Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Imaginative Life

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 16, 2012

Allowing one’s imagination to flow, without a goal or consequence, is the heart of analytic work. Free association, that elusive ability to say what comes to mind, without fear of judgment from self or others, is the “royal road” to understanding the layers of motivation which determines both the big and little decisions of one’ life. Inhibitions to free association comes about, at times, from early shaming experiences where the child learns that his mind is somehow toxic and should be kept quiet, for fear that he will embarrass himself and/or his family. This prohibition of expression, to varying degrees, leads people to be shut off from themselves, from the power of their own ideas. For example, Tom, a man who has “writer’s block” feels deeply, in a way that makes no sense to him, that if he begins to write, he will steal someone else’s ideas and then be accused of plagiarism, thereby ending his career. This fear, as he reports, makes it impossible to feel any ownership over his own creative output. On further exploration, he talks about his father, constantly unemployed during his childhood, was threatened by this patient’s possible success, and hence demeaned him constantly, in order to feel superior, or so Tom surmised. Now, Tom demeans himself as a way of identifying with his father, and also as a way of not making his father feel more inferior. As we talk about our theories of his “writer’s block,” we begin to see his “brain shut-down” as a way in which he is afraid of his imagination, the part of his brain that at times, he is so proud of, and at other times, he is scared of. The creative mind can be a threatening place. Psychoanalysis helps with that.

5 Responses to “The Imaginative Life”

  1. ashanam said

    The brain sometimes is a toxic place, with terrible things around every corner and under every stone. You can make the brain a safe place again, or you can make friends with the dangers it holds. (There is a reason I read a lot of Stephen King as a kid. His brain, like mine, had monsters hidden in every crevice.)

  2. Shelly said

    For my own clarification, can you define for me when is it safe to express one’s hope and dreams, use one’s imagination and freely say what is on one’s mind as in individual therapy, and when one must be guarded and not say anything that can be used against you as in parental instruction or marriage therapy? How can the first situation be so helpful and the second two situations be so hurtful? In individual therapy, one can explore motivations and actions; in the second situation, one must be guarded and watch one’s words so that it doesn’t end up in a divorce proceeding or court document.

    • Shirah said

      You raise an interesting point Shelly. Individual therapy is a safe harbor, whereas couples therapy and family therapy poses risk of unforeseen consequences. The goals of each kind of therapy are different. Individual therapy is a “play space” but couples therapy and family therapy are not “play spaces”. Couples and family therapy are designed to improve communication skills and not to explore the imaginative capacities of the mind. As you suggest, improving communication skills means choosing your words carefully, so yes, this is in contradiction to individual therapy where you should let your mind flow and see what happens. Thanks, as always, to expanding this discussion.

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