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… »

An art therapy invitation for Christmas

Dec 7, 2016 | 1 comment
Personalized Christmas Tree: Examine your rituals and traditions with a creative lens this year.

Personalized Christmas Tree Art Therapy Invitation

Holiday seasons are rough patches in the calendar for many clients and for us, as therapists, who want to be helpful in the most supportive way possible.  Hints on how to survive trigger laden family gatherings or lonely vacation days are important and often welcomed.  But in addition, I like to encourage my clients to treat the holiday season as an opportunity to re-examine patterns and rituals that the holiday season prescribes.

Holiday rituals can be uplifting, grounding, honoring, lifesaving.

They can also be constricting, devaluing, triggering, re-traumatizing.

Patterns and rituals shape so much of who we are and how we are doing.  Much of therapy is about changing patterns and rituals and the dance between how we act, what we do, and how we perceive ourselves.

From either side of the spectrum–positive to negative–approaching our rituals with creativity allows us to bring our unique perspective to the holidays.  If we just rubber stamp the traditions onto this year, we are just going through the motions.  If we blindly fulfill the expectations that TV ads and sparkling house lights bestow upon us, we aren’t putting our individualized interpretation into the whole experience.

The Christmas tree (whether or not your celebrate Christmas) can be a perfect symbol for these expectations and rituals.   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… »

Visual Journaling Idea #3 for Clarity and Inspiration

Jul 27, 2016 | 0 comments


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… »

4 Visual Journaling Page Ideas for Clarity and Inspiration

Jul 14, 2016 | 2 comments


Over the next 4 weeks, my aim is to provide you with inspiring ideas that will get you started with the process of reflecting on your experience of being a therapist. I’m going to be sharing 4 different ideas for you to use in an altered book journal. On the heels of my recent Make-Inar, I am excited to bring more ways for therapists to explore and express creatively.

What is visual journaling for therapists?

Visual journaling for therapists is a way of seeing your work and your clients through fresh eyes. It helps you concertize the intense and intangible experience of working as a therapist into images that reveals– beyond words–what transpires with a client. It’s a way of releasing, assimilating, and sorting all of the wonderful complexities of your work.

For me, it’s a life line. When I make post session art I feel calm, present, and curious. My doubts or frustration often give way to insights and patience. When I give myself the space to explore and express—beyond words—I feel I am a better therapist.

You might call visual journaling self-care, but I think it is even more. I would call it a colorful form of self-consultation.

Whatever you would like to call it—self-consultation, self-care, sanity checking—I invite you to try it. Each week for the next 4 weeks, I will share 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 More… »

3 things our hands can teach us about psychological well-being.

Apr 7, 2016 | 11 comments


Our handscan teach usabout mistakes. (2)

When we use our hands to create, we activate a feel good part of our brain. 

We also learn to:

1. Be inspired by our mistakes.

2. Fail gracefully.

3. Welcome imperfections.

Our hands have been crucial to our survival and growth as a species.  Throughout time we’ve made things with our hands. Not just ornamental things. We’ve made real tools necessary to live and thrive.  In Lifting Depression (Basic Books, 2010), Dr. Kelly Lambert describes our brains’ “effort driven reward circuit”.  She says that the use of our hands activates this part of our brain.  The more we keep this reward circuit activated, the greater our sense of psychological well-being.Our hands activate a surprisingly large part of our brain. The brain real estate our hand activity occupies is disproportionate in size—it’s larger than what our legs or back require.  It’s pretty amazing– using your thumb requires more cortical activity than moving your back. But it makes sense. Read More… »

A therapist’s grief is unique. How to cope like an artist.

Mar 25, 2016 | 4 comments

How therapists can cope with saying goodbye to clientsThe game in my head that help me cope with the goodbyes.

Sometimes I play an imagination game in my head.  I visualize as many former clients’ faces as I can.  Then I think up their stories.  I replay my favorite moments with them in session.  I walk myself through the relationships.  Deep, intensely emotional relationships. And then I imagine little red threads reaching across time—20 years ago, 10 years ago, even last year—still connecting me and my clients.  Still attached.  Still loving them.

Sometimes I play another game in my head.  I walk myself down a long hallway—brightly lit, white walls—a gallery of sorts.  I gaze at paintings that are stunningly beautiful.  Paintings that show those clients’ faces in their most memorable expressions.  Pain, vulnerability, hope, pure joy.  I get to glimpse the knowing that the client and I embraced.  I get to feel the bond that we forged as a result of hour after hour of listening, attending, loving.

I use my imagination to keep a connection with the hundreds of clients I’ve loved because the alternative is too painful.  The alternative is to grieve.  The alternative is to despair at the loss of all of these powerful, life changing relationships.  The alternative is to create and destroy, bond and detach, to forget.


How to bring a therapy session to life

Mar 2, 2016 | 1 comment



How to bring a therapy session to life.As an introvert with strong opinions I’ve never really liked working on group projects.  In high school I cringed when we had a group assignment because it meant that I’d either end up doing all the work or be highly annoyed with the amount of time the group wasted on discussion.  It’s no surprise that I’ve been happy to be a solo-practitioner in a private practice.  My projects have been fluid and responsive to my inspirations and the only person who has suffered from my sometimes unreasonable expectations is myself.

I used to believe that it was just easier to do things myself.  This way, I could count on things getting done.  I could rely on myself to follow through.  I protected myself from disappointment.  I did do great things with this approach.

But, it’s only in the last several years that I’ve revisited the group project idea and experimented with a new approach. This has led me to experience a new way of collaborating where interconnectedness is undeniably preferable to isolation or independence. It has influenced how I work with clients, how I relate to workshop participants, and how I proceed with any new project.

My coach, Andrea J. Lee, has a saying, “Anything worth creating is worth creating in community.”  When she first told me this I had no idea what she meant.  Now I do.  I have figured out two things.

  • Our art can be born in isolation, but it comes to life when it is shared. A painter can paint a beautiful landscape in the privacy of her own studio, but until it is viewed by others’ eyes, it is simply a painting in waiting. A screen play can be written by a brilliant writer, but it needs actors to take it from being words on a page to becoming an animated and touching story.
  • Most art is bigger than its maker. Art needs a community in which it can thrive. Actually, art deserves a community.  NOT turning it over to a community in which it can flourish, denies the art of its beauty, importance, and potential.


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