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

ing on a play or a long-term consuming involvement, but the principle is probably not so different. The setting gives them a license to learn how people spontaneously express feelings, and be exposed to people who are not inhibited."

People who often benefit most from the approach are those who have had past experiences that have taught them to shut down their emotional responses, he added.

"Acting gives them an excuse, in essence, to learn how to express themselves," Aronson said.

Robin F. Goodman, a clinical psychologist, art therapist and past president of the American Art Therapy Association, agreed.

"Lots of times there are experiences that have happened to you that are housed in non-verbal ways, and the arts are a way to access some of this stuff in terms of a feeling, an emotion, a movement, a song," she noted. "The experience of theater can be a terrific way to get out some of these things."

And it's not only the acting that's important. Mounting any kind of theatrical production involves a long timeline and teamwork from start to finish.

"That's a good challenge for patients, to have them accept a level of responsibility to and from themselves and their peers," Faigin said. "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."

Audiences can benefit, too, often getting an inside look into the world of those with mental illness. By letting people with bipolar disorder and other conditions step out of the shadows, the plays help overturn the stigma long attached to such ills.

"When these patients publicly share their own stories and their own voices they inevitably raise awareness about mental health issues, so it also offers a very important public health benefit," Faigin explained.

He said he's often seen theater help move patients to a better place, no matter what their diagnosis. "It
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