I Put A Spell on You: Our Resident Therapist Answers Your Questions

This space serves as a place of healing and wonder, redeeming the cast-out witches, queens and goddesses in you, the modern woman.
Dear Wondrous Advice Readers,
Thank you so much for your honest and insightful questions! I can’t wait to get to more of them. Check back every Monday to see if your submission has been selected.
And one reminder — when your submission is selected it will be posted along with my response. Please write only what you’re comfortable having made public, or note what you’d like taken out.  — Melissa

This month, NY-based “therapist for creatives” Melissa Daum, LMFT, sets up her couch for Free People. In her work, Melissa draws from ancient symbols, Greek mythology, fairy tales, and alchemy to shed light on modern-day conundrums. This realm of feminine magic and symbolism is easily overlooked, on a cultural level and in turn, within ourselves. In an effort to better identify and explain some of this magic, Melissa wants to field questions from YOU! Feel free to share with her your deepest secrets, strangest dreams, most absurd single behavior. This space serves as a place of healing and wonder, redeeming the cast-out witches, queens and goddesses in you, the modern woman.

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS/DREAMS/SECRETS to: cyotter@freepeople.com

We’ll be addressing YOUR thoughts in the weeks to come, so please don’t be shy!

Our first question comes from E:
Hello Melissa!
Lovely to meet you, fellow art student! I’m studying Jewelry and Metalsmithing, and feeling as though I’m going through somewhat of an identity crisis. Graduating in a matter of months, I am becoming unsure of my path in this field. So much so that it is hindering my creativity. In a field that seems to be somewhat superficial as the jewelry industry can be, I find myself wanting my path to be more meaningful and impactful. That goes hand in hand with the environmental impacts of precious materials and all the chemicals and gases we need to use in order to make these beautiful things. I feel if I let go of this path after school it will have been a waste of time, money and, most of all, a failure on my part. I am overwhelmed by this thought, along with the projects I am to do this semester, with not an idea of what to make.
I am curious if you dealt with these thoughts as an art student. I also am overwhelmed by the demand for concept-based art, mainly in the jewelry world, because sometimes you just want to make a pretty thing. This is also blocking my creativity — if I make something to make a form I enjoy, I will then later be questioned of why I made this thing. Nine times out of ten, I have no idea why I made this thing, other than I am drawn to the form, which seems to not be enough. Surrounded by creativity, I find myself standing still in my senior year while my peers discover their thesis work and continue to run forward toward success. 
I do not consider myself an anxious person, yet many things in the world today feel greatly overwhelming. As the state of our country is obviously in need of drastic help, I feel as though simply making jewelry is not enough. I do know that just because this is my title in college it does not mean it defines what I can and cannot do with my life. There is more, yet this being my title at this point in my life is hindering my ability to create somehow. 
I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts! 
Thank you for listening,

Dear E,

I can hear your anxiety as you second-guess the path you’ve chosen in jewelry design and metalsmithing. All of the questions swirling around for you are a sign that you’re having doubts and maybe not connecting to the path, or to the fantasy of what this path could be, in the same way that you used to. Then I imagine your impending graduation is only amplifying these anxieties, creating a kind of internal pressure cooker. How alchemical of you!

In its most basic form, alchemy is a cryptic and obscure practice of transforming base metals into gold. With origins in ancient Egypt and eventually spreading throughout the globe up until the development of modern chemistry, alchemy was a mystical craft rooted in philosophy, magic, and metalsmithing! While alchemy did not survive the Enlightenment, we have Carl Jung to thank for reviving it in a new way. Jung’s theory suggested that perhaps alchemy is less about a literal transformation of base metals into gold, but rather a metaphorical one. Think of the lead as the parts of ourself that we’ve rejected, or even deadened, and the alchemical journey is learning how to redeem the value, or gold, in those discarded places. As a jeweler/metalsmith in an identity crisis, I think you have something very important in common with the alchemical tradition.

The alchemical process can be simplified into three main stages: Nigredo, Albedo, and Rubedo.

Nigredo: Blackness, darkening, chaos, shadow, nonsense, depression, melancholia, death, lead.

Albedo: Whiteness, spirituality, abstract, hope, mania, lightness, purification, moon, silver.

Rubedo: Redness, blood, embodiment, return, wholeness warmth, passion, life, gold.

My advice for you is to reframe your feelings of confusion and stuckness as not a failure on your part, but actually a necessary chapter on a larger journey of transformation. The nigredo stage is about actually darkening the lead. This is like when a hero sets off on an adventure and winds up in a dark wood, lost far from home, literally feeling around in the pitch black. There’s no way to be here without feeling the melancholy of missing home and confused by the nonsense of the place. With this image in mind, I wonder if it would be possible for you to lean into your lostness instead of fight it? The task here is learn to rely on other senses not needed in the light of day, to help you move in the dark. If you give yourself more space here and ease up on the pressure, you might find some glimmer of inspiration that carries you out of the dark and into the albedo phase. I may be biased, but I recommend seeking out a therapist to help contain this journey with you.

The alchemists lived by the Latin proverb Solve et Coagula, meaning to break down and come together. Perhaps your creativity is not measured by the content of what you’re producing, but your capacity to survive the alchemical journey of breaking apart and coming back together.


Melissa is a therapist in private practice in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her work is grounded in psychoanalysis and Jungian theory. For several years Melissa was a therapist at an eating disorder day hospital program in Manhattan and she continues to work with men and women struggling with eating and body image issues. Illustrations are by Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist and designer, Erica Prince. Through drawing, sculpture, installation, relational projects, functional housewares and more, Erica’s work presents opportunities for speculation and exploration of potentialities. Her works have been featured in T: New York Times Style Magazine, Vice, Artsy, NPR, Wallpaper and Canadian Art. 
Erica and Melissa were college roommates at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and have continued to collaborate, inspire, and encourage one another. From Sex and the City Psychoanalysis Club to ladies terrarium nights, experimental performance art projects, and regular dates to discuss research projects, life, love, and book ideas, Erica and Melissa are excited to collaborate with Free People to bring you this magical advice column. 
0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

Love this! x

6 years ago

Thank you for the kind words and guidance!! And for choosing my words to share!

6 years ago

This is truly inspirational and beautiful.

I think this would be a great series to continue. Please do more posts like this.

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog