Lisa Mitchell

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Business advise from the end of a successful practice.

May 14, 2018 | 29 comments


We can learn from people at the end.

When people are at the end—end of life, end of a relationship, end of a long hard project—they have a unique viewpoint that can only be gained from having lived through it to the very end. I’ve always listened a bit harder to the folks who are generous enough to share their view from their last stop.  When we pay attention to their wisdom, we benefit. So, since I’m at the end of a successful private practice, I want to share something that only now, 2 weeks away from closing my doors, I have come to understand clearly. (If you missed my initial announcement, you can read more about my transition here and here.)

I didn’t come to this understanding all by myself.  As is often the case these days, the combination of art and writing helped me arrive at this beautiful conclusion.  I want to share it with you in hopes that it inspires you to build your work-life so that it feeds you, heals you, and sustains you. Just like mine did for decades. Read More… »

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!)

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… »

What They Said

Jul 20, 2016 | 0 comments


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… »

3 cool truths about effective therapists

Jul 6, 2016 | 2 comments



Here’s an email conversation I had with my assistant……

Tara:  There were irritating clicks again on the recording of your teaching call.  It’s pretty bad, did anyone complain?

Me:  Again?!!  That’s so awful.  We have to fix it. And, no, no one even mentioned it.  Isn’t that weird?

Tara:  Actually, your students are the nicest bunch I’ve ever worked with.  They are pleasant and appreciative and really easy to help.

Me: I absolutely love working with therapists for that very reason!  (In my thoughts, “Therapists are such beautiful people, I’m so fortunate to get to work with them.”)

Tara works with many different kinds of people, so her feedback is the bomb!

Not only are we pleasant and appreciative and really easy to help.  There some other super important things that make us such great helpers.

Here are 3 cool truths about effective therapists

1. Therapists are insatiable learners.

We are seekers and we strive to continually add to our tool box of skills in order to be effective with our clients.  Bill Doherty, (Psychotherapy Networker, May/June 2013) talks about the particular kind of learning that is necessary for us to keep getting better.  He says of the most admirable therapists, “They continually change and develop while holding onto the core of who they are as therapists. They’re interested in new models and new evidence, but not in serially reinventing themselves with each new fad.”

Continuing education has to hold our interest. We are hungry for education about important concepts, but we won’t be swayed to forget about what makes us unique as a therapist.  We love training.  We love to learn new approaches.  This is how we refresh ourselves and our work. Read More… »

The value of down time in therapy….and in the creative process.

Mar 31, 2016 | 6 comments


Downtime has value in therapyI’m good at what creativity researchers call convergent thinking. I’m a person who likes to think fast.  My brain loves to fire off ideas and connect them in lickety split time. I love the challenge of a new project.  I love to think about the challenge, plan the challenge, and execute the challenge.  When my brain is working double time—wake and sleep—work and play—I’m at my best.  My brain and I are happy and alive.    My brain likes to make new connections, to distill concepts, to squeeze the essence of things through the small straw at the end of a funnel.  That probably sounds like a really good thing–maybe even like I’m bragging.  It is good, but there’s a not so good part, too.

It’s the down times that are really hard.

When I’m in between projects, when my day to day thinking needs to slow, when there’s less of a challenge to create and more of a challenge to maintain—I get restless. This pace and kind of thinking is what creativity researchers call divergent thinking.  My lickety split brain thinks there’s something wrong and starts to work too hard on figuring out the problem.  When it can’t figure out the problem (because really there isn’t one) I get anxious and do weird things like adopt a new dog or make plans to open up a chalk paint furniture store.

I’m in one of those in between times now.   I just have to recognize it for what it is. Read More… »

4 Lessons from my most creatively productive year ever.

Jan 7, 2016 | 33 comments

I spent all year partnering with my creative process.  What I learned was surprising and quite new.  I’d love to share these lessons from my most creatively productive year ever with you.

2015 was an extraordinary year for me. When I sat down during the cold days between Christmas and New Year to take inventory of my creative pursuits for the year I was amazed.  The list is varied and long.

What a creatively productive year looks like.

— Completing my book:  Creativity as Co-therapist:  The Practitioner’s Guide to the Art of Psychotherapy (Routledge due out March 2016)

–Writing, testing, and launching my new online class: Going Beyond Words: The Art of Therapeutic Relationship

–Redecorating my private practice studio with Victorian furniture and Persian rugs (some of which needed to be refurbished by yours truly) to honor the craftsmanship that went into making furniture of that time period.

–Writing, filming, and releasing 9 videos that teach therapists how to integrate creativity into their practice: The Creative Advantage

–Attending a week long painting workshop with Jane Davies at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY

–Creating an inviting studio space of my own for painting, collaging, and napping

–Participating in an 8 week intensive art course on Abstraction with Lisa Call



I’m not here to write about the list really.

What I really want to share is what I’ve learned about the creative process during this productive year.

It’s key.  It’s foundational.


It’s what will guide my creative pursuits in 2016. And maybe give you some inspiration for your creative pursuits, too.

You see, I have spent 20 years teaching people to “Trust the Process”.  It’s been my mantra.  It’s become my students’, my clients’, and my workshop participants’ mantra.  I’ve spent countless hours helping thousands of people to finally trust that within the creative process there are twists and turns and struggles—but in the end, when they trust it, things work out.

Well, at the start of 2015, I can honestly say that I held as much trust as I feel possible to hold in my creative process.  I have lived my own medicine and worked to experience the unknown and uncertainty as necessary parts of the process.

But, when I really think about my last year, it was less about trust and more about respect.

That’s right.  Respecting the process is the key.

For instance, I found that “ass in chair”—a particular style of disciplined writing that many authors subscribe to—doesn’t work for me.  It is disrespectful of my creative process to point my index finger straight at it and demand that it produce—even if I try to relieve the pressure by giving it the double binding message, “It really doesn’t matter what you write, just start writing.”

So, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about respecting my creative process.  Perhaps, by putting it out into the InnerCanvas community, we can all begin to grow and practice the respect that our creativity actually requires in order to make amazing years happen. Read More… »

Your Art’s Bill of Rights

Jun 30, 2015 | 4 comments

Therapy is your art form.

Did you know, your Art possesses inherent rights?  Uphold these rights and your art will serve as an acknowledgement of life, a means of renewal, and a celebration of human experience for yourself and others. (Remember, as a therapist, you have an art form called “therapy”!)


Your art has the right to take ANY form that it likes.

Writing, dancing, singing, painting, and acting (to name a few) are common activities that result in the creation of art. But every creative endeavor—from delivering a speech to inventing new software—should be considered art.  Here on this blog, and in the course, Artfix I consider therapy an art.  Art is any creative activity and the form it takes does not limit its existence.


Your art has the right NOT to be beautiful in a traditional sense.

Peter London, author of No More Secondhand Art, says this best.  “When we think about art as beauty or novelty we have a painfully incomplete definition.” The acquisition of skill and technique is not required in your art making, however it can have a role.  The more skill and practice, the closer you may come to being able to convey your own perspective.  No matter the skill, evaluating your art for its beauty alone dilutes its importance and power. Read More… »

[Video Series] The Creative Advantage Video #3: Change your Perspective

Jan 29, 2015 | 9 comments

What happens when you look at your office from your client’s chair?

What do you see? 

When you change your perspective, you are thinking more creatively.  You can jump start stale thinking and nudge stagnant ideas.


This week on The Creative Advantage: Change your Perspective.

When we are looking at problems, we need to be able to see from different points of view or else we get stuck seeing things from that same point of view and we miss seeing what we would have seen had we looked differently of from a different perspective.

Creative people know that getting outside of your work space and changing the scenery jumps starts stale thinking.  Richard Serra, the sculptor, used to ride public transportation all around New York just to shift his stagnant ideas.  Nietzche wandered the mountain sides in order to write.  He said, “All great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

Practice changing your perspective.

First, state an issue that a client has.  Then look at it very, very close up as if it is magnified.  Then look at it from very high up as if you were a bird looking down.  Sit in the chair or coach where your client sits and take a look from your client’s perspective.

You can apply these same, change your perspective ideas for you own problems, too.  It can nudge a stale perspective in a new direction, and you can come up with something new and more imaginative.  See what kind of creative ideas come up as a result. Read More… »

Does your therapy office support your creativity? How your office is like an artist’s studio.

Nov 6, 2014 | 5 comments

Does your office support your creativity?

Have you ever watched a pianist sit down to play?

He takes his seat with exactness as if it was a centering ritual he’s done ten thousand times.  A head bow to the keys, a quiet moment as he settles, a wave of his hands to perch them just right…..and then he begins.  He and his piano are one, inside a magical musical space.

Have you ever watched an artist work in her studio?

Everything in the studio is an extension of her.  She and her surroundings blend together in one fantastic image.  The sacred space she’s created spurs her to paint. You watch her dance in swaths of light as her painting comes to life. 

Our offices are our artist studios.

They are the places in which we create powerful therapeutic relationships through which healing and growth occur.  So, it is vital, when we enter our offices, we feel as if we are entering a sacred space.  Like the painter and the pianist, our bodies should react with a physical recognition and centering response.  When your environment supports this engaged response, you are set to do your best work. Read More… »

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