I Put A Spell on You: Wondrous Advice from Resident Therapist Melissa Daum

This space serves as a place of healing and wonder, redeeming the cast-out witches, queens and goddesses in you, the modern woman.

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!

Therapy means a lot of things to a lot of people. What is your definition of therapy?

Psychotherapy as we know it today is a relatively modern concept. The word therapy derives from the Greek word therapeuein which means to heal. Therapy practices have always existed somewhere between religion, medicine, and magic, so I aim to approach therapy with that spirit in mind. Ultimately, therapy is a collaboration so I don’t operate from a fixed meaning or method.

Is there such a thing as a universal goal, re: therapy? Is it to be happy? Content? Impossible to lump into one?

I think it could be fair to say that a universal goal of therapy has to do with facilitating healing and growth, which does not guarantee happiness or contentment, but sometimes they can be a nice byproduct of the process.

How has the universe guided you toward becoming a therapist?

I was always a more introverted person and felt the most comfortable in one-on-one relationships. I think I’m naturally quite introspective and pretty comfortable with what I guess could be considered the “darker side” of human nature. I started writing down my dreams when I was about 13 and overall felt powerfully inquisitive about my own mind. In my outer life, I was a seamstress in theater costume shops and had also pursued undergraduate studies in fashion design and fiber art, so becoming a therapist was never on my radar until several years after college. My interests in psychoanalysis, mythology, and the mind continued to only get stronger as my original dream of becoming a costume designer seemed more and more distant. This was an identity crisis for me! I reached out to a mentor of mine from art school, Mikita Brottman, and she told me about a counseling graduate program built on Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell out in California. That’s really when it dawned on me that becoming a therapist actually made perfect sense as a path forward for me. Like a metaphorical costume designer.

How do you cater specifically to creative types?

Being that I identify as a “creative type” and have also always been in close relationships with creative people, I have a lot of personal experience to draw from. I know about the practical conundrums that usually come up around work. A lot of creative folks work a full time job and do the “real work” on the side or some variation on that. “The work” can be like an extra appendage one has to make space for in a busy day, in a relationship, and even internally. All kinds of internal gymnastics can occur between one and one’s art. For some the artistic space is a safe refuge, leaving partners dissatisfied. For others they procrastinate their creative ambitions like the plague and become artful avoiders. I am also interested in how artistic people came to know they were so, and how this talent impacted family dynamics.

Your advice for general go-to wellness:

I think I’m ultimately pretty practical when it comes to wellness. I spent many years trying to perfect myself via yoga and various clean diets. At this point I think getting 7-8 hours of sleep, eating every 3-4 hours, and some movement (ideally joyful) is a good foundation for wellness. Personally I prioritize my personal analysis and couples therapy as essential to that foundation as well. No amount of kale can cure poor communication habits in a relationship or prevent self-sabotage, so I think that psychological maintenance is not to be overlooked when thinking about wellness.

Favorite element:

Air. I’m a Gemini which is an air sign, so I suppose I’ve always felt a certain kinship with air. It’s an invisible element, but what I find so special about it is how we know air with our skin and not our eyes. It’s more animal in that way.

Light or Dark:

Dark.

Soundtrack to your life:

Philip Glass.

Spirit animal:

A deer and snail hybrid.

What does the word free mean to you?

To me, free means to be out from bondage. In the inner world we are usually bound up with pressures and forces that get in the way of our growth. Some of these don’t really change or go away, so being free in this sense may look more like a process of learning how to live more comfortably with our own limitations.

Tell us about how fairy tales play a role in your work.

One of the main ways fairy tales come up in my work with patients is when we imagine how a wicked character is like a split off part of the innocent character. And vice versa. Fairy tales provide a playful way to examine parts of oneself that may be repressed and projected outward. Because they are narrative, they can also help point the way toward how to redeem these split off dimensions so we don’t keep tripping over them!

Women need to be empowered, perhaps more than ever. What are 5 ways in which women can take charge of who they are/what they want/how they feel?

  1. Don’t be dismissive of your inner reality. You’re not “chill.” Be interested in your own complexity and try to describe your mixed feelings to someone you trust. This could sound like, “I feel pressure to act like I don’t care that I got rejected, but it actually stings, which is embarrassing to admit.”
  2. In Greek mythology, night is personified by the goddess Nyx (Night). The feminine aspect of the psyche has always been characterized as lunar and dark. In times of distress, call upon this archetypal lineage to help you find spaciousness and reflection in the dark.
  3. Wear clothes that help you feel comfortable and relaxed in your body. Don’t wear clothes that activate the inner critic and leave you self-conscious and not present.
  4. Learn to mother yourself well. Try and attune to yourself the way a good mother might to a young infant. You need more self-soothing and tenderness than you realize — it’s rough out there.
  5. Practice listening to your gut intuition. It might be a whisper that slides in right before the heavy handed voice of your mind commands what you “should” do. See if you can become patient and quiet enough to hear that first instinct, and hold onto it a little longer than you usually would, or before you ask for someone else’s opinion. Women are often raised to feel at odds with their instincts and are given the message these instincts are somehow bad. These instincts are hungry to be trusted, and learning to do so is an essential part of the journey from girlhood to womanhood.

 

 
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 PrinceThrough 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. 

 

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