered over the Internet appears to be an effective treatment option for anxiety in adults.”
Emotional Health for Creative, Gifted, Highly Sensitive People – Gifted, sensitive and creative people “can cope with their intense feelings, and transform their perceived deep defects into their greatest gifts which will enable them to make a unique, creative contribution to the world.” Psychotherapist Sharon M. Barnes.
Pain and suffering and developing creativity – One of many artists quoted: Colin Farrell said he was finding that he is more creative being sober and happy. “I was terrified that whatever my capacity was as an actor would disappear when I got sober,” he admitted. “I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist, you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.”
Emotional Health Resources
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.
Counselors – Therapists – Coaches
List of Counselors and Therapists specializing in gifted, high ability, creative people, plus Coaches for creative and highly sensitive individuals, plus additional related resources.