In their insightful book, wife-and-husband physicians Carrie and Alton Barron present an innovative, highly achievable five-part plan to unleash happiness and alleviate depression and anxiety by tapping into creative potential.
A gifted psychiatrist and a premier hand surgeon, Carrie and Alton Barron draw upon the latest psychological research, a combined forty years of medical practice, and personal experience to demonstrate how creative action is integral to long-term happiness and well-being. The Five-Part Prescription for the Creativity Cure—Insight, Movement, Mind Rest, Your Own Two Hands, and Mind Shift—leads the way to a more meaningful, fulfilling life by simultaneously developing self-understanding and self-expression. With the Barrons’ detailed tools and strategies for cultivating creative outlets, overcoming unconscious fears and barriers to happiness, and linking internal thought to external action, readers will build the mind-set and habits necessary for happiness and positive change. They will experience—and learn how to sustain—the deep satisfaction that accompanies creating something by hand.
The perfect self-help book for our handmade, homemade, crafting culture, The Creativity Cure has a simple yet profoundly inspirational message: that you can find the authentic, contented life you crave by taking happiness into your own two hands.
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About the Author
Alton Barron, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and is currently the President of the New York Society for Surgery of the Hand. He has been the surgeon for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera for more than a decade. Dr. Barron is a consultant for CBS and has appeared on the CBS Early Show. He has also written for The New York Times, was listed in The New York Times Magazine as one of the 2009 Super Docs, and has published extensively in multiple peer-reviewed journals.
Read an Excerpt
FROM THE TIME I was a small child I reveled in creativity, and therapy was a big part of the conversation in my house—my parents were both therapists—so this book, which combines the two, feels like a natural extension of the way I live, and have since I was a young girl.
Creativity was held in high regard in my entwined extended family. We were eight cousins, and several of the eldest, plus their significant others, were established artists. I was not among this elite, though I did sing for many years, but I enjoyed listening to them talk about the world of art and I always wanted to be a member of their club.
My fascination with psychological ideas and healing as well as creativity started early. When I was nine, I would pretend I was a therapist and act out treatment scenarios with ideas from the Ann Landers column. At twelve, I wanted to be a psychoanalyst because after two sessions with a child analyst, I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders as I left the room. She asked about what I liked to do, what my nighttime dreams were, and whether I would rather be seven or seventeen. After seeing her, I stopped getting into trouble and started getting good grades.
However, when I underwent my own four-days-a-week-on-the-couch treatment (a requirement for psychoanalytic training), I did not find it to be the humanistic enterprise I had imagined. It seemed to me that more was needed for wellness than the pursuit of insight. Not being able to buy in, latch on, be subsumed, believe, and belong was disappointing, and it took me a long time to come to terms with this.
Over the years I have met many people, analysts among them, who felt that their psychoanalytic treatments were subpar, too expensive, and even “traumatic” in the words of three who had trouble with the classical analyst who “never said anything.” They felt a lack of support and seemed to be searching for something else. So during my twenty-three years of practicing and teaching psychotherapy I have strived to figure out how to combine the powerful, beautiful, nuanced, effective ideas of psychoanalysis with scientifically validated forms of treatment, and to have it be affordable and accessible. I have tried to integrate creative thinking in my work both by helping clients to uncover and develop their own creative possibilities and by encouraging them to be curious and nonjudgmental about what pulses through the self, however surprising or unsettling. For many people, a partner is necessary for one’s own creative growth, and Alton has been that person for me.
Alton has been with me every step of the way for the last twenty-five years. We met in 1985 on the day we interviewed for Tulane Medical School. We had one of those long conversations where we talked about so many things—writing, music, and tiny babies in incubators as we passed through the NICU and then we met again on the first day of school. He has discussed, thought, edited, critiqued, researched, and written parts of the book as well as shouldered domestic duties so I could write. His work as an orthopedic hand surgeon, his athleticism, and his desire to close his eyes and stretch out in clean grass has had an influence on our philosophy of treatment. He averages only five hours of sleep per night but lets me get closer to eight and is willing to have many conversations.
I have been thinking about, reading about, talking about, asking about, and studying creativity for thirty years, so this was the chance to put it all together. Over time it has become more and more clear to me that moving my body, using my hands, doing what interests me, telling myself the truth about my issues, and talking with my friends takes me to a better place.
—Carrie Barron, MD
I GREW UP IN THE country amid fields of cotton, field corn, and soybeans. Running around barefoot and lying hidden in the tall grass with my dog imbued me with the sense of calm that only nature can provide. There was plenty of hard work to be done by hand to help my parents maintain the vegetable garden, the barn and yard and fences. We did our own automobile and tractor maintenance, and when something broke, wooden or mechanical, we repaired it. Early on, I learned that my hands were my primary tools that could get me where I needed to go.
From engineering in college, a year in dental school, painting houses in Austin, to medical school and ultimately orthopedic surgery, my hands built and now sustain my life. They are the tools for my livelihood and my creativity. And nature is my fuel.
Carrie and I began medical school together twenty-six years ago and began new journeys, with each other and our patients. They told us their stories, and we listened and learned. They taught us lessons about pleasure, peak moments, rising up, perseverance, hope, and faith.
Over the years, we refined our respective techniques for helping those who came to see us. My efforts are founded on anatomy, physiology, exercise, conditioning, good nutrition, and becoming stronger and more flexible. Carrie’s efforts are founded on the need for patients to gain psychological insight, to understand their past so as to improve their present, and to design a better future. We began to notice that with a certain change in lifestyle—with more physicality, handwork, and meditational practices—some patients felt better and were even able to give up medications.
Scientific data began to emerge that questioned the efficacy of antidepressant medications in patients with moderate anxiety and depression. Carrie began to discuss these ideas with me. We were concerned and curious. We were struck by how often these medications were prescribed, and yet how so many people still did not feel well, on them or off of them. We met people who had ideas about what they wanted to do, how they wanted to live, or even how they wanted to feel, but who couldn’t make it happen. After Carrie’s extensive research and both of our clinical observations, we began to devise a method of treatment that people could customize to make their day-to-day experience better and to feel happier and more effective.
Our mission is to demonstrate that it is possible to improve your sense of well-being through creative endeavors. However, to uncover your true creativity, it is necessary to develop certain healthy habits. We believe that some form of creativity is not only possible but necessary for all people.
—Alton Barron, MD
WE BOTH HAVE THE privilege to work with many amazing artists and they are some of the people who have helped us clarify our ideas about the connection between creativity and health. We had a conversation with Bruce Springsteen about The Creativity Cure, and he wrote this for the book:
We are creatures of the mind, the body, and the heart. Few of us have jobs that engage these three spheres simultaneously. Even in my line, songwriting is primarily mental and emotional; recording, the same. But I’m lucky, for in live performance, I need to call upon all of these elements and integrate them to get the job done. Pushing your body, mind, and heart to their limits creates a cathartic “clearing,” a “centering” effect in your being, in your soul. It makes you sweat, feel, and think. If you can find something that brings you there, use it. It will bring to your day a richness of experience and a fullness of self. When I come off stage, I feel a heightened “aliveness” communicating with my audience provides. It’s what all the noise, dancing, and shouting is about. I work hard that they may feel it too. That raw feeling doesn’t last for long, it’s not supposed to, but its remnant angels provide guidance, focus, and energy for future adventures. Mind, body, heart.
Good luck, Bruce
Table of Contents
1 Creativity and Happiness 1
2 How Can I Cultivate a Creative Self? The Five-Part Prescription (5PP) 29
3 Creativity and Inhibition 53
4 Creativity, Psychological Clutter, and they Well-Lighted Mind 83
5 Creativity and Resilience 113
6 Creativity, Community, and Your Own Two Hands 137
7 Creativity, Nature, and Exercise 167
8 Creativity and Self-Mastery 193
9 Creativity and True Connections 223
10 Creativity and Identity 255
Recommended Readings 285
Recommended Sites for Handwork 288
Recommended Groups 289