Human beings are inherently creative; creativity is not the domain of a few talented artists. Recent research has identified that creativity is a complex integration of neural systems, cognition, personality traits, and neuromodulatory systems, i.e. dopamine, serotonin and adrenal (Khalil et al., 2019). Furthermore, research has also shown that creativity can be taught, increased, and strengthened (Sun et al., 2016). Creativity is the ability to imagine something new or different, and then to take action to make it a reality. Interestingly, a criterion of whether an idea is creative, is that it must be deemed useful within the social context it was created in. So, unless it is useful and original it doesn’t count as creative (Flaherty 2005; Kaufman, 2019).
Creativity and Neuroplasticity
Think about how you choose your actions each day. Most often, we rely on repeating the things which have worked for us in the past.
How many of the thoughts you had today are exactly the same thoughts that you had yesterday?
To live creatively, to have an ‘artful existence’, means to re-acquaint oneself with one’s natural and inherent creativity.
Research demonstrates that novelty and creativity flexes, strengthens and rebuilds the neuro-plasticity of the brain (Sun et al., 2016; Feng et al., 2019).
Depression and the Pre-frontal Cortex
To imagine and desire, to weigh options, to choose, to create and to act, is to live with agency (self-responsibility).
Our pre-frontal cortex provides the ability to see options and opportunities, and also to create new possibilities.
In depression, the pre-frontal cortex decreases both in activity and size, thankfully, the good news is that it is most often reversible (Hare, 2019).
The Spark of Creativity
What do you imagine the artful expression of your creativity could create?
Imagine walking from the center of a room, full of potential, straight into the corner. With each step more of
the room falls away until suddenly one is standing in the corner, unable to view or contemplate the
wealth of possibilities outside one’s field of vision. The room has simply disappeared. Similarly,
in depression options and possibilities fall away and as a result depression can deepen, initiating a
self-perpetuating cycle; the effort to back up or turn around has become too much or feels utterly pointless. Helplessness and hopelessness set in, further deepening despair.
Re-igniting creativity can be the first step in expanding one’s view again. Carl Jung believed that
our creative capacity, our creative imagination, lies at the very heart of the healing process (Chodorow, 2006).
Art is not just for artists, writing for writers, or song for singers. Creative expression is the foundation
of healthy human existence (Feng et al., 2019).
Wishing and Willing
As described by Yalom (1980), our hearts yearning can be answered through the double call of wishing and willing. Wishing is our imaginal creativity, and willing is our determination to action (and occasionally the happenstance) that brings it about. We live within a dominant society that values and perhaps over-emphasizes conscious will, but what of our unconscious will? Have you ever done something, and afterwards wondered what on earth possessed you to do it, “What was I thinking?” Conversely, have you ever had the experience of having things happen easily, with little conscious forethought? Ending up in exactly the right place, at the right time? Unconscious will is very willing to work on our behalf, set into motion by the imaginal creative free play of wishing.
Thoughts, Awareness, Potential
Creativity and resilience are inextricably linked, and provide a useful strategy to explore when healing
from trauma. Imagination impacts body, emotion and cognition, providing a source of recovery,
fostering healing, and promoting resilience (Rubinstein & Lahad, 2022).
Singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier speaks eloquently to the healing power of music in her Tedx talk. Her powerful song, Mercy Now, is a moving example of the magic of music to open hearts and minds.
New thoughts, new emotions, new behaviours, new relationships, new passions, new insights;
all of these are possible with creativity.
If you are interested in learning more:
Beck, J. S. (2021). Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Basics and beyond (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press.
Chodorow, J. (2006). Active imagination. In R. K. Papadopoulos (Ed.), The handbook of Jungian psychology: Theory, practice and applications. Routledge.
Feng, Q., He, L., Yang, W., Zhang, Y., Wu, X., & Qui, J. (2019, April). Verbal creativity is correlated with the dynamic reconfiguration of brain networks in the resting state. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00894
Flaherty, A. W. (2005). Frontotemporal and dopaminergic control of idea generation and creative drive. The Journal of Comparative Neurology 493, 147-153. https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.20768
Hare, B. D., & Duman, R. S. (2020). Prefrontal cortex circuits in depression and anxiety: Contribution of discrete neuronal populations and target regions. Molecular Psychiatry 25, 2742-2748. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-020-0685-9
Kaufman, S. B., (2019). The neuroscience of creativity: Q&A with Anna Abraham. Scientific American Mind 30(2).
Khalil, R., Godde, B., & Karim, A. A. (2019, March). The link between creativity, cognition, and creative drives and underlying neural mechanisms. Frontiers in Neural Circuits 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncir.2019.00018
Rubinstein, D., & Lahad, M. (2022, February 10). Fantastic reality: The role of imagination, playfulness, and creativity in healing trauma. Traumatology. https://doi.org/10.1037/trm0000376
Sun, J., Chen, Q., Zhang, Q., Li, Y., Li, H., Wei, D, Yang, W., & Qiu, J. (2016). Training your brain to be more creative: Brain functional and structural changes induced by divergent thinking training. Human Brain Mapping, 37(10), 3375-3387. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.23246
Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapies. Basic Books.