Artwork by Duncan E. Stafford
The creative industries in the UK generate close to £9.6 million an hour, which adds up to a staggering £84.1 billion a year. During 2014 – the most recent year figures are currently available for – the creative economy grew at almost double the rate of the rest of the economy. But what happens to our wellbeing when we fail to recognise the personal importance of being creative? What if, as I am fond of saying in my consulting room, you are creatively constipated?
The arts were of high currency in my family as I was growing up. I was encouraged to engage in my own creative endeavors above most other things. I was a natural musical improviser long before I could properly play an instrument or knew what the word meant. I had a fierce enquiry for how things had been created. Of course, I got into a lot of trouble as a result of this – partly because I often hadn’t learned that the best way to take things apart and see how they were created wasn’t with a hammer.
I was lucky enough to have a rewarding career as an arts professional before I began to train as a therapist at the end of last century.
'My creative space was reconfigured as a consulting room and my Musicians’ Union membership morphed into BACP membership.'
Then, one day, I began to define myself as a therapist rather than as an artist. My creative space was reconfigured as a consulting room and my Musicians’ Union membership morphed into BACP membership. For a period of time I was both musician and therapist, and then I decided that I’d sit in the chairs that faced the stage rather than being on it.
Switching off the creative impetus isn’t as easy as putting your violin in its case and closing the catches. Lack of creativity can lead to something I call ‘creative constipation’.
As you might imagine I often get a chuckle at the phrase when I first use it in the consulting room but, as I outline more about it, it begins to reveal its more serious blunting effect on life.
'Creativity is not, as we tend to think, a language of the few, it is an act of experimentation and it’s something that young children do with ease'
I think that one of the advantages of being a therapist who has previously been an artist is that artists are used to converting feelings into expressions that others can understand – even if only in a unique or personal way. Confronted with locked or stranded emotions in the body of a person seeking help, creative and artistic solutions often lead to converting negative issues into narratives that can be understood.
Creativity is not, as we tend to think, a language of the few, it is an act of experimentation and it’s something that young children do with ease. Watch any child as their imagination allows them to act out roles and, through play, bring life to inanimate objects. Sadly, the socialisation process of modern society, in both the home and too often in educational institutions, often close our thinking and experiencing of our self as a creative individual (any of you who know Harry Chapin’s songs will recognize this sentiment in ‘Red Flowers Are Red’).
And there begins the long constipating process. Life, vitality, energy and spontaneity can all begin to sludge up in our system when we abandon or refuse to see the creative spirit in human activity. When it gets really bad, even sex itself, the ultimate creative expression of human beings, can suffer.
Before we know it we have denied that creativity is a human-wide activity. Indeed, I’d boldly state that to be human is to be creative. While artists, musicians and actors are the creatives we think of most readily, teachers, scientists, builders and engineers (to name a few) are also hugely creative in all their various forms and it is people in these occupations among many others that I take great pleasure in introducing to their creative potential and freeing up those stubborn cases of constipation.
Duncan E. Stafford MBACP (Reg and Accred) has a private practice in Cambridge, UK for psychotherapy, counselling and coaching. He is the author of Turned On: Intimacy in a Pornized Society, and has special interests in working creatively with individuals and couples both face-to-face and via Skype.
Duncan can be reached through his website