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A Self-Coaching Journey through Eric Maisel's

The Van Gogh Blues

The Creative Person's Path through Depression
The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression by Eric Maisel Ph.D.

Eric Maisel's book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression was a finalist in the Books for a Better Life Award in its hardcover edition (Rodale, 2002). In 2008 New World Library published the updated book in trade paperback.


I first read Eric Maisel's The Van Gogh Blues in 2005, several months before I enrolled in the first of a series of his creativity coaching training programs. This book coupled with his Coaching the Artist Within and Fearless Creating influenced a huge paradigm shift in my thinking on the subjects of creativity, creative expression, and depression.

Tagged as a book that "offers creative people a path through depression," the tie-in with the famous artist Van Gogh is noted in the press release issued by his publicist:

"Vincent Van Gogh's depression was so severe that he cut off his own ear and has come to be remembered as an icon representing the lives of tortured artists everywhere. And he is not alone. Depression and anxiety seem to come with the territory for artists, writers, actors, and other creative types regardless of the specific medium with which they express themselves.

"Psychotherapist and author Dr. Eric Maisel speaks to the specific type of depression that creative people experience. 'I believe that depression in creative individuals is best thought of as a meaning crisis caused by chronic, persistent uneasiness, irritation, anger, and sadness about the facts of existence and life's apparent lack of meaning,' he writes. Anyone who examines the facts of existence and strives to find personal meaning, as creative people do, opens herself up to this depression.

"In order to counter this kind of depression, Maisel says creators must become meaning experts, learning to navigate through the terrain of meaning. They must engage in conversation with themselves about what is meaningful — and then work a plan to create that meaning."

My Self-Coaching Journey with The Van Gogh Blues

As a highly creative individual well-acquainted with both the cyclical nature of creativity and the cyclonic nature of depression, finding a book written by a psychotherapist on the combined subjects was a welcome discovery. He must know what he's talking about, I anticipated. After all, he's a prolific writer himself and a well-known expert on the creative process!

I soon found myself engrossed in the books' chapters, eagerly learning and turning back and forth between the "meaning" glossary in the back of the book, dissecting and affirming new terms to my vocabulary such as: meaning container, meaning crisis, meaning drain, meaning intention, meaning leak, meaning loss, and others (there's a total of "60 Terms for a Vocabulary of Meaning").

Specific chapters in The Van Gogh Blues such as "Meaningful Life, Meaningful Work, Meaningful Days" (chapter 3), "Opting to Matter" (chapter 5), "Reckoning with the Facts of Existence" (chapter 6), "Braving Anxiety"(chapter 7), and "Repairing the Self" (chapter 11) resonated with me, made me take stock of my creative life, become deeply honest with myself, and find the courage to forgive my past, embrace my present, and look forward to a future with new eyes and intentions. When I finished the book, my thinking was changed. My life was changed.

The changes that shaped my "new" state of creative being were compounded by my subsequent creativity coach trainings with Maisel, which I spent the greater part of a year completing. The new ideas and tools I learned from both his books and courses (and the invaluable group experience with other coaches and coachees) surfaces in my consciousness daily from recalling an insight, an example, or a logical piece of information from my "Maisel" memory bank. This is a prime example of what Oliver Wendell Holmes described as “Mans mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

My prolific work in the realm of creativity makes me very aware of the multitude of other creative individuals walking on the edges of depression or fully entangled in a depressive tango in between — and sometimes intertwined with — their creative cycles. To those who struggle, and to those who desire to understand the struggle, I highly recommend the reading of Maisel's The Van Gogh Blues (available from your local library or from your favorite retailer).

And in the process of opening yourself up to new information, insights, and understandings, may the following questions for reflection that I've developed to use along with the book assist you on your journey, and just maybe, change your life too.

Next: Questions for Reflection for Chapters 1-7 »

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