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Healing the split: psychotherapy’s urgent role in the entertainment industry

Girl with raised hands at a concert, against stage lighting.

Publication date: May 4, 2018

Maria KempinskaWritten by Dr Maria Kempinska, UKCP Business Lead

The death in late April of the Swedish DJ Avicii – real name Tim Bergling – was tragic. He was a gifted, sensitive, gentle and immensely talented creative.

Avicii’s apparent suicide demonstrates how vast the split had become between the 28-year-old’s outer persona (the successful face his fans saw) and his inner life.

Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, named this inner life the Self. It includes creativity, personal ambitions, spirituality, self-care, self-respect and self-belief.

‘I didn’t know I was lost’ said the lyrics in the DJ’s hit song Wake me up.  It is not when we are lost that is the problem but that we have no one to guide us.

Before he retired from touring in 2016, the DJ was under extreme pressure – performing 320 shows in one year, leaving only 45 days to relax, recuperate, and re-internalise the Self.

In a documentary Avicii said of wanting to give up performing, ‘When I decided to stop, I expected something completely different. I expected support, particularly considering everything I have been through,’ he told the filmmaker Tsikurishvili. ‘I have been very open with everyone I work with, and everyone who knows me.’  And he continued, ‘Everyone knows that I’ve had anxiety and that I have tried. I did not expect that people would try to pressure me into doing more gigs. They have seen how ill I have felt by doing it, but I had a lot of push-back when I wanted to stop doing gigs.’

It has been reported that his brother flew from Sweden to Oman to him after a disturbing call between the two, but heartbreakingly arrived too late. ‘Tim was not made for the business machine he found himself in; he was a sensitive guy who loved his fans but shunned the spotlight,’ his family said in a statement. ‘He could not go on any longer.’

Having spent years in the entertainment industry, I have seen how stars are often surrounded by an entourage of dependents, including managers, publicists and label owners. They can be molly-coddled, coerced, unburdened of financial responsibilities and infantalised. Artists are often carried along like a child, subject to the needs of the parent (the Industry). In return, the artist is expected to create and perform, demands that can ride roughshod over internal needs. They must never grow up and seek to find their own way. This pulls the artist’s inner Self and outer worlds further and further apart.

To accept this internal conflict, artists can turn to the comfort of drink or drugs, wrapping themselves in the temporary delusion of adoration and warm feelings.

I believe that, by pushing full steam ahead to exploit adoring fans’ love for an artist, the relationship between the music industry is embodied in the psychoanalytic symbolic myth of the devouring father Saturn who ate his son. Avicii needed the nurturing good mother archetypal approach to allow him to reassess and repair his life.  The industry needs to create a new feminine system also in order to support and develop the creative artist as their symbolic child.

The way to heal the split between an artist’s inner creative world and the demands of the entertainment world is to employ the guiding hand of an experienced psychotherapist. The psychotherapist is the compass that helps their clients navigate through the darkness, steering the Self away from the abyss. The psychotherapist becomes a bridge for the client.  Holding their truth, confessions, illuminating, elucidating, educating and incorporating the clients true Self with their outer life. More psychotherapists are needed in the entertainment industry to hold that space for the talent between their inner and outer worlds, and to say: ‘that’s enough; you need a break’.

I think this is exactly what Avicii did not get. He wanted to stop, he said so, but no one truly heard. The world wanted too much of him.

Avicii said of his decision to quit touring: ‘To me it was something I had to do for my health. The scene was not for me. It was not the shows and not the music. It was always the other stuff surrounding it that never came naturally to me. I’m more of an introverted person in general. It was always very hard for me.’

‘When I die, I want to be remembered for the life I lived not for the money I made.’

And we will.






  • Beautifully written and points well made

  • Thank you for this interesting piece. This is not only true of artists but also of people who work in technical and support roles who keep the show on the road. . For anyone working in the industry experiencing distress pls link to for 24hr helpline

  • Jane Stewart says:

    This is a beautifully written article. I’m reminded of the often shocking online abuse that creatives across all genres are subjected to, from “fans” who, ironically, appear to need to attack the object of their admiration for not providing a never-ending supply of what they love on demand.

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