Art, Healing, and Happiness

The dirty little secret about mental health is that we’re making most of this stuff up as we go along. There is important science and research that seeks to heal those impacted by organic illnesses, developmental disorders and neurological conditions. These are primarily conditions people are born with that are objectively understood. Most of mental health is a subjective grouping of conditions with overlapping symptoms and dozens of potential courses of treatment. Yeah, we’re making it up. Some of us do it well. Here’s the thing:

The best clinicians are far more artistic than they are scientific.

Most therapists will tell you they practice “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” This sounds scientific. What it really means is, “Hey, maybe some parts of how you think about stuff and how you act on it is kinda messed up?” So we help you find a different way to look at things and different ways to act on them. You come to us because you want to be happier. Happiness is a choice and the healing and growing that facilitates it is an art.

“The function of the artist is to provide what life does not.” – Tom Robbins

In a perfect world, each of us would have been given the foundation for happiness as children: How to feel Safe, How to feel Loved, How to Love and Relate to people in a Healthy manner, and How to Grow Up and Feel Secure in the knowledge that we are Good Enough. A lot of us didn’t get that. What we’re missing is not knowledge – what we’re missing are the experiences that enable us to FEEL something we’ve never felt. I worked with an amazing woman once who explained it this way, “It’s like you’re describing chocolate ice cream to me when I’ve never tasted chocolate or ice cream.” Metaphorically, I searched for a way to introduce her to Ben & Jerry’s. That’s art.

Of course if you want Ben & Jerry’s, you have to go to the store. The store in her story is her Home, her Faith, her Friends and the ways in which she Relates to herself. To ask others for ice cream is to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the unavoidable gateway to intimacy. Intimacy is connection. Connection is EVERYTHING. We crave connection because the dull ache of loneliness makes happiness seem like an impossibility.

We see happiness as something we have to add to our lives. I challenge folks to consider that releasing pain, anger, and shame creates greater room and opportunities for happiness. Past pain leaves us too fearful to trust and therefore unable to connect. We built walls to hide behind. We sit behind them and treat ourselves poorly. If you can’t bring yourself to tear the damned thing down then spray paint some graffiti on it. What would you write on both sides of your wall? Create a mural on the inside of your wall of the life you want to live. Now put a window in the wall so you can see what’s out there. Finally, build a door and decide to let in a few folks – not the kind of folks you’re used to. Let in people who know how to live and laugh and love. It’s uncomfortable. Do it anyway.

Words don’t fill emptiness and no matter how good your therapist is they’re still just your therapist. We need friends and we need love. Paint this on your wall: Knowledge is easy. Feelings are hard. Acceptance and Believing are where it’s at. This is how we build Faith in ourselves and this is how we choose happiness. Nobody settles on purpose. How alive do you want to feel?

Because we live artistically and because we practice what we preach – Higher Ground will be offering ridiculously low cost art classes for those who want to rock their walls starting in August. Email for details: counseling@roadrunner.com

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.