“Each of us has the potential for a renaissance, an age defined by a creative, purposeful, and engaged life. It doesn’t matter whether the creative work we choose is painting, dance, fiction, poetry, or music. What matters is pursuing it mindfully.”— Ellen J. Langer
Ellen Langer‘s work has had an enormous impact on my life. On Becoming an Artist altered my perspective on work, art, and the attention I give to my life. Today, I integrate her research into my classroom and into the therapy room.
According to Langer, for some the childlike thrill of school or creativity was lost at the same time that criticism, self-evaluation, judgment, and competition were introduced. I have heard dozens of people tell me that they can’t write, can’t draw, can’t dance, weren’t good at school. Maybe this was because somewhere in their past someone told them that they weren’t any good, or maybe they just stopped trying. I would like to tell you, and Ellen Langer will also tell you, that it’s never too late to try again.
As a teen, I was a very good but uninspired student. My skills in language and literature propelled me to begin undergraduate education in 1988 when I was 17. At some point, though, I stopped going to school. The work got harder, and I stopped trying. I got married, had a son, got a mortgage, and had an uninspiring career.
Through my thirties, a shift started. I read some Jung, Maslow, Freud, and Rogers, and felt drawn to creating a more meaningful life. I was tired of the inner narrative I had crafted where I don’t finish things and decided to rewrite my story and went back to school. After I finished my BA in 2011, I went on to get an MA, started working in academia, found a mentor, and engaged in lots of therapy—all while pursuing graduate study. In 2017, I was awarded my PsyD in clinical psychology, and in 2021 (at the age of 52) I completed all licensing requirements and am a clinical psychologist in California.
Now in private practice, I help adults make sense of their lives through telling their story without judgment. This means a dialogue where there is trust and the propensity for radical candor from the client. For some, the work continues outside of the room, as aspects of their life that need attention are further explored through writing. This can be through prompts created specifically for the client to help find answers to questions that haven’t been found yet in the room. I have also recommended stream-of-consciousness writing akin to Julia Cameron’s morning pages. Research continues to show the benefits of journaling and writing as a means to self-exploration and healing.
As an educator, I help students make sense of academic work. I challenge them to avoid direct quotes and use their own words to describe the work of others. This practice often comes into play at Atlantic University where I teach a course that asks students to journal as a means of exploring their experience of the assigned readings. This unique opportunity provides enormous personal insight. Over twelve weeks, we blend the scholarly with the experiential, and I see students achieve knowledge about the transpersonal and about themselves in such a way that it is hard to know where one begins and the other ends. Often times I am struck by the impact that a particular reading has had on a student and that in turn affects me, and so it goes.
I am deeply grateful for the work across both domains because it allows me to bear witness to enormous growth, and this often comes with some deep struggles! In my office and in my classroom, I help people strive for new experiences and awareness and to push just beyond what they think they are capable of, the results of which can be profound.