Shakespeare said that all the world’s a stage, and now the stage may play a key role in helping people overcome the symptoms of psychiatric illness. Acting on stage can offer people with mental health disorders a unique kind of therapy, and it seems to be working very well.
Dr. David Faigin, a psychology professor and researcher from Ohio’s Bowling Green University co-authored research on theater therapy with fellow psychology professor Dr. Catherine Stein. Says Faigin, “Theater arts can really give patients a very valuable additional opportunity to piece their lives back together … by focusing on the same things that standard interventions focus on: community reintegration and social reintegration.”
It is not surprising that theater therapy can help mental health patients. All kinds of arts have shown the ability to help, from writing to painting to sculpting. The theater groups are mostly grassroots, with volunteers making up the entire effort, but they are taking hold in small theaters around the country.
Faigin says, “Research has shown that chronic mental illness is so incredibly disruptive of so many aspects on one’s life — family dynamics, relationships, employment — that there’s sort of a broken self there in terms of meaning and purpose… They have a creative voice and express themselves as someone who has something to say. It’s a very in-your-face opportunity that forces the patients to ‘own it,’ because they’re accountable when they’re up on stage in a live performance in ways that they are not in the privacy of their home.”
Those patients who have the most success with performance and theater therapy are ones who have had experiences that have distanced themselves from their emotions. Women who have been raped, kids who have been molested, and returning soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress all benefit greatly from acting and being involved in theater production.
In addition to being responsible and part of a team, Faigin says, “They get support and they give it. So at an emotional level there’s a sense of feeling safe in a group, and part of a group, and feeling that people understand them.” The audience also benefits by being made aware of the issues facing those suffering from psychiatric disorders.
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