Counselling, Supervision, Training, Research, Teaching, Writing. Providing therapeutic services to the people of East Lancashire and beyond.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Courage to Create

In a break from marking essays I have just finished reading The Courage to Create, a short and delightful book by the existential psychotherapist Rollo May. I was motivated to read more of Rollo May by the video I watched and reviewed here. This deeply humane and thoughtful book was a nice antidote to the last book I finished, by the much more combative Thomas Szasz.

Rollo May's book is about the creative process. A painter himself, he draws many of his illustrations from the visual arts as well as science and psychotherapy. The title comes from May's belief that creativity is a courageous act: the discovery of 'new forms, new symbols, new patterns' challenges conformity within society, and the creative genius is often punished for it.

May writes a lovely chapter on creativity and the unconscious, exploring the experience we have all had in which we apply ourselves to a problem for days only to have the answer come out of our unconscious when we finally put our pen down, have a rest or go for a walk. My old teacher used to say 'leave it to the night shift' and he meant just this, let your unconscious mind work on the problem and it will come up with the answer. May argues that the mind needs the 'relaxation of inner controls for the unaccustomed idea to emerge' (63).

My favourite chapter though is May's meditation on 'creativity and the encounter' in Chapter Four. He argues that great art comes out of the encounter between subject and object, between, for example, the painter and the landscape. He argues that the intensity of that encounter, the passion or commitment involved, determines how great that art will be. It also brings with it anxiety (92).I love this idea of the encounter and I immediately applied it to my work as a psychotherapist. Out of the encounter between therapist and client - or out of the client's encounter with self - out of the intensity of that - come new perceptions, realisations, insights and profound change. And yes, it certainly requires courage!


  1. I liked the book review, John. I'd heard of Rollo May but never read anything by him so this sounds like a good place to start.

  2. Hello Patrick, Thanks for commenting, there are certainly some stimulating ideas in this little book and it has prompted me to offer more of myself when I'm counselling. I'm reading another Rollo May book at the moment, Man's Search for Himself. I'm not getting on quite as well with that one though, seems a bit dated; if I remember right it was written in the '50s and the problems he confronts seem rooted in that period.