Theatre is therapy. There, I said it. It sounds foofy, light, and belittling to more traditional therapists, but trust me. Theatre is therapy. My cognitive-behavioral therapist even said so. Of course, one has to know how to use theatre to treat oneself. It doesn’t come easily. While I can’t speak for others, I can share some of how theatre at Regis, at least, has helped me.
In the summer of 2012, at age 18, I was diagnosed with severe ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. It wasn’t a huge shock; I’d just failed a semester due to constant panic attacks, medication mess-ups, and a general inability to get myself together. I figured that it sucked that I didn’t know that for, oh, my entire school career, but the diagnosis could be a new beginning. College should be a breeze now that I’m properly medicated and in therapy, right? Hah. No. Starting treatment is more like giving birth than crossing a finish line; you can hope the worst of the pain is over, but you have a lifetime of hard work ahead of you.
With the help of my wonderful therapist, I was able to figure out how to use theatre to supplement my medication and sessions. Some of the ways are obvious. For instance, if you ever need a break from your own identity, I highly recommend working on your character-creation skills in improv. Having self-confidence issues? Pick aspects of yourself that you hate, then make that aspect its own character. If your spending habits or self-deprecation are their own people, it’s easier to distance yourself from them. You can do the same with positive traits, too, keeping in mind that we we become what we do.
There are less obvious methods, however, that have completely struck me, the main one being through movement and sensory work. You see, mindfulness meditation– a common anxiety treatment focused on increasing sensory awareness of one’s surroundings– has always proven difficult for me. I feel like I’m constantly aware, so I can’t do it more. In therapy, I figured out that this is actually a common symptom of ADHD. Where most people filter out most noises, sensations, etc. that come to them in favor of focusing on something, I do not. For instance, in class, my attention is 50% on the professor and 50% on the noise the air ducts are making, my shirt’s tag, the fluorescent light’s buzzing, that little crack in the wall, and the faint smell of bleach.
So, mindfulness meditation doesn’t work, because my problem is that I’m constantly aware and overstimulated. Luckily, I realized that mindfulness meditation is similar to a common acting and focusing exercise that requires “opening” one sense at a time. I’ve actually used this in reverse to calm myself while systematically cutting out all my senses to focus on only one. From there, I’ve been able to use movement and dance exercises to quell panic attacks.
Basically, every OutRegis practice is a chance for some mini-therapy.