Lisa Mitchell

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Forcing creativity? It won’t work for long.

Feb 2, 2017 | 4 comments

Last year was a year of putting my work out into the world.  I lectured in 25 different cities across the US, I taught five 4-week online programs and co-hosted a 2 day online creativity festival.  I launched my book and celebrated with 80 colleagues.  I wrote 35 blog posts and more emails than I can count.  2016 was a year of taking my creative harvest and sharing it with thousands of people.  I loved it.  And I learned from it.

Let creativity lead

In a 4 hour long, heartfelt conversation with my friend, Shelley, yesterday, I heard myself saying, “I don’t want to force anything right now.  I don’t want to squeeze a blog post out just because I know I can.  I don’t want to white knuckle anything. I’m done leading my creativity.  This year I want my creativity to lead me.”  She teared up a teensy bit and put her hand to her heart.  It resonated with her and we decided to hold each other in this intention.  And so, we closed our computers and put down our pens.  Rather than pound out the details for the retreat we were planning, we just talked.  We talked in swirls and ideas and metaphors and personal experiences.  It was time for lunch and I asked, “So what should we do?”  Shelley said, “Well, I think we need to just keep talking.  Shall we set aside time to do that regularly?”  I agreed, “Yup, we just need to keep talking, but how about we just let the talking part emerge out of just being together.”  It felt perfect.  It is perfect.

I’ve always struggled with Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese.  I adore it.  But the first lines have baffled me….

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

It sounds good.  Like there’s an invitation there that’s delicious.  But formerly, doing what my soft body loves has repelled me with images of eating multiple cartons of Ben and Jerry’s while binge watching Grey’s Anatomy.  And, that has felt self-indulgent, non-productive, without a sense of purpose or passion.  Not even creative.

Now, this year, this moment in my life, I get it.  I understand in my bones that Mary Oliver is inviting us to stop striving and white knuckling and squeezing out that barely baked piece of art.  It is an invitation to allow creativity to take the lead and guide us to discovering new ideas that fuel our work.

If it wants to make something, it will

One of the projects on my calendar this year is to produce and co-host Create Fest, the 2nd annual creativity festival for mental health professionals.  It’s a huge undertaking and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it without white knuckling.  So I hesitated.  I put it off.  Then a little spark of curiosity led me to ask Rick Hanson to be a guest speaker.  He said yes and was very supportive of the Create Fest mission to inspire therapists to do creative experiential work.  And then I asked myself, “Who else do I really want to talk with?” Which led to interviews with some of my most favorite authors!  And with this sense of ease, Create Fest is shaping into a beautiful creative collection of conversations and inspiration that I can’t wait to share.

So many times, in the creative process, we make the mistake of beginning with only the end in mind.  A painting to hang above the couch, a memoir about childhood, an online program that will sell, a therapeutic technique that will teach a specific skill.  We drive the creative process as if it is a navigable train and we miss the richness of the experience.  When I was writing my book, Creativity as Co-Therapist, I was the most disciplined I have ever known myself to be.  I forced myself to hermit one weekend a month and do nothing but write.  It was excruciating at times.  I’m proud of what I created, but there is a part of me that wonders if that was the best way to let that piece of work emerge.  If I had been nicer to myself, or on a looser timeline, or with a softer touch—I wonder what my creativity could have led me to.

I have another writing project now that has emerged in the most organic and beautiful way.  My mother and I are collaborating and we are writing what we call Mother/Daughter Perspectives.  Our writing endeavor is a way for her and me to share the process of our evolving relationship and history.  We now have a list of shared events and moments.  Each week we choose one of those moments and write from our hearts about our memories, our experiences, and our perspectives.  When we share these every week the phone line vibrates with truth and intensity and so much possibility.  We don’t know where this writing endeavor will take us—it is the leader, really.  What I do know is that I want to follow it to see where it goes.

I think we need to consciously plant seeds for our creative process to thrive.  Last year I harvested—maybe even clear cut.  This year, the seeds are showing up in surprising places.  I’ve fed my creativity with new information and experiences because that’s what nourishes the soil for new ideas to grow. I plan to share more about what I’ve been doing to plant those seeds in future posts.  But for now, I hope you consider this.

In order to create, artists need to fertilize and plant seeds.  And therapists, are, in fact artists.

What could you stop white knuckling?  What creative endeavor could you allow to take the lead?

I’d love to have you join me in the ease of unfolding.

(And stay tuned for Create Fest 2017—because it is becoming something wonderful!)

Do you ever let your snow globe settle?

Dec 22, 2016 | 10 comments

Art Therapy Invitation for Therapists and Their Clients

During the holidays is the perfect time to purchase snow globes.

Other times of year, they are hard to find. Pick a couple up the next time you are out shopping and bring it back to your office.  Use it, or the following art invitation to ask the questions:

Do you pause and ponder often enough?

Do you teach your clients to pause and ponder too?

 

When I asked a group of therapists to do this art invitation, it was pretty extraordinary.  They were mixed in terms of years of experience, and yet they were closely joined in the collaborative creative rhythm with which I was inviting them to engage.

As I invited them to make collages that depicted their expectations of themselves as therapists, I was imagining a snow globe newly shaken.  The flurry of magazines and scissors–their hands searching and sorting.  The mess was an amoebic mass that ebbed and flowed from the middle of the art table.

As their collage became complete, and I invited them to settle in and reflect.  The scissors stilled, the paper ripping ceased, and the silence of newly fallen snow prevailed.  The quieting was serene, and the pondering was deep. Read More… »

Use Your Imagination to Recover from a Ready Made World

Oct 6, 2016 | 12 comments

The power of imagination to overcome anxiety, grief, fear and other difficult emotions.

Custom Costumes Reinforce Imagination

It’s Halloween time and kids all over the country are deciding who they want to be for the special dress up night that comes around once year.  I’m a “Halloween Auntie” which means that I’m in charge of making my niece’s costumes every year.  I volunteered for this job after my kids stopped trick or treating and the demand for my sewing was no longer needed here in this household.  I love the sewing part.  But that’s not why I make Halloween costumes.  I also love seeing the kids all dressed up with their pillow cases sagging with the weight of their candy hauls.  But that’s not why I make Halloween costumes.

There’s a problem with pre-fab, bought-at-Target costumes.  They aren’t creative.  They aren’t personalized.  They don’t affirm the wearer’s imagination.  And they represent a factory made, cookie cutter, already-decided-for-you-image. Read More… »

Art is the Ultimate Coping Tool

Sep 22, 2016 | 3 comments

Book Signing--Northern California Art Therapy Association Conference 2016

Scene 1

It’s been a fact-filled, inspiration laden day.  It’s 5:00pm on this beautiful Bay Area weather Saturday and I try to put a spring in my step despite the heavy box of books I hold from Routledge Publishing.  I’m carrying the box, but I’m also carrying my pride.  My books, their stunning covers, all blue and orange and bright, are piled inside their shipping container like a collection of 1st prize swim meet ribbons.  I find the reception room and get directions to the book signing tables.  I make my way through the art therapy conference attendees, past the silent auction items, and find my destination.  As I approach, I notice there is no room at the tables.  My box gets heavier as I scan the books laid out for display.  I am a newbie here, to this scene, and I fight the temptation to turn around and leave.  Instead I carry a tiptoe version of my pride over to the nearest table.  There, our conference keynote, Linda Chapman, has her book, Neurobiologically Informed Trauma Therapy with Children and Adolescents stacked in beautiful towers that cover the table.  They look solid and legitimate in their hardbound, science-referenced covers. I take a deep breath after introducing myself and ask, “Is there room for me here?”  She and her assistant make room, and we spend the rest of the evening sidled up to our books, talking to colleagues, and representing different essential elements of our profession. Read More… »

Using Art and Creativity to Manage Transitions

Sep 7, 2016 | 3 comments

How to manage transitions with art and creativity.

When art speaks, I listen

There is something so profound about the moment a painting reveals its message.

There is also nothing much more frustrating than the period of time when a painting is in transition.  This is the long haul when it is no longer the clean white canvas it used to be and not yet a colorful entity with a message.

The slog through that transition is something I dread and something I love.  It is the essence of the creative process, of discovery, of growth, of life.  Being in the slog is how I stay real with myself and keep track of where I am and where I am going.

About 6 weeks ago, I started a huge painting.  It was beautiful and pristine in its 4 foot square mass. I actually hugged it for a bit and smelled its clean white canvas.   I started it because I wanted answers to the question, “What’s next?”  I wanted to fill it up with color and clarity and certainty.  I lured myself into the studio by promising if I tackled my choices with creativity I’d feel more secure, at ease, and pretty darn pleased with myself.  I had no idea what to paint.  I just had the idea that painting would help. Read More… »

Teach your clients to be artists of their own lives.

Aug 31, 2016 | 1 comment

 

Do you teach your clients to be artists?

We therapists have a fascination with layers.

It’s our innate curiosity that leads us to find the unseen. We automatically look for the underlying factors. This makes us creative problem solvers.

When clients first tell us their problem, we automatically look further:

How did this problem come to be?
When did it start?
What other problems make it worse?
Why does this problem make sense in the context of what the client is saying?
Who does this problem effect and how?

 

We can think of these questions as the content to a good assessment.  Or we can think of them as a the tools of a good detective who flushes out clues to gain understanding about the problem. These clues then lead to ideas about the solution to the problem.

I like to think of us as discerning artists. Read More… »

What the Balinese do for anxiety.

Aug 18, 2016 | 7 comments

My 2 week writing retreat in Bali with Laura Davis was an adventure, a vacation, and a profound education. I’m certain I will have many things to share as my experience becomes more integrated. But one big take away from Bali cries out to be told, honored, and even implemented here in the States.

The Balinese practice Bali Hinduism which is a unique mix of Hinduism and Buddhism. They bring strong beliefs in animism and naturism to their daily practices and make it a priority to relate to all things and beings as one. The Balinese are stunningly beautiful people. Their faces aren’t pinched with worry. Their attention isn’t a mile ahead or on what’s next. They are engaged in the moment and their wrinkles are smile lines and crows’ feet mixed with the evidence of living in nature—fully, every day. Yes, the Balinese have struggles. I heard stories of domestic violence, gambling addiction, conflict between tradition and contemporary values, and inhumane treatment of the mentally ill. But, their daily offerings practice gives me ideas about what’s missing in our culture when it comes to coping with anxiety. Read More… »

Visual Journaling Idea #4 for Clarity and Inspiration

Aug 3, 2016 | 0 comments

idea-4 (1)

Each week, for a month, I’ve been sharing a visual journaling idea with you to try.  I hope you get inspired and start your own visual journaling pages.  May these ideas bring clarity and inspiration to the valuable work you do in the world.  Read about visual journaling and altered books in my first post:  Visual Journaling Page Idea #1.  Be sure to catch idea #2, here and idea #3, here.

Idea #4. What I Want to Say

I’m certain that you are the kind of therapist who chooses your words carefully.  If you are like me, you bring a refined filter to your conversation with clients.  You want your words to help, to benefit, to support your client in healing and growing.  I think this is a good thing.  I think it means we are conscientious and professional.  We weed out the extraneous threads that 50 minutes don’t allow us to verbalize.  We sift through the stories until we arrive on the one that most applies.  And, we pace our wording.  We make sure that what we say is ready to be heard. Read More… »

Visual Journaling Idea #3 for Clarity and Inspiration

Jul 27, 2016 | 0 comments

idea-3

Each week, for a month, I’m sharing a visual journaling idea with you to try. I hope you get inspired and start your own visual journaling pages. May these ideas bring clarity and inspiration to the valuable work you do in the world. Read about visual journaling and altered books in my first post: Visual Journaling Page Idea #1. And, be sure to catch idea #2, here.

Idea #3. Who I Bring

We therapists work in isolation most of the time. We meet with our clients behind closed doors. We have our chairs, our supplies, and ourselves. While we make sure to collaborate with our clients, we are still all alone in our helper role. No one is around to tell us what to do. No one is around to guide us in the crucial moments of uncertainty. For the most part, I like it this way. There is a sense of peace and necessity about working with a client without the bombardment of multiple points of view. I feel my strong commitment to my clients in this stance—like it’s just us and we are together in the endeavor.

But, there are times when I crave input or strength or clarity. When this happens I make a mental note to bring the issue to consultation. But that only helps for future sessions. In that moment, when doubt creeps in, what do you do? How do you cope?

The psychotherapist and author, Nancy Napier has a wonderful solution. In those moments of difficulty, when she is flooded with uncertainty, she imagines ALL of the therapists throughout time supporting her from behind. She imagines the faces of therapists she admires. She calls up the founding fathers and mothers who have guided our field throughout history. She stacks their presences up and feels their collective wisdom supporting her to come into the moment and bring trust. When Nancy taught this at conference I was attending, I felt empowered. The imagery and the concept is grounding and validating. And, over the years, my own version has evolved. Read More… »

What They Said

Jul 20, 2016 | 0 comments

idea-2

Clients can say the most eloquent things. Whether they are telling their stories or answering your probing questions, sometimes clients say profound and meaningful phrases. When you are listening for these phrases, your ear is a poet’s ear. You bring a level of presence and engagement that is different from simply listening for the purpose of understanding. When we capture our clients’ words we can learn things about them and ourselves. We up level our conversations as well as our insights.

I took a bunch of homeless teens to the river on a photography outing one Spring. We were looking for ideal settings to shoot self-portraits and one of the teens wanted to find a juxtaposition of fast running water with the solidity of a rock walled bank. We’d been trekking the trails for an hour or so and one of the teens exclaimed, “Spring is Opti-mystical!” and then, “They should make it mandatory that we all spend 18 minutes a day in nature!” A zing went through me when I heard him say that phrase. There was such truth and irony in his words. And his gratitude for our trip was not lost to me, either. I made a page spread to commemorate his wise suggestion. When I look at the page today, 5 years later, I still smile at the memory of that moment. Read More… »

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