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Getting Therapy Down to a Fine Art

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Beautiful art is a lot like good therapy. Making art and being creative requires you to break and follow rules simultaneously, in balance. If you don’t let go enough, your work remains “inside the box.” If you let go too much, you create chaos. Picasso put it best when he said, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” That’s exactly what the impressionists did; they broke the painting rules and were subsequently kicked out of the Paris Salon, but they followed enough compositional rules (e.g. line, form and color) to create a hugely successful show on their own. And it’s a success that continues today.

Effective emotional health treatment (EHT) is very similar. If you don’t let go of social rules, like the taboo of talking about painful or embarrassing stuff, you stay stuck. But if you don’t apply some rules, like setting goals or agreeing upon a beginning and end, then you run your mouth to no positive end. There’s a saying in mental health, “If you can’t forget the rules, you are obsessive compulsive. If you can’t recall them again, you’re psychotic.” In other words, solid emotional health requires balance, and more importantly, the perfect balance for you.

My mentor shared a great example of this creative, customized rule breaking from his own life. His wife started a new career when their child was five, requiring she work into the evenings most nights. Both were concerned how the lack of family interaction would negatively impact their relationship and child. Instead of limiting the wife’s career options, they decided to creatively modify their child’s schedule. They put the child down for a long nap in the afternoons/evenings and got him up to eat, play games and interact with both parents from eight until midnight when they would all go to bed. Would any professional recommend this sleep pattern for a child? Probably not. But the child got the requisite number of sleep hours, just broken up, and quality time with his parents. My mentor and his wife broke the rules to help their family, and it worked.

In the end, it’s important to get creative with your emotional health. Sometimes you gotta break some rules, follow others and find the right balance to make your life a work of art.


To your emotional health,

Dr. Dabney

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