In May, 2008 I wrote an article focusing on the down side of creativity tied to mental illness. Since then I have worked with many more creative people both as a therapist/counselor and in my volunteer involvement with the Cultural Council of Park County, CO and (helping start) the River Canyon Gallery in Bailey, CO. Also, I have discovered newer writers who take a very different view of what we call “mental disorders,” a view I have been sharing more and more as I continually gain knowledge and experience.
One such writer is Thomas Armstrong, whose 2010 book, Neurodiversity is subtitled, Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and Other Brain Differences. I have found myself, over the years, leaning more to this idea of difference rather than defect, especially as I learn about the strengths that come with many of what psychology refers to as “disorders.” Thom Hartmann, in 1993, wrote a book on ADHD, titled, Hunters in a Farmer’s World (since re-titled, Attention Deficit Disorder, A Different Perception), postulating that people with ADHD are descended from the top hunters necessary for human survival before agriculture and civilization (this was quickly supported by members of the newer field of Evolutionary Psychology). He wrote an article in 1999 titled, Whose Order is Being Disordered by ADHD, taking on those who view people with mental differences as “less evolved” than others. Another of his books talks about people like Thomas Edison, who apparently had ADHD and was successful because he always had a detail-oriented partner to carry his brilliant ideas to production.
I was diagnosed with adult ADHD in my late 50s, thus gaining greater insight into myself, my family members and my ADHD clients. I was a poor student in secondary school (what Hartmann refers to as “a farmer’s school”), but a high achiever in college and graduate school, which better suited a mind like mine. My ADHD (with a, very common, trace of OCD) actually serves me in my work. ADHD people are good at pattern recognition, creative thinking, visualizing goals and hyperfocus when interested, all good traits for a therapist (along with many others, see Hartmann). A bit of OCD confers persistence and maybe a little more time spent in treatment planning and preparation for clients than is strictly necessary, not to mention the masses of educational materials I often throw at them!
Interestingly, there are apparent genetic links between ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Autism, Tourettes Syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the addictive disorders (something I learned working for years in the addiction field). All of these have been associated with high creativity and, sometimes, brilliance. I recently worked with a young man who had diagnoses of ADHD, OCD, Asperger’s (high-functioning autism) and Bipolar. He was amazingly personable, usually high functioning and involved in creative work. He is not the first bright, multi-diagnosed person I have counseled.
I have recently worked with others with Asperger’s. One had a genius IQ (not unusual), others showed high potential intellectually and creatively. High functioning autism spectrum people can do very well in all kinds of work requiring high intelligence and high focus if they are allowed to work independently and with manageable human contact. One such client also had PTSD and I have seen connections between that and creativity. In fact, a recent article in the Denver Post covered art as a really promising healing tool for PTSD. A recent (war-triggered) PTSD client of mine was trained in dance as a youth and I believe that, along with intelligence and a fairly healthy family upbringing, helped him make great strides on his own before coming to therapy for more work (including body-focused Integrative Body Psychotherapy). PTSD is a body disorder as well as a mind and mood disorder. Sadly, but all too commonly, he was not getting what he needed from the VA, though they are improving in the treatment of this disorder. Bipolar disorder has long been associated with creativity.
More recently, I picked up a newer book by Armstrong, The Power of Neurodiversity, subtitled, Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain. Some other good books are: Brains That Work a Little Bit Differently by Allan D. Bragdon & David Gamon, PhD, The Odd Brain by Dr. Stephen Juan, The Learning Disability Myth, by Dr. Robin Pauc and (older,1993, on Bipolar) Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison, who also wrote, The Unquiet Mind. There are also specialized books on success with specific differences, such as: Awakening Ashley/Mozart Knocks Autism on its Ear, by Sharon Ruben and Be Different/Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian/With Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families and Teachers by John Elder Robison. These authors’ and my message is that these are variations from human norms that confer special strengths and creative talents along with, by some standards, weaknesses that can be manageable with education and the right help. The “problems” are not the problem. It is our lack of knowledge, understanding and willingness to support and guide (I could go on about the books and audios on succeeding in school with various “disorders”). What is needed, rather than labeling as defective, is nurturing and encouraging these individuals’ strengths while helping them manage their difficulties. The world needs this “Neurodiversity” with its power and creativity.

Author's Bio: 

Paul A. Hood, MS, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Evergreen and Bailey, CO under the practice name of Mountain Spirit Counseling, LLC. He has been counseling addicts and alcoholics since 1983, in many treatment modalities, couples, families and mental health clients since 1987. He is a humanistic, client-centered therapist trained in multiple approaches to psychotherapy. He teaches life skills, stress and anger management among other things. He also utilizes body-focused and spiritual counseling approaches and nutrition education where appropriate and desired by the client.