Tag Archives: drawing

Imagination and psychotherapy: Drawing things out

Drawing from the imagination has always been a favourite activity of mine, but because of my skills deficit it usually ends up as some abstract doodle. Now I’m being challenged to take it further, and the results are surprising. 20130502_145822 The task in the drawing class was to use this collection of dried cordyline leaves  as a basis for some imaginative work using charcoal.

After an hour or so of various attempts, largely in the form of landscapes and ponds, this picture emerged. It seemed to draw itself, very quickly in the last thirty minutes of the class and it took me by surprise. It’s not my usual stuff at all, and I felt quite moved by it.the wig

Later it made me think about the phrase ‘drawing out’. In the conversations that make up psychotherapy, we are often drawing things out; trying to see more clearly that which has been obscured, buried, denied. Sometimes what emerges is painful and shocking, but not always. There moments when what emerges is surprising and beautiful. We can think of this as revealing something already present but hidden, or as I would want to claim, as a more creative process. In the conversation, a new possibility or image is co-created by client and therapist.  It is a drawn from the interplay of memory, intuition, experiences – and imagination.

The relationship between psychotherapy and imagination has engaged many theorists and practitioners for years. All of the writers that were influential in my development as a psychotherapist find a significant place for it – Marion Milner, Stephen Mitchell, Bob Hobson, and Winnicott, of course, are just a few that spring to mind immediately.

I think of empathy and imagination as different but related. The capacity to tune in to another’s emotional state seems partly hard wired into our neurological systems, although we could all cite examples of people who seem to have missed out on this particular piece of wiring!  But imagination takes us beyond this. When I am trying to grasp, intellectually and emotionally, the other’s reality, I am not only tuning in to ‘what is there’, but translating it into language. I use visual imagery a lot, sharing with clients the image that comes to my mind in the attempt to understand them. Sometimes it doesn’t speak to them, and is discarded. At other times the image seems to capture something significant for them, and enables them to see their own experience in a subtly different way.

This can be very powerful in group settings, where one person’s image can serve to draw out others that complement or animate each other in surprising and refreshing ways. Drawing together, whether with charcoal or with pictures in the mind,  can bring us to some unexpected and stimulating places. Imagination  is fundamental to the task of doing things differently. We can together imagine all sorts of scenarios and emotions that go beyond those familiar rehearsed experiences that often bring people into therapy in the first place. Without this creative element, we could only draw the same picture over and over again.

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Psychotherapy and writing fiction.

Somehow if I go away I do far more drawing.  The Peak District looked stunning with the hills streaked in snow, although my attempts to draw the sweeping landscapes were just that – attempts!   But I did like this one of my friend’s front garden. Untitled artwork 2013-04-03 (06.02.43-272 Now, back home in a familiar landscape, writing has taken over.  At the same time as the next episode of the Wednesday Group is taking shape in my mind, I am busy thinking about the links between psychotherapy and fiction writing.

The Wednesday Group involves creating members of a therapy group and exploring their lives and interactions, as well as those of group therapists. The context of the fiction obviously connects with my working life as a group psychotherapist but I wonder whether, if I was writing a completely different story, it would be all that different.

It is a cliché that in the process of creating a fictitious character they begin to come to life. …. but they do. Writer and characters begin to develop a relationship, and the writer discovers more through giving them time and attention. They reveal themselves, or that’s how it seems to me. When I first wrote about Stevie, the main character, I had a very sketchy idea of who she was. She gradually lets me see different aspects, tells me more about herself, and even acts out in front of my eyes. In many ways it is like getting to know a client; being patient, not jumping to conclusions, working hard to get a sense of what it feels like to be them, trying to see the world through their eyes.

Trying to see the world through another person’s eyes, and being able to hold onto our own vision is for me one of the central aspects of psychotherapy. What I understand about human development, attachment, psychodynamic patterns, thoughts and feelings, embodiment – the assortment of accrued information or even wisdom that I gave gained – this all has to be integrated with a concentrated attempt to sense how it is to be the other.

That is what happens in the writing too. I am trying to get a feel for the characters, looking at the world from their perspective, not mine. Of course, these are all people who live in my head or on a computer screen – rationally I can’t divorce them from my own experiences and perspectives. But it is the magic of creativity that liberates them from those confines and sets them free to be themselves. Then if I want to get to really encounter them, I can’t assume that I already know and understand them. There is always more to be discovered, just as there is more to the people in our lives and to us as well.  And as for that maidenhair fern I have been trying to draw, there is obviously far more to get to know there too.

Chris