Theater therapy

By Michelle Anderson • Published: November 26th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Taking the stage as an actor can be utterly terrifying, for just about anyone.

But for those suffering from mental illness, it can also be powerful therapy.

In the journal Psychiatric Services, researchers from Bowling Green State University outline their case for why acting is so therapeutic.

Having patients try their hand at acting is part of a larger movement among mental health therapists to use the arts… things like painting, writing or dancing… as tools for recovery.

The research focused on a fifteen-year partnership between a community theater and a mental health organization in Illinois, but similar arrangements are going strong in about 20 other cities around the country. The theaters are small, with six to a dozen actors. Some are closely connected to psychiatric facilities; others are not.

Jumping into the role of thespian is beneficial for those suffering from mental illnesses for several reasons, the researchers suggest.

For one thing, it’s a chance to be someone else, to embody another person’s problems and experiences… even if only temporarily.

Another benefit is that the mentally ill have often had bad experiences that caused them to shut down their emotional responses. Acting can provide an outlet to express those feelings.

Being part of a theater group… giving and receiving emotional support to one’s peers, and accepting responsibility for one’s role in that group… is also helpful.

But the benefits go far beyond the actors, the study suggests.

Audiences connecting with actors who have mental illness can help ease the stigma that so often is connected to psychiatric problems such as depression or bipolar disorder.

And that’s worth a curtain call… or two.