Multicolored hair, piercings in the nose, tongue, and ear – bohemian clothing – all bring to mind images of certain individuals, perhaps people leaning more to the creative side of life, such as painters, writers, or musicians.
Yet of all stereotypes, this one is the most unfair because it leaves out a vast number of other creative personalities, those with the same internal characteristics or personality traits as the most demonstrative of individuals.
A businessman or woman dressed in a precision-tailored suit or dress, looking groomed and preened for the boardroom comprise a large segment of the population with some of the most creative personalities, as well as scientists working in the laboratory.
The economist sitting in her university office pouring through statistical studies might also contain unusual creativity, the zest and passion for her work that leads to a remarkable insight that literally changes the domain of economics.
The engineer developing patents for a technology company or entrepreneurs bringing to market new, groundbreaking products that not only fuel the innovator but also excite consumers are also traits associated with highly creative individuals.
The Role of Creativity in Marriage and Family Therapy
Rarely do psychological studies focus on therapists’ perceptions of creativity in treating marital and family problems, or the personality characteristics of highly creative therapists. A study on the importance of creativity in marriage and family therapy, however, examined these uniquely creative topics.
The point, of course, is that creativity, true creative personality traits, cut across several domains, and encompasses individuals in every sector of the economy. In fact, when comparing the scientist in the white lab coat with a sculptor covered in clay, the scientist has as much possibility of scoring unusually high on creativity as the sculptor – if not higher.
Necessary attributes of counselors working with creative minds
Counselors, therapists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists – as well as teachers, employers, and family members – must know and understand creative individuals, what gives these individuals their unique outlook on life, their passion and curiosity for ideas. They must understand how creativity affects motivations, behaviors, emotions, and thinking.
Because in order to help creative individuals, nurture them, and provide the best therapeutic interventions when needed, one must fully grasp their complexity, and the complexity of the creative process itself.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick – sent – me – high – ee”) has researched creativity and innovation for over 30 years. He defined and researched the concept of “creative flow,” or how those working in the flow through sports, music, creative arts, science, or any engaging work, truly achieve meaning and happiness in their lives. In fact, it’s only through their creativity that highly creative individuals find “the central source of meaning” in their lives, according to Csikszentmihalyi.
Besides his many books and articles on flow and creativity, he launched the first doctoral program in positive psychology at Claremont Graduate University (CGU), a psychological field that studies creativity, intrinsic motivation, and responsibility. Before moving to CGU, he was the chairman of the psychology department at the University of Chicago.
In Csikszentmihalyi’s book, “Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People,” he distills the complexity of the creative personality, stating that it’s “complexity” that separates the truly creative personality from others. Complexity in creativity, Csikszentmihalyi states, translates into diametrically opposed traits, meaning that creative individuals often have a combination of antithetical traits, or opposing tensions within them.
For example, personality traits in less creative individuals tend toward segregation, such as introverted individuals vs. extroverted individuals, active personality types vs. more sedentary personality types, or disciplined individuals vs. non-disciplined individuals. However, in creative individuals these dramatically opposing traits exist side-by-side often occurring simultaneously.
Opposing traits of creative individuals
- Energetic yet also quiet and sedentary. Creative individuals have a lot of energy or a huge appetite for their work, and maximum concentration and focus when working on a project. Yet they also greatly enjoy leisure, rest, and relaxing ways to recharge their batteries, realizing that reflection is central to the creative process. They are not hyperactive or “always on” but know how to hyper focus their attention. But they also have learned to follow natural body rhythms after intense work experiences to adequately revitalize themselves.
- Smart yet naive. Another way of describing these opposing traits, Csikszentmihalyi states, is “wisdom vs. childishness.” In other words, a degree of emotional and mental immaturity seems to factor into great insights. Yet creative individuals are undeniably smart, possessing both high degrees of convergent and divergent thinking skills. Convergent means intelligence rated by IQ tests, or tests that measure rational, problem-solving abilities. Divergent thinking refers to the ability to come up with many solutions or ideas for problems that don’t have one solution, thinking that requires flexibility. However, the combination of convergent and divergent thinking is critical because divergent thinking or coming up with multiple ideas isn’t useful unless the individual has the ability to separate the good ideas from the bad.
- Playfulness yet also disciplined. Creative individuals sincerely enjoy playful attitudes, having fun, jesting, and know the value of laughter and keeping situations and environments light and free from unreasonable heaviness. But creative individuals are also highly disciplined, highly focused, and realize that only through hard work do inventions and paintings get completed, books written, new companies grown, and scientific discoveries made. They work extremely hard, often late into many nights, or wake in the middle of the night with a sense of determination and perseverance, going back to a project that consumes them.
- Imaginative and into fantasy while also rooted in reality. Creative artists and scientists must know reality, but must be able to travel to places different, much different from the present. Their imaginations take them to these places, and what at first seems bizarre or strange to others, creates a newness that, sooner or later, most individuals recognize as being true. However the “escape” into imaginary worlds does not mean going to places that don’t make sense, or are simply far-fetched or unrealistic. While most seem to recognize this trait in artists and scientists – the trait of traveling between imaginative worlds and fantasy – it holds true for creative businesspeople and politicians as well.
- Extroverted yet also introverted. Psychologists have long used tests and other means to determine extroversion and introversion, categorizing individuals as either one or the other: either getting energy from crowds and working with and around others; or getting energy from quiet, isolated environments without constant interaction. These traits have long been considered staples in describing opposite personalities. Creative individuals confound psychologists, however, as well as those that know them and work with them. They have both traits in equal measure, and they often display them simultaneously.
- Humble yet also proud. Creative individuals know that their work stands only in relation to so many other great creative endeavors. They are humbled at the prospect of being included with the “greats,” but also clearly recognize their personal accomplishments. They know their strengths. They also are extremely focused on new accomplishments and challenges, regardless of past successes, realizing, as writers testify, a new, blank page awaits them every day.
- Psychological androgyny. Creative individuals defy gender stereotyping. Creative women, for example, are tougher and more dominant than other less creative women, yet they are also nuturant. Creative men, on the other hand, are less aggressive and more sensitive that their male peers. Psychological androgyny does not refer to sexuality.
- Rebellious yet conservative. To be creative, individuals must first internalize their culture, knowing the rules, the mores, and the conventions. But if they are only traditional and stick to those conventions, creativity never takes place, cultures don’t move forward, and nothing changes. Yet change simply because an individual wants change doesn’t produce lasting improvements and contributions either. It’s the synergy between having the rebelliousness to go where others haven’t gone while recognizing what’s a valued contribution to the culture and society at large.
- Passionate about their work, yet objective as well. Truly creative individuals create a distance between themselves and their work so that they are able to step back and objectively regard its merit and its limitations. Yet they possess a great amount of passion around their work, pursuing it until they experience an internalized sense of satisfaction with the finished product.
- Openness and sensitivity, yet a low threshold for pain. Creative individuals greatly enjoy life, their openness and receptiveness giving them a great appreciation for culture, the arts, music, sports, and other interests. Yet this openness and passion often invites pain for which they have an extremely low threshold. Writers are greatly pained when they read bad prose or poorly written essays and articles, inventors and engineers experience pain when something isn’t well designed. An executive at a company experiences pain when he or she must close a division or plant, or when the work produced by employees isn’t up to his or her standards.
Csikszentmihalyi states in his 1996 seminal work, “Creativity, Flow And The Psychology of Discovery And Invention,” that creative individuals consist of contradictory extremes, that instead of being “individuals,” each is a “multitude.”
“Like the color white that includes all the hues in the spectrum, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves.”
Understanding different personality types is an integral part of working as a counselor, therapist or psychologist. If you want more information on how to become a mental health counselor or therapist, contact schools offering degrees in Mental Health Counseling.
Additionally, studying the psychology of creativity in a university setting is a unique path to a career working in psychology. The field of Positive Psychology is a new, expanding area concerned with creative psychology and innovation. Researchers in the field of Cognitive Psychology also study the psychology of creativity.