What Are The Connections Between Mental Health and Acting?
Mental health is integral in the process of acting training. They also work hand in hand, meaning that acting, if used the right way, can make progress towards mental health, and mental health-based exercises can help an actor stay sane in an unpredictable world. Another good relation between the two subjects is actors study the mind and soul of a character, while mental health specialists, or therapists, study the mind and soul of a human being.
As believed by John Goodwin and Rick Deady, the psychological benefits of acting are in the formation of drama exercises. Goodwin, a postgraduate student, and Deady, a college lecturer, wrote an article together that lists out famous acting theorists and how their work has influenced the mental health field. The first acting theorist they focus on is Constantin Stanislavsky. Deady and Goodwin write:
"His 'System' has two distinct branches: work on the self (practical exercises concerning the physical, vocal, and emotional instruments of the actor); and the work on the role: cerebral analysis of the playtext through use of affective memory, as well as research around the part. The work on the self diverged into two prongs: inner and outer. Inner work was concerned with meditation, relaxation, concentration, and the imagination, whereas outer involved the use of the actor's raw materials (expressive gestures, good diction, etc.)" (Goodwin and Deady 127).
In other words, acting teaches the actor to tune in with her/his body’s needs: she/he learns to meditate, relax, concentrate, and create a vivid imagination. Unfortunately, drama students are unaware of these psychological benefits because drama teachers either do not know how to integrate the additional material or are also unaware of the benefits.
Psychological Benefits of Acting
Meditation, relaxation, concentration, and therapeutic imagination are all psychological benefits of acting. It is equally important to highlight the other not-so-obvious forms of psychological benefits.
In “Acting as a ‘Sane Obsession’,” Terry Schreiber, a famous director and drama teacher, argues that drama students need to open up and be psychologically available in order to successfully deliver a performance, and it is the job of the director or teacher to introduce them to the practice. He says, “[Opening up a drama student] must be handled by acting teachers with extreme sensitivity, including some awareness of psychology and, equally important, enough care for the actor that he or she comes to class with a trust and willingness to do the work” (Schreiber).
If drama teachers start doing this, Schreiber believes that their drama students will experience rewarding repercussions. Although Schreiber does not list out any psychological benefits other than emotional availability, Goodwin and Deady think, as mentioned before, that relaxation, concentration of attention, and affective memory are the rewarding benefits of acting.
Goodwin, John and Rick Deady. “The Art of Mental Health Practice: The Role of Drama in Developing Empathy.” Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. 49 (2013): 126–134. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
Schreiber, Terry. “Acting as a ‘Sane Obsession’.” Back Stage East. 47.41 (2006): 7-7. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.