Therapy as an Invisible Art

I consider myself to be a creative person. The emotional rewards when I write something beautiful or complete a project in my home include pride and a sort of buzzing contentment, sort of like a cat purring. Making something physically visible and tangible that didn't exist before is highly satisfying to my needs for creative expression and personal competence. 

Sometimes as a therapist I find myself questioning what I'm doing, wondering if I'm really helping or being effective. Some sessions are better than others, and I know it's just part of the experience but it can be hard to accept. I have to remind myself that even though on the surface there wasn't a huge "Aha!" moment or sobbing release, I can never know the vast depth of the experience that my client had during the session. It might have seemed somewhat uneventful in my eyes while internally the client had plenty of internal insight and processing going on. It could be a session that they remember for the rest of their lives, a turning point where they became aware of their own anger or fear around a particular subject. Maybe as they drove home they reflected on how it felt a little lighter inside and realized just how much weight they've been carrying around.

And that brings me to the concept of therapy as invisible art, a form of creative expression that can be manifest as subtle and unseen. When I play music I can record it, when I journal privately or publish a book it physically exists. Fingerpainting and creating collages with gluesticks with my daughters, our creations are displayed on the refrigerator for all to see. When a client has breakthroughs in therapy and begins to make changes in their life, yes the changes are visible - more energy in their movement, a sort of light and aliveness in their eyes, more excitement and joy expressed in their tone of voice - but I don't always get to see it directly, and sometimes the process is slower than others.

For the family and friends in my clients' lives, they can see the positive changes, the increase in energy or a new sense of calm. But they might not know their loved one is even in therapy! In this case therapy truly is invisible, and the beautiful changes they are so grateful to see seemingly come from directly within the person. And that really is the truth of it, therapy is like this invisible magical force that exists in the room when I'm working with my clients, and it works to enable them to find the power within to grow and heal and make changes. All I'm doing is holding a safe and compassionate space for them to simply step into, metaphorically, invisibly. When I see their eyes light up, or that shocked look of sudden insight, or tears of gratitude or grief gently flow, I know it's happened. When I don't see these signs? I trust in the process, I trust that in that vast unknowable ocean that is the person sitting before me deep subtle shifts are happening. I honor that one-hour space and let go of fear. Like an electric current or an Autumn breeze, sometimes I can see or feel the results but I know the art I practice is never completely visible to me.

Patricia Borgess