Psychotherapy and art

My Aunty is training to be a psychotherapist and recently when discussing both her work and my work we’ve come to the realisation that there are many points at which they collide, or intersect. Often people will attend theatre for the same reason they attend therapy; to gain an increased awareness, or understanding, of themselves and the world they inhabit. To make sense of life, the world and reality.

The posing of big questions is something that art, of any kind, should definitely do. The answering of these questions is generally something it shouldn’t do – that is something to be left to audiences of the work to consider, as we each make our own answers to the world anyway. Aristotle spoke of the cathartic element in theatre, and so the act of going to the theatre has always been akin to a kind of therapy – a way to make your life easier in some way, and yourself a ‘better’ person.

Of course when studying literature, theatre, film, art in any way it is remarkable the amount of theories drawn from the world of psychology that can be applied. Yes, it is arguable that analysis of works of art is so subjective that you can just about make any theory fit, but I think there is something in this point. All art is in some way about the state of being human, and certainly the work I get most out of is when I can strongly sense the human emotion driving the work to a visceral extent. Art can be so powerful because it speaks of and to the state of being human. So, of course, psychology can very easily and interestingly be applied.

I suppose this is why creative therapies can be so successful, and why theatre is often used as a means of working through problems. There is an element of psychotherapy in the creation of any artwork. To totally depersonalise creative work is pretty close to impossible I’d say. Many writers say to write what you know, and there are others who say write what you don’t know but what you’d like to know…either way the work is driven by this ‘you’. It is lead by the personal experiences of the writer, and their explorations of a certain state.

Thinking about the levels of the personal in any creative work is always hard, there are so many aspects to consider and I will save more detailed thinking for another day. But something I often think is that we shy away from admitting that our creative work comes from a deeply personal place, that it is in many ways a form of therapy for ourselves. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this – I know I am guilty of fearing it, and thinking that any kind of deeply personal investment in the work is arrogant, self absorbed and will be uninteresting. Actually, I don’t think this is true as long as the universal elements of the personal ¬†experience driving the work can be identified and employed then that’s okay. It’s a technique of existing both inside and outside of yourself at the same time – a comment that I’m sure any psychotherapist would have a field day with.


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