by Tasha Castor, MSEd., LPC
“In our lives the darkest times, the days that are bleak and black, add depth to every other experience. Like the dark bits of color in a mosaic, they add the contrast and shadows that give beauty to the whole, but they are just a small part of the big picture.”
– Amy Grant, “Mosaic: Piece of My Life So Far”
It’s no secret to our clients that therapy is hard work. Particularly for the client who struggles with an eating disorder, therapy challenges every fiber of her being. Not only because she is challenging a biologically-based, genetically-linked illness, but the very traits (e.g., perfectionism) that led to her developing the eating disorder are still working against her in recovery. Most eating disorder clients want to do recovery perfectly.
Therapy can get derailed when a client with any issue expects a perfect outcome: something like the end result of a paint-by-number piece of art. The client wants to follow a formula for recovery. She wants each step to be contained, with a concrete beginning, middle, and end. She wants to know that she is doing therapy “right.” I tell my clients that perfect doesn’t exist, and as their therapist, I expect that they will be “perfectly imperfect,” a phrase I inherited from a mentor therapist of mine. I encourage my clients to forget about the paint-by-number picture-type recovery they have read about, with its formulas and black-and-white outlines.
A therapist can easily provide formulas (otherwise known as cookie-cutter insurance-mandated treatment plans) for working through any issue. However, the end result is as satisfying as that paint-by-number piece of art. Sure, it looks like a hummingbird and a flower. But can the artist (or client) say it is uniquely her work? How long did it take to paint the picture? And how meaningful is the final product?
I prefer, instead, to think of therapy as a mosaic. The mosaic art form takes unique shapes, sizes, and colors of materials in order to create a unified piece of work. Similarly, we help each client take the unique pieces that her life has broken into and form a whole person. The process can be painstaking. If you have ever created a mosaic, you understand the patience and vision it takes to create the final product. If our clients can access the same type of patience and vision, they can recreate their lives in a unique, beautiful way.
Sometimes, a client may want to use only the “good” parts of her life to recreate her new self. She would prefer to leave the dark pieces out of the mosaic. However, as described in the opening quotation, those dark pieces add depth to the picture. Take, for example, the mosaic on this page: the flowers can be seen clearly, but they are even more striking because of the dark tiles, which add contrast.
Classic mosaics were often used to tell a story through symbols. If a client can think of her therapy work as a mosaic, incorporating pieces of her life into the art in a perfectly imperfect way, the end result will tell her story. It will be uniquely hers, the product of much time and effort, and as enduring as the ancient mosaics. And to think: the work began with what some would see as useless broken pieces.