And this can be especially true when clients have deeply rooted limiting beliefs about themselves after trauma.
Bessel van der Kolk, MD is a master at coming up with creative approaches to help clients work with beliefs and emotions that hold them back.
In the video below, Bessel shares a story about how, and why, theater can be a powerful tool in working with patients.
Take a look – it’s just under 5 minutes.
Dr. van der Kolk: You need to have experiences that give you a visceral sense of, “Wow, I can do that.” It’s nothing cognitive – it’s visceral.
Chapter 18 of my book is about theater. Chapter 18 and 20 both, actually. Chapter 18 is about doing structures of people that we learn from Al Pesso, where you basically have your childhood experiences and have visceral, theatrical experiences – how things could have been different back then.
It’s quite a complex way of doing things. You need a fairly large group of people for it because it’s theatrical. People really have to experience, “Oh, my God, if somebody would have helped me like this when I was three years old when that happened. Had somebody done that. . .”
They start rearranging their perceptions – it’s really about having a visceral experience.
The other favorite trick of mine is theater work – and again, we have researched theater work – which is to actually play a role where you play somebody who is different from
the person you usually are. For example, you are frozen and terrified, then you play the role of Catharine of Aragon, and you become a queen, and you stand there and you tell your role.
The story I like to tell is my own son; he was a very frozen, meditative little kid who starts playing the Rocket in West Side Story – that’s the gang member who sings, “Gee, Officer Krupke.” My son is sort of this frozen, miserable kid, and so he walks in the house, going “Boy, boy, Crazy boy, Keep cool, boy.” You see this frozen kid take on this role of this cool guy. He acts this out and he thinks, “Wow, I enjoyed being Rocket much more than I enjoy being Nick.”
So, his next role is The Fonz in Happy Days, and the girls love him. He said, “I’m going to be like the Fonz. I’m not going to be like this frozen, scared kid who I was.” My son has grown up to be a fantastically visceral, pleasure-holding kid – because of theater, and I think nothing else could have done that.
One of my favorite programs is a program in Western Massachusetts called “Shakespeare and the Courts.” Now, if you’re a juvenile delinquent, you can be condemned to become a Shakespearian actor. You have to show up. If you don’t show up, the police come and drive you to the theater and say, “You either act in the theater or you go to jail.” That’s a fantastic program.
Dr. Buczynski: That was funded by the CDC?
Dr. van der Kolk: No, that program is funded by contributors to Shakespeare & Company, and they go to some Mass College Cultural Council.
Dr. Buczynski: Do you have any outcome measures yet?
Dr. van der Kolk: No, I’m just a fan of that program. I’m not measuring it, and the idea is: frozen kids who need to be seduced into doing this work.
Dr. Buczynski: It’s the ones who need it the most who are the least likely.
Dr. van der Kolk: That’s right, and one of the most pleasurable things about our theater program was hiring our acting group. My criterion was this: if I saw an actor come in and I thought to myself, “When I grow up, I want to be just like that person,” he or she was hired.
In a way, that’s who we all should be when we deal with these traumatized kids – they have to want to be like who they’re working with. We have to be a personal inspiration, by the way we move and the way we act, so these very terrified kids are like, “Wow! She’s cool. I’d like to be like her.”
Dr. Buczynski: This is just one example of the kinds of experiences that can help clients overcome their limitations and begin to see what they can do. And now, I’d to hear from you. What have you found to be effective in helping clients overcome their limiting beliefs? Please share your thoughts in the comments below – and thanks for watching.