Creativity is at the heart of creative coaching and art therapy. For some, this fundamental principle gets in the way of exploring this approach, because they don’t see themselves as being creative. I want to dismantle the myth that these forms of self-development and healing are only available to ‘artistic’ or ‘creative’ people. We’ve lost sight of the universal behaviour of play and how we all, as children, made things to explore and understand the world around us. We’ve started to see creativity as something only accessible to a talented few. But:
“Creativity shouldn’t be seen as something otherworldly. It shouldn’t be thought of as a process reserved for artists and inventors and other ‘creative types.’ The human mind, after all, has the creative impulse built into its operating system, hard-wired into its most essential programming code. At any given moment, the brain is automatically forming new associations, continually connecting an everyday x to an unexpected y.” – Jonah Lehrer
With a less restricted definition of creativity we can embrace “the concept that ideas are born out of the myriad pieces of stuff populating our memories, our knowledge base, our mental pool of inspiration and resources, and creativity is simply the capacity to put those together in incredible new ways.” (source: brainpickings.org)
In the words of Sir Ken Robinson who defines creativity as "the process of having original ideas that have value":
"I think of creativity as putting your imagination to work. It’s like the executive wing of imagination. You can be imaginative all day long and never do anything. To be creative, you have to do something."
Using this much broader definition of creativity allows us to see creative coaching and art therapy as another way of connecting the dots. Creativity allows us to express subconscious knowing, when we have nothing more than a gut feeling or hunch. This is the first step before we can find ways of articulating and subsequently acting on this knowledge.
Experimenting with creative processes also allows us to engage in play. It creates space for making mistakes and learning from them, for testing new ideas, externalising alternative, imagined possibilities and trying them on ‘for fit’. The protected space of a coaching or therapeutic relationship allows us to translate imagined alternatives into action and, ultimately, new behaviours.
In addition to welcoming our inherent creativity, I also want to emphasise the focus on process rather than end-result as part of this work. In our society, we have been conditioned to celebrate what we produce, achieve and complete. Focusing on the process of making lets us experience pleasure, joy and mastery. It often holds the key to understanding our recurring behavioural patterns and the full range of emotional responses. Observing our creative process offers clues to our relationship with learned concepts such as perfectionism, self-compassion, motivation, improvisation, resilience, self-doubt and many more.
An extensive synthesis report published by the WHO in November 2019 acknowledges the growing evidence base for the role of the arts in improving health and well-being. It highlights how different aspects of art making including social interaction, using imagination, activating our senses, evoking emotions and cognitive stimulation can lead to changes across four categories:
Psychological (e.g. enhanced coping and emotional regulation)
Physiological (e.g. lower stress hormone levels, enhanced immune function)
Social (e.g. reduced loneliness and isolation, enhanced social support networks)
Behavioural (e.g. adoption of healthier behaviours, skills development)
Art Therapy and Creative Coaching provides a safe space to access your imagination and train your creative muscle.
This is essential to building a fulfilling life. As Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on traumatic stress, says, “Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of our lives. Our imagination enables us to leave our routine everyday existence by fantasizing about travel, food, sex, falling in love, or having the last word – all the things that make life interesting. Imagination gives us the opportunity to envision new possibilities – it is an essential launchpad for making our hopes come true. It fires our creativity, relieves our boredom, alleviates our pain, enhances our pleasure, and enriches our most intimate relationships.” (Source: Bessel van der Kolk in The Body Keeps The Score)
A growing body of research confirms effective practical applications of Art Therapy:
“Art is a feedback loop, where the art-making process and the products created help to externalize, identify, and further define one’s experience.” In addition, art-making is an integrative process which “reflects who we are and how we feel by providing a motor output”, the act of actually making something with our hands as a combined reflection of visual, emotional, and cognitive processing. Over time, the processes and products creative in art therapy turn into a “concrete representation of learning and change” and a reminder of our power to affect the wiring of our mind-body-system. (Source: Practical Applications of Neuroscience-informed Art Therapy, Juliet L. King, Girija Kaimal, Lukasz Konopka, Christopher Belkofer & Christianne E. Strang (2019) Practical Applications of Neuroscience-Informed Art Therapy, Art Therapy, 36:3, 149-156)
Art Therapy offers an opportunity to experience the pleasurable effects of art-making, in the here and now. The possibility “to distance oneself from a tangible image can mitigate the fear of being re-traumatized.” (Source: Art therapy and clinical neuroscience / edited by Noah Hass-Cohen and Richard Carr)
“Art-making as therapy can help people regain some measure of control in their lives by providing the freedom to choose materials, style and subject matter; to play freely with color, lines, forms, and textures; and to create what one wants to create. This element of choice can contribute to one’s feelings of autonomy and dignity when other aspects of life seem out of control.” (Cathy Malchiodi in The Art Therapy Sourcebook)
Over time, the art-making can also create a sense of learning and mastery which supports self-esteem and a belief in the possibility of change.
"I'm not that creative" is a profoundly dangerous myth. The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born out of our creativity. We are makers.
― Brené Brown