Lisa Mitchell

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Creativity as Co-Therapist
The Practitioner’s Guide to the Art of Therapy

This isn’t just a book, it’s an invitation.
Partner with creativity
and see therapy as your art form.


In Creativity as Co-Therapist, experienced psychotherapist and creativity expert Lisa Mitchell bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and therapeutic application by teaching psychotherapists of all backgrounds to see therapy as their art form. With warmth, gentleness, and enthusiasm, Lisa guides readers through the five stages of the creative process to help them understand the benefits of approaching their work creatively and the keys to overcoming their creative roadblocks. Along the way, case studies, personal stories, and hands-on art activities inspire the reader to think outside the box and build the creative muscles that hold the key to enlivening their work. Readers will find new trust and enthusiasm in thinking beyond the clinical blueprint and facilitating handcrafted therapy sessions.

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Dear Reader

This book is not an instructional manual about how to use art in therapy. It doesn’t walk you through a clinical protocol for treating specific disorders. It doesn’t provide you with evidence-based practice techniques that will ensure that you fit into a standard of care. There are plenty of books like that. They are good and necessary.

But, this book picks up where those books left off.

This book is about knowing ourselves as artists. It’s about the internal states that we have to live and embrace in order for our work to be artful. When our work is artful, we give ourselves and our clients permission to let doubt, anxiety, and inspiration be part of the process of change. When we work as artists, the emotional intensity is sometimes overwhelming. But we are not bored, we are not numb, and, best of all, we are not drained. We are revitalized and occasionally stunned by the beauty we find in the process.

In my decade working as a consultant and workshop leader for clinicians, I have had the privilege of routinely witnessing the wide-eyed, heart-quickening excitement that arrives when a therapist views her work as an art form. The fear of making a mistake gives way to the excitement of trying something new. Passion and curiosity peek out from under the tedium of repetition. It is a connection to something besides the pursuit of knowledge and skills that is emphasized in our training. In fact, it’s a reconnection of sorts. When we see our work as art, we can see therapy as an act of love. I truly believe that this is why many of us became therapists in the first place.

This book is an invitation to you. I invite you to read the stories and make the art, to grapple with your creative process and embrace it as a thread that weaves through all things personal and professional. And most of all, I invite you to fall back in love with yourself and your work.

Yours,

What you will learn:

  • Embrace the creative process to enrich your work as a therapist
  • Trust your ability to be spontaneous, authentic, and flexible with your clients
  • Translate your knowledge into powerfully individualized interventions
  • Welcome mistakes as opportunities for profound engagement and change
  • Identify your personal creative roadblocks and learn how to become unstuck with clients
  • Breathe new life and joy into your practice when burnout looms
  • Deepen your understanding of the stages of the creative process using art invitations

About Lisa

lisa-headshotLisa Mitchell, LMFT, ATR, LPCC is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Registered Art Therapist who has specialized in helping teens and adults use art and creative expression to overcome anxiety, depression, and trauma for over 20 years. Through online and in-person workshops, she teaches therapists unique ways to approach the therapeutic process as a creative one. She has helped thousands of therapists from around the world find flexible solutions in their work by trusting their own creative process. Lisa partners with her own creativity through writing, knitting, and painting. Her blog features reflections on all of her creative endeavors (including therapy) at www.innercanvas.com.


Chapter Summaries

Part I: The Art of Therapy

Chapter One: The Therapeutic Process is a Creative Process

We explore the benefits of seeing the therapeutic process as inherently creative by identifying key elements of the creative process: embracing mistakes, engaging collaboratively, and experiencing anxiety.

Chapter Two: Getting Started

Use the Creativity Assessment at the beginning of this chapter to identify initial strengths and weaknesses in the way you navigate your creative process. A working definition of “art” is introduced as it applies to creative endeavors inside and outside of therapeutic work. Learn strategies to support yourself in the vulnerability that is required to be open to the creative process.

Part II: The Fives Stages of the Creative Process

In the chapters that follow, we will see what is required to navigate each stage of the creative process. Stories, case studies, and vignettes offer multiple contexts through which to see the creative process as it relates to therapy and art making. Each chapter ends with a set of questions to ponder and art invitations to try that will deepen your familiarity with each stage.

Chapter Three: Incubating

Incubating is the necessary beginning of any creative endeavor. The divergent or “soft” thinking that Incubation requires prepares us to make new connections and come up with unique ideas for our work with clients. Incubating is not aimed at finding a specific solution; rather, it is permissive and dreamy, and asks us to tap diverse and unlikely sources in our lives. This chapter helps you identify your unique way of Incubating that invites your mind to soften and find inspiration in unexpected places.

Chapter Four: Initial Idea

The moment that our mind gleans an idea from the multitude of possibilities our Incubation has created, the second stage of the creative process, Initial Idea, has begun. Learn how to recognize the sometimes subtle, nonverbal signals of that “aha” moment when convergent thinking yields a starting point for your creative endeavor. Discover how Initial Ideas can be found and explored in collaboration with clients as well.

Chapter Five: Diving In

The third stage of the creative process, Diving In, is a stage of action. It marks a transition from thinking to doing. In order to navigate this third stage, we need to muster the courage necessary to go with our clients into the unknown. Sometimes it is scary; others times it is exhilarating. Successfully Diving In means not letting our fear of making a mistake stop us from using our Initial Ideas. Explore the uses of play, humor, and child-like wonder to create the relaxation and exhilaration that make Diving In easier, both for yourself and for your clients.

Chapter Six: Flexible Commitment

Once we have Dived In despite potential mistakes or reactions, we arrive at the fourth stage, Flexible Commitment, poised to refine, collaborate, and continue our creative process. Flexible Commitment requires that we remain fully engaged even in the face of mistakes and surprises. Sometimes this stage invites us to try things we’ve never tried before. This chapter will help you develop the capacity to be nimble during this challenging stage and remain open to new ideas when unexpected detours appear in sessions.

Chapter Seven: Flow

The fifth stage of the creative process, Flow, is marked by feelings of euphoria and ease. We get there by navigating the other stages and by being authentic, alive, and present. While Flow is not the end goal of any creative endeavor, it certainly helps to reinforce the fact that difficult feelings such as doubt, anxiety, or fear are only one aspect of the creative process. As we collect experiences of Flow, we build greater resilience and trust in our work and creativity. Learn how you can strengthen your ability to both recognize and appreciate moments of Flow to fortify you for the more challenging moments of creative and therapeutic work.

Appendix: Art in Groups

This appendix offers guidelines for creating a group to support and deepen your creative process as a therapist. Banding together as artists can be life- and career-sustaining. The collective effort toward creating for the sake of being seen and known is extraordinarily powerful. When we get swept up in this creative buzz, we breathe life into our work as therapists. When we intentionally practice navigating the creative process and find support in doing so, we grow our capacity to heal and help.

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A beautifully written book that shows therapists how to breathe life into their sessions by viewing therapy as a form of art. Guiding readers through the five stages of the creative process, Lisa Mitchell presents inspiring exercises and delightful story examples that help therapists awaken their creativity, deepen therapeutic relationships, and elicit transformation for themselves and their clients. A masterpiece that will make you fall in love with your practice again!

Courtney Armstrong, author of The Therapeutic “Aha!”: 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck

As Yin to the Yang of creativity stage theories and separations between process and product, I admire and celebrate Lisa Mitchell’s vision of therapy as art, the embrace of uncertainty as the opening to the new, and the way she talks directly and naturally about therapy. Mitchell’s considerable literary talent makes the intricacies of the psyche accessible to all. I take delight in the way she reframes the current therapeutic language of interventions and directives, to offer ‘invitations’ to create. This subtle shift toward a more welcoming and respectful stance whereby the therapist invites, supports, witnesses, and is personally transformed by the engagement, is just what therapy and therapists need if we are to live the creative process and practice the art of therapy.

Shaun McNiff is University Professor at Lesley University and an artist and author whose books include Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing the Creative Expression.

Lisa Mitchell’s delightful book is like The Artist’s Way but just for therapists! Creativity as Co-Therapist: The Practitioner’s Guide to the Art of Psychotherapy takes helping professionals on a journey of self-discovery, guiding them with a series of art-filled exercises and ideas. She urges readers to step out of their familiar habits and bring more creativity into therapeutic sessions in exciting ways. This is a great book to enlighten the mind of a new therapist just starting out or refresh the routine of a more experienced clinician.

Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC, author of Building Your Ideal Private Practice

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