she stuttered

confused thoughts on art as therapy

As already mentioned:
I’m not sure about the great therapeutic dimension in/of art, it looks very much like some strained kind of positive thinking …

What I forgot to tell you, is that I’m also rather skeptical regarding psychotherapy’s therapeutic ability …

I have been working for several yeas as a researcher within the field of psychiatry, I am in a long-lasting therapy situation, and I am – and have been – married for 25 years to a professor of psychiatry. Telling you this …

– it suddenly looks to me as if I am swimming around in a therapeutic

soup …


I have no doubt there are great insights to be made through therapy, and I’m sure there are very much good will invested in the field – but nevertheless, I am unsure about the talking cure’s capacity to cure. Just as I am skeptical to any therapeutic dimensions in (put on) art. I’m not doubting art’s importance, but unfortunately I have seen no sign of artists or art lovers being more healthy than most people … on the contrary –

Still not confused? Read this:

Artists are like philosophers. What little health they possess is often too fragile, not because of their illnesses or neuroses but because they have seen something in life that is too much for anyone, too much for themselves, and that has put on them the quiet mark of death. But this something is also the source or breath that supports them through the illnesses of the lived (what Nietzsche called health). ‘Perhaps one day we will know that there wasn’t any art but only medicine’.

Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari: What is Philosophy

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Sigrun,

    I wonder if the word ‘palliative’ might be more appropriate than therapeutic? That is how I think of my long term talk therapy treatment. I also find that while I am not ‘cured’ I feel lighter, carrying a bit less weight, when I am able to write poetry.

    As for us poor philosophers and artists who must carry the “quiet mark of death” I am willing to do so for the benefit of the rather loud mark of life which (sometimes) comes with a rich life of the mind.


    1. Sigrun says:

      Palliative – for sure – fits the process of therapy, also in my experience, much better! An interesting question is: does it also suit de Botton’s project better than his own chosen concept of therapy???

      oh, my! You have given me a lot to think about now!
      Thank You!

  2. Anthony says:

    I might even go a little further, with due caution for your immersion in therapeutic soup, and point a finger of blame at therapy for many of our present day cultural-sociological problems. Therapy and its consequent cult of individuality is a significant factor in the breakdown of kinship, and perhaps even of what we once termed society.

    1. Sigrun says:

      The cult of individuality –
      – let me see – in one way I understand de Botton to challenge the cult of individuality by trying to clarify art’s role in society as some kind of excipient. But at the same time he is in danger of undermining this notion by presenting art as a kind of therapeutic medication for individual use – nourishing the cult of individuality.

      1. Anthony says:

        My comment was intended more broadly as criticism of therapy for nurturing the cult of individuality. I don’t pay any attention to de Botton.

      2. Sigrun says:

        I know, this kind of connecting is all on me –

  3. clisawork says:

    I think therapy works best for those who cannot, for whatever reason, express the things that hurt them the most to the people around them. Also people who are crippled by the physically affects of emotional and physical wounds often do not have a way to heal themselves. I know that many people think religion can cure these “invisible” wounds, but allow me to call bs as someone who has been anointed by oil and spoken at in tongues. We are past the time of excorcising our depressions. Is therapy the ultimate cure for every person? No obviously. Is religion the ultimate cure? No obviously. Do these work for some of the people some of the time – absolutely. Does therapy always nurture the cult of the individual – it can, but not always. It can also broaden a persons outlook and maybe make them less narcississitic. (that’s a lot of ssssss sounds) Anyway, I think that there are many people walking around with invisible wounds, who need care. They don’t need a doctor. If a priest or pastor or a religious person can help them wonderful. If a therapist can help them wonderful. But we can’t let people walk around bleeding from these unseen wounds, going through the motions of life, barely living without doing anything to help them. If anything the torrent of returning soldiers soldiers should be a wake up call that there is a need in our society for people to help those who are wounded in their psyche. This isn’t something that just disappears because you can’t see it, or because no one says anything about it until they jump off a bridge or slit their wrists. If you are afraid of turning people into narcicists then try something else – I hear stoicism is nice. My point is I understand your concerns, but they only apply to a certain part of the population – the part that has had access to mental healthcare. That part of society has until the affordable health care act been only a very limited part of population. The rest of us (including me) have found these service to be off limits – uncovered by Medicaid, unaffordable out of pocket, and thus out of reach. Your societal position affects deeply how you perceive psychotherapy and its affectiveness. You need to let the rest of us have a turn before you make a final verdict.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Absolutely. But just to try to clear my position:
      1) I am living and writing in Norway, a country where there is an all including public health service. It doesn’t mean psychotherapy for all, but it does mean that people who are in need of medical care and nursing will be taken care of (some – obviously – against their own will).
      2) I will be writing my book in Norwegian for a Norwegian public.
      3) I am not writing a book on illness, but on health – I’m interested in art’s importance in everyday life.
      4) I do respect that a lot of people all over the world live in very different situations from mine, news that 22 American x-soldiers commit suicide every day is totally shocking (America really should stop invading other countries – also for the nation’s own good). But even so – it is not my task to write about this.
      5) I am placed in a (most of the time) very peaceful corner of the world. My task is to write about art & life from this rather limited perspective.

      1. Sometimes the “limited perspective” amazes. We find we can learn so much from examining a small area (think microbiology). Also the limited perspective is often overlooked! And can be valuable in many ways. How does art contribute to health, to joy, to emotional stability, to spirit, to human need? Even in a peaceful corner of the world. And is art part of why some areas of the world are more peaceful than others? –these may not be your questions, Sigrun, but your idea is fascinating. I am curious as to what you will discover.

  4. From the writing perspective…not to take you too far from your art-based inquiries, but you might want to find a copy of The Writing Cure.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you! You know my base is mixed – I very much appreciate all kinds of tips and ideas!
      & your questions will definitively also be mine! You ask: How does art contribute to health? This is might be a more fruitful question, than the question initially asked by de Botton about art’s healing quality.

      Your last question could actually be a new study: is art part of why some areas of the world are more peaceful than others? I really think the UN should sponsor this research!


  5. earthstills says:

    I have rolled the subject of your post around in my head for most of my adult life 🙂 Having variously been either in therapy or a counselor myself (I have a post graduate qualification in the field, although I no longer practice), I am ambiguous in my opinion, but share your fundamental skepticism. Two texts that have interesting perspectives that I can share are:

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you – much appreciated!

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