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Taking to the Stage to Battle Mental Illness
Date:7/22/2010

ctions. That means everything from script development (often involving autobiographical content) to final performances at churches and community centers.

These kinds of theaters are not large, typically involving between six and 12 volunteer actors. Sometimes they are closely connected and managed by a psychiatric facility, and sometimes they are entirely independent.

The idea of meshing therapy with the dramatic arts isn't new. As Faigin pointed out, psychotherapy has long employed role-playing techniques to help patients tackle past traumas, depression or personality disorders, and to foster awareness and self-esteem.

"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," Faigin noted. But for many patients, performance "sparks a real process of identity development by being forced to get up on stage and be themselves -- quite literally -- [and] by sharing their own personal stories in recovery."

At the same time, acting by its very nature can also give the patient "a break from everyday life, by being somebody else for a half-hour," Faigin said.

"They have a creative voice and express themselves as someone who has something to say," he explained. "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."

Other experts agreed that theater can play a role in mental health care.

"Mostly my experience has been with patients who have found it very useful to enroll in acting courses," said Marvin Aronson, a private practitioner in individual, group, and couples therapy, as well as former director of the group therapy department at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health in New York City. "It's not putt
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