The Artist Who Seeks Psychoanalytic Treatment

          There are many artists who pursue psychoanalytic treatment for reasons unrelated to decreased creative output or truncated artistic development.  Regardless of their chief complaint or presenting issues, they are invariably concerned that their creativity could be adversely affected by treatment.   Psychoanalytic views on how artistry expresses an individual’s or a collective unconscious tend to be polarized. Jung (1930) proposed that artists have the ability to split off their interpersonal functioning from their artistry.  He stated:  “… Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory qualities… As a human being he may be sound or morbid, and his personal psychology can and should be explained in personal terms.  But he can be understood as an artist only in terms of his creative achievement… artistic psychology is more collective than personal in character.  Art is an innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him his instrument…” (p.101) Jung’s point of view radically departs from the classic psychoanalytic concept of psychic determinism and considers that works of art have autonomous properties.   I have, at times, appreciated with awe and admiration how a person’s artistry can be successfully split and disconnected from other ego functions, in a parallel process that is not necessarily mediated by displacement, symbolization, condensation or sublimation.  Although I do not adhere with Jung’s strict views that an artist is “not endowed with free will” and is manipulated into a “vehicle and moulder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind” (p.101), I also find that theclassic concept of determinism, one essential in the field of pathography, hasthe potentialto alienate and disrespect artists by reaching reductionistic conclusions.

          My clinical experience with artistsincludes direct clinical work with painters,sculptors,photographers, film and documentarydirectors, animation artists, actors, musicians, and writers.  From 1999-2002 Iconducted a weekly group supervisionof eight clinicians who treated artists with psychodynamic psychotherapy at a mental health clinic setting.  In my office practice, not all artists decide to incorporate their artwork as primary data in analytic treatment and I respect this decision without challenge.  I certainly encourage them to talk about their artwork – I present the option of verbally describing their work and creative process, and express an interest in what inspires them, but state that I do not need to physically see the work or be part of an audience if that is their preference.  When invited, I try my best to attend shows, screenings or readings in a supportive, respectful but unobtrusive way.

César A. Alfonso

Jung C. G. (1930) The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature, in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 15, Princeton University Press, p.86.