I recently read a very interesting blog by Zelik Mintz, a psychoanalyst in NYC.  He wrote about the similarities he experienced between being an actor and a psychotherapist.  He also discussed the controversial topic of what psychotherapists tell or don’t tell clients about themselves.  He got me to thinking (again) about self disclosure and my own transition from being a costume designer to being a psychotherapist.

After 18 years as a theatrical costume designer, I became a psychotherapist in my 40s.  When I first thought of changing careers, I saw the connection between the two but others, particularly other therapists and academics, could not.

 Costume designers need to ask several questions in order to create costumes that make sense in the show and on the backs of the characters. Some of these are the same types of questions as the ones we ask ourselves and our clients as therapists. 

  1. What is the relationship of the character/client to him or herself? 
  2. What is the relationship of the character/client to the other characters in the play/client’s life?
  3. What is the relationship of the character/client to his or her environment?
  4. How did the character/client get in this situation?
  5. In what direction does the character/client want or need to go?

As a designer, we explore these answers by studying the text, researching the time period and discussing these questions with the director, set designer and actors.  We then design the costumes choosing colors, textures, fabrics and all the other design elements to highlight these multi-faceted relationships.

As a psychotherapist, the colors and textures are not of our choosing.  These are what the client brings to the “show.”  Simply put, our job is to help the client find the relationships between his or her own colors and textures and then choose paths designed to bring more happiness than grief.

Here is where self-disclosure comes in.  A client may not know details of our lives but we cannot be a blank slate even if we try to hide all our own design elements.  How we dress and decorate our office can speak volumes even in silence.  The words we use reflect our education and even perhaps our spiritual beliefs.  How we help clients explore their colors and textures is a result of our own world view, life experience and training.  I just happened to get some of my training in the costume shop.