Same Project: Psychologist, Artist, and Client | Part II

on December 14 | in Psychology | by | with No Comments

This is part 2 of a piece Richard Bargdill wrote for the Dasein Project on October 15, 2011.


7. Clients and artists must resist urge to judge one’s self or the piece before the work is finished.

One of the great gifts of a phenomenological education is the concept of bracketing. The general instruction is to try to set aside all of one’s prejudices, first impressions, and gut feelings towards a particular person, object or experience. This is not necessarily easy, nor is it probably something that can be done completely. However, it is an attempt to clear the past so that one can be open to the current situation.  The therapist must meet the client with both openness and a non-judgmental attitude in this present so the client can learn to treat him or herself the same way.  The person can let go of the past and the habit of judgment she has developed toward herself and she can free herself to see the future as transformation of the past rather than a continuation of it.

The artist, especially the visual artist, has this same challenge before her.  In fact, her art stares back at her constantly. The artist can be stumped by what is wrong with a piece of art and can spend hours simply looking at the work rather than working on the work. In this way painting is similar to life: one has to keep going without being caught up too much in the results because there is always opportunity for revision and addition.  But artists also have to be conscientious about not over detailing a piece.  Sometimes what is best about a piece of art is its flaw.  The more the artist tries to “fix” the problem, the more problems the artist makes. Most of the time when I have “ruined” something it is because I kept messing with it rather than letting it be for the time being.

Caption: This is a painting on felt.  I think in most of the painting I bring out some of the texture of the felt in almost every aspect of the painting except the face.   The face I over paint and it does not retain the vagueness that the felt should keep.  If I want exactness I should paint on canvas.  So in this painting I ruined the virtue of painting on felt by asking for a more detailed account of what the surface should be asked to give.


8. Therapy and art aim toward authentic speech and away from pre-fabricated talk or gossip.

The client has probably tried to talk out his problems with others prior to deciding on the route of therapy.  Likely, the client has received trite advice from others that has not allowed the more tender parts of the issue to surface. Oddly, those who are closest to us don’t always have the most empathic ears for us. Advice has a way of shutting true understanding down since it “assess and solves” in a matter of seconds.   Thus, a humanistic therapy is interested in allowing those tender, twisted parts of our history to have an opportunity to show themselves in the very way that are willing to show themselves—most commonly in a safe environment after trust has been established.  This means that the client may have to be drawn down to deeper levels, and that the therapist does not rush to fill a silent spot in the conversation, but rather she gives the client an opportunity to reconnect to that tender zone and then that client can give a voice to that which has been neglected, isolated or forgotten. Words are like white blood cells, they encapsulate the psychological infection and in their expression they liberate the soul from the dis-ease.  Authentic speech heals because it releases the poison from the client’s psychological prison.

The poet’s goal is to reveal with their words.  So language and syntax have to force the reader away from common usage.  If reality is the glass that separates us from true emotional involvement with the world, than poetry is the object we use to “break glass in an emergency”. The poet is opposed to any ordinary or canned conversation and he attempts to use language as a knife.  The poet carves away the fat and the dead flesh of language and tries to reveal what is still alive, unseen, and unheard concerning the topic that has captured him.  The poet pursues new metaphors or a beautiful string of sounds, so that the tired old topic can authentically be view afresh. Any authentic speech is probably poetry.


 You’ve got to watch

what you swallow

when you eat

in front of

the TV


Caption: Sometimes the form can also help a poem make a point.  Here my funnel shaped poem sort of implies that things are being slid down our throat maybe when we least expect it.

9. Poetry and Therapy are attempts to untangle the emotional mess of existence.

Emotions are often messy and have a certain forgotten permanence to them, so that they are like the carpet stain we try to hide rather than clean.  But because we put the couch over there, it doesn’t mean the stain goes away. The therapy will eventually lead us to that couch and that stain hidden beneath it. But only talking about what happened, why it was left there, how come it was hidden and whether it should be left there or lifted.  Not every stain can be freed, but sometimes clients can change their attitudes about the events in their lives and that is enough to come to terms with events.

Almost all of the most important things we should say go left unsaid. Human beings talk a lot, but any time the going gets tough, they have an odd habit of shutting up.  They swallow when they should spit out the words.  The poet’s job is to reverse that trend: speak the truth that humans most want to keep silent about. Both the poet and the comic artist allow what is on the backburner of many minds to be express and this allows us release of laughter or tears we are too socialized to ordinarily express ourselves.  They both allow liberation because our laughter admits that they said what we always wanted could not find the words to express. Our tears tell us that there is something still alive in us that all of our socialization couldn’t kill: we still care about something.


The poet’s job

is to make the public feel

what they miss

when they watch

those tragedies

at six.

Caption: We are inundated by tragedy that we can never really process.  News has increased the senseless death around us. Only the poet can give this tragedy a form that allows the rest of us the insight in to what this existence could possibly mean.

10. Therapy and poetry make us see a deeper dimension, frequently one we know is there but often do not recognizing as significant.

The psychologist is often faced with a client who seems to say quite profound or deeply emotional statements, but surprisingly does not seem to even hear what she has said.  The therapist often reiterates these words right back to the client. The repetition sometimes allows the speaker to listen to herself.  Often a startled client will actually ask, “Did I say that?”  At other times, the client will make verbal statements that seem detached from a reciprocal emotion tone.  So that the client might matter-of-factly say something like “My life is a disaster, I’m completely miserable”.  The therapist, here, recognizes that the person is saying very grave things but is emotionally detached or numb to the gravity of the situation. Part of therapy is reconnecting the emotional wires in a safe and supportive environment.  Clearly something is out of sync with the client’s emotions and her live story. The question clients often ask is: when will I feel whole? This question recognizes that total human can be fully integrated when her emotions, intentions and actions are all pulling in the same intentional direction; her modes of being are working together for some common future.

The poet often layers her work with references to other poets and other poems, but the poem should be able to stand on its own, even if the reader is not familiar with those other aspects.  The reader must get the first entendre even if he misses the double.  Poetry is built on the idea that poems are multi-meaningful and that patron is able to take from the poem what they like even if the poet did not necessarily mean exactly what the patron intends.  Sometimes the right song comes on the radio exactly when we are going through a similar emotional experience.  It is meaningful to us not because the songs details are identical, but because the emotions point in a direction that most humans have experienced at some time in their lives.

Caption: This is an example of a rather ordinary drawing of Sitting Bull.  Nothing too special to draw the eye, except for the fact that someone might ask, “Which chief is that?”  What I tried to add to this is a painting on the backside of this work. That would only be visible when back-lit.  Timers were intended cut the light shining upon the piece and then a back light would turn on revealing the second image that is in fact the same exact object.   (image below)


11. Healing means to put confusing feelings and haunting memories into the form of words during the therapeutic process.

For the client the articulation of the trauma often gives shape to amorphous.  One of the necessary requirements for being resilient is being able to make sense out of the senseless. When we are able to help a client find a moral to one’s own story then there is some closure for past events.  We have helped solidify the amorphous, emotional goo and as that emotional goo hardens into “experience” it can form an emotional scar. The scar is at least a firmer foundation for a future self to build on.  If clients now know what something means to them, they can move forward since they understand how events have come together so far.  These events are now a narrative instead of a mystery or a puzzle.  The pieces fit together rather than remaining in some sort of random disarrangement.

The artist is often captured by a single second.  The photographer takes 100 shots to get one that is just right.  The inspirational moment often sticks with the artist until that piece has to be made.  Why is the artist working on this piece at this moment? It is the one that needs made.  The writer has to write this thought down now so that the next thought has a chance to come.  Finishing a piece of art is what is necessary to allow the next project to have his attention.   Sometimes the thoughts or lines or ideas come too fast and the artist or writer can only capture cup full.  Certainly, only some of those can be brought to their true potential and others have to be skipped entirely.  The project is finished when the artist knows that one more stroke or one more revision will only be damaging.

Caption: In this piece Happily ever after, the simple fantasy of true love is smacked hard with the skewers of the realities of maintaining a passionate relationship–once the bills start rolling in and the toilet seat is not place down.

12. Client must learn to become the author of one’s own life.

One of the things that the client and therapist work on is learning to untwine how other persons have understood the client and how the client wants to understand himself.   Other people have labeled the client by saying things like “You’re selfish” or “You can’t do anything right”.  Therapy helps the client unwrap those “other-based” labels and create or develop or revive more personal and hopefully, positive narratives. Once the client understands who is speaking to him, he can follow his own voice or listen to the concert of voices speaking to him and pick and choose a voice that seem most appropriate for his particular situation.

The poet’s job is to find those words that escape the ordinary person.  When something excellent happens to a person and they are interviewed on TV the ordinary person often says, “I can’t really put the experience into words”. This is the poet’s job and that is why we call on poets when there is a tragedy or we want to commemorate a particular great events.  The poet fleshes out the feelings and images that the ordinary language user just can’t utter.  The poet finds the nuance and the tone that is appropriate and when the poet gets it just right the whole nation will know that verse.  The poet shines a mirror on the entire culture.

Caption: Here we see a motif of mine: a human figure/frame and the exoskeleton somehow attached to the outside of an ordinary picture frame.  In this piece “Manufracture” the face is in front of a mirror that allows the patron to see one’s self inside the artwork if they get close enough.  The bottom left hand corner reveals a viewer of the art.

13.  Like a poem, client learns to edit one’s life story.

One thing about revisiting the past is that we don’t often find facts.  The client learns that what has happened since that event all goes into coloring the goodness or badness of that event.  If her life changed after that incident, she can sometimes look at that moment and after acknowledging the pain she went through, she may be able to say, “That was a good thing.”   But history also doesn’t have to be so rosy and she doesn’t have to be so thankful for wounds; the point is that meaning is malleable, history is malleable, time is malleable, and the self is malleable. Life is not a thorn-less rose.  The client learns that she is not trying to avoid all and every single prick nor should she have to swerve to miss every bump in the road. But, when the client hits that big pothole she is able to reflect, connect and project: reflect on what happened, connect the past to present, and project the type of person she wants to be in the future. Life stories require as much editing as a good poem.

The poet eventually learns that every word is conundrum. A few words are just right, but most others are boring or common or lame or just not quite what one wants.  Everything needs tightening a bit, except of course, when it needs loosening–to allow just a little bit more emotion. There are over-tones in each word that the poet might want to just splash in for a little implication. She is constantly wondering about including all punctuation or no punctuation. Poetry is all about deliberateness and therapy for the client is about intentionality.   There is little that is unedited although much of the initial discoveries are accidental in both. Most first drafts of our poems and our lives have too many words or appear too vague and too idiosyncratic so that it really doesn’t make sense to others and most of the time doesn’t even make sense to our own self.  Everything needs editing.  The mind thinks it knows what to say, buy say anything clearly is a skill that must be practiced.  Truth is found in the revision: our own poetic truth and our own history.


I fought


to death

Caption:  A very short poem that implies much more than it says.  The potential double meaning of the title provides a little direction.

Pin It

related posts

Comments are closed.

« »