What Goes Into the Creative Act? Can Therapy Be Creative?

Is therapy a creative act?

Posted Oct 16, 2016

Someone asked me recently to talk about what went into the creative act. To summarize and simplify one might say there were four things. In order to illustrate this I will use my most recent book, "Dreaming for Freud" where a young girl, based on Ida Bauer, one of Freud's early patients,  is talking to Freud.

1) There are  many real documented facts about Ida Bauer which I found in my  research, glimmerings of reality, such as her reading of Montegazza's  "Physiology of Love," which I looked up and read passages from. There are some real facts about  Ida Bauer's mother (her obsession with cleanliness) her brother, and also of course about Freud's own life, his wife and her sister Minna.

2) There are my own thoughts on women and men and how I have always felt we   use  language differently just as we seem to become different when we speak in a foreign language;  and my feelings about my own mother, whom I often felt lacked an interest in "matters of the mind." 

3) There is also the use of literature which is important in the formation of our identity, our creativity, and our lives;

4) Perhaps too we must  take into consideration the role of chance, luck, serendipity, fate, even God? (Write for God an editor once told me!)

Thus it seems to me there are  four main sources of creativity: obviously our own lives (our parents, education, encouragement by mentors, the outside world) the place and time where we were born (South Africa in my case, the freedom and repressive society where I grew up, conflict) the universities where I studied (Paris, New York) and perhaps most importantly literature ( in the book Ida Bauer mentions Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Voltaire, among others) what has come before, which teaches us both how to structure the inchoate and the confusion of life and also perhaps gives us  permission, a mysterious inspiration (and here there is definitely some overlap with  therapy, it seems to me, using literature to understand both ourselves and the patient) and well as  the undefinable question of "gifts" the surprises which come from outside of us ( the unconscious?) which seem to land in our laps.

In the book  I try to stay with the "facts" the research I did on the lives of these two people, two Jews in Vienna, their time and place (turn of the century, the flourishing of art and science, antisemitism, the rumblings of the coming of  the holocaust) and at the same time to use these facts to say something emotionally true about myself and thus hopefully about any reader at any time or place, who might find him or herself on the page.

Sheila Kohler is the author most recently of "Dreaming for Freud" ( Penguin.) Her memoir " Once we were sisters" is forthcoming in January.