I recently relocated my private practice from Philadelphia to Austin to serve the vibrant community of musicians and artists that thrive here. I am glad to be here, glad to be where I am finally supposed to be. I experienced an instant feeling of belonging when I arrived in Austin for a brief visit one year ago. From the time I landed in the airport to the moment I departed, I knew, felt, for the first time in my life, that I belonged somewhere!
Now that I have landed, it is my goal to contribute to the music and arts community of Austin. I plan to do this in two ways: as a psychologist and as a musician. I have a good deal of experience to draw from in helping others. Through nearly 20 years of clinical work, I have learned a great deal about assisting others with their psychological difficulties, guiding them through difficult times, and fostering their personal growth. I must say, though, that I always felt a certain kinship and affinity with the artists and creative individuals I treated. I discovered that I seemed to click and be more helpful to like-minded people—namely, half-crazed musicians and artists like myself.
Of course, what also drew me to Austin was the music. Specifically, the fire and intensity of Texas blues, as embodied by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddie King, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, Johnny Winter, Chris Whitley, and others. The fiery passion of each of these artists burned a hole clear through the Texas landscape that still exists today. And if you play in the right way, with the right mind, you can enter that space and feel what they felt, and know what it is to be truly alive.
Professionally, I received a doctorate in clinical psychology from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. My doctoral dissertation, a theoretical monograph titled, “Light in the Darkness: An Asset Model of Depression,” viewed depression in a new light, as an experience capable of transforming the sufferer and bestowing creative gifts of unusual imaginative power and sublime beauty. In researching and writing deeply about depression, I had unknowingly studied the creative mind.
I have found that some of the most creative minds that ever existed were plagued by depression and severe mood instability—artists such as William Blake, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Mahler, Edgar Allan Poe, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and Sylvia Plath—to name just a few. I discovered in my research that agonizing depression and extreme fluctuations of mood can enhance powers of the imagination and lead to wellsprings of creativity which the unafflicted will never know. I also discovered that from ancient times the most effective treatment for easing the suffering of this complex condition was music.
My own direct knowledge and examination of the creative process through 35 years of work as a writer, musician, photographer, and filmmaker has also provided an invaluable tool in understanding how creativity works, where it comes from, what promotes and inhibits it. I have learned how “trying” is often counterproductive, and how “not-trying” or letting things arise naturally of their own accord, often yields the best results. When you really get down to it, as an artist you are a channeler, and things pass through you. You are a gateway. You have been selected as a conduit for this particular expression and your job is to get out of the way. You don’t necessarily seek things out. But that doesn’t mean you don’t work, just sitting there passively. Yes, you work. You can’t be a channeler unless you’re tapped in, and you can’t tap in until you’ve reached some place that you’ve worked or strove for. You must work hard. As the German artist Albrecht Dürer once famously wrote, “Art without practice remains hidden.”
-- Dr. D L Shaw