Before we dive into the depths of this topic, it must be stated that I am not an expert on mental health, therapy or the inner workings of creatives for that matter. I am merely speaking authoritatively based on my individual experience as a person in the creative field who has benefited from therapy. That’s what we’re doing now as an internet, right? Speaking in sweeping terms about our personal experiences and assuming they apply to everyone? Now, that we’ve established that, we can continue with my sweeping assumptions.
Everyone is broken. We all have our shit. Losses suffered, professional setbacks, general life difficulties. Some, naturally, have endured more than others, but everyone has something that has chipped away at their psyche. Creatives are no exception. In fact, they (we? I hate calling myself a creative, it sounds braggy, another reason for therapy, but I digress) are probably exceptionally broken.
The creative field sets us up for a career filled with disappointments. We pour a little bit of who we are into every piece we turn out and there’s no one right answer to solve the problems we face. When a client comes back and says, “this just doesn’t POP enough” or “my mother-in-law didn’t get it,” it not only feels like they are criticizing our work, but who we are. And there’s no way we can prove them wrong. So they must be right.
We start to internalize these opinions and draw the conclusion that we’re failing creatively. And if we’re failing creatively, we’re failing humanly. While this might seem like a leap, it’s a logical one to the creative brain. One that’s not so easy to step back from without the help of a professional third-party. Lest you think I’m proclaiming that all creatives are unique, sensitive little flowers without the research to back it up, check this out, Psychology Today agrees with me. Creative minds are busted.
I’ve been going to therapy off and on for years. Sometimes to untangle personal issues, but lately, my self-work has been almost entirely focused on the professional lumps.
Criticism Becomes the Internal Talk Track
Almost a decade ago, a boss looked at me from his swivel chair throne as the golf channel droned on in the background and told me I just wasn’t creative. I nodded and fought through the bowling ball welling up in my throat to mutter something about how I had been brought on to take over for those deemed more creative when their campaigns weren’t clicking with the client. This weak-willed objection didn’t change his mind, but his words changed mine. I decided he, in his infinite wisdom gained over decades of advertising sales, had to be right. I left that office with a sound bite that plays in my head to this very day.
When I’m struggling with exploring a new campaign angle —“you’re just not creative.” When someone pitches an idea far better than mine in a brainstorm — “you’re just not creative.” When a client doesn’t love my first draft — “you’re just not creative.”
I realize it’s ridiculous to take one person’s opinion and let it completely change how I view myself. But when there are no facts to combat the opinion, the opinion crawls inside your confidence and just builds a little home there. Until a professional comes in, hunts it down and demands that it pack up and leave. Or at the very least, gives you the tools you need to make the departure demand on your own.
In creative fields, your self-worth becomes entwined with what people are willing to pay. While, yes, one could argue that all fields are tied to a pay grade, most in the creative field have an hourly value assigned to their work outside of their salary. That hourly value means that clients think you are worth x amount of dollars. Which means if a client balks at a proposed budget, they are aghast at the fact that anyone could possibly think you are worth that much.
You’re not supposed to take money conversations personally. They typically have more to do with factors much larger than any one individual’s contribution to a project, but it’s hard not to hear, “you’re not worth it” when someone says, “I don’t think it should cost this much.”
Therapy can help unravel this mess of self worth and budget constraints. Moreover, it can help you use your new compartmentalized position on hourly rates to stand stronger in your negotiations — and to know when it’s time to walk away. Asking for what you’re worth is never effortless, but when you take the emotion out of the equation, you can productized your work-worth while keeping your self-worth safely nestled in your life outside the office. When you achieve this zen balance, it quickly becomes clear that most people who challenge your value aren’t worth your time.
Inherently Creative Therapeutic Tools
Some of the most delighting breakthroughs I’ve had inside the therapist’s office have come from discovering how much creativity and therapy feed off each other. Maybe this is just because my therapist knows how to read a room and make suggestions tailored to my personality. But even when you consider the coping mechanisms covered in general mental wellness articles, it’s clear creativity can be therapeutic. Coloring, puzzling, reading and writing are all some of my favorite ways to work through stressful moments and all align well with my more creative proclivities.
Let’s be honest, retail therapy, heavy venting sessions and cocktails with friends are also some of my favorite coping mechanisms, but apparently those are all unhealthy, so what do I know? I’ll answer that rhetorical question for you. I know that therapy has helped me in every area of my life. It’s one personal time block I never let get bumped by work priorities, because I know, ultimately, it is a work priority. I work most creatively when my mind is clear of the negative talk tracks and constant uncertainty about my worth. So, if you work in a creative field, do yourself a favor. Find a therapist who gets you, give yourself the time and judgement-free space to lament life as a creative unicorn and bask in the healing power of working with a professional who gets paid to validate you.
/written by Eliza Green