Recovery Through Performance Merges Theater With Therapy
By Rachel Harrison
New Play Developed and Performed By People Recovering From Eating Disorders
NYU Steinhardt's Program in Drama Therapy and Molloy University presented Recovery Through Performance, a theatrical production for people in their first year of recovery from an eating disorder. Four performances took place April 6 through 9 at the Provincetown Playhouse.
Treating an eating disorder often includes a series of steps, starting with intensive forms of treatment - inpatient, residential, and intensive outpatient treatment. As people improve, their treatment becomes less frequent and intensive. But because of the drop in the level of support, transitioning between intensive treatment and less-frequent outpatient therapy is a common point for relapse.
"The first six to 12 months after intensive treatment are the most difficult times of care and the highest time for relapse. I thought to myself, 'Why aren't we thinking about this differently - and how can we better treat that gap in the care continuum?'" asked Laura Wood, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Molloy University and an alumna of NYU Steinhardt's Program in Drama Therapy.
In 2014, Wood created Recovery Through Performance, an evidence-based approach to using therapeutic theater as part of recovery from an eating disorder. It uses the Co-Active Therapeutic Theater Model - a six-phase model created by Wood and NYU Steinhardt drama therapy faculty Dave Mowers - which allows a drama therapist to partner with participants in recovery in the development and execution of a theatrical production. The goal is to help participants move out of the role of the "sick one" and into the strength-based role of directors and actors of their stories and lives.
This spring, six people in recovery have been working Wood to develop a theatrical production entitled UnMasqued. Set within the fictional sorority of Epsilon Delta Tau, the play follows six women who explore - individually and collectively - the boundaries of the sorority, of themselves, of life, and of coming into authentic humanness. This journey through word, dance, and song presents genuine moments of struggle, laughter, pain, and realness for the sisters of Epsilon Delta Tau.
In UnMasqued, the cast members explore the concept of authentic recovery, which requires removing the "mask" of false recovery and admitting to struggle in the process. This concept is captured by the sorority sisters having a weekly gathering to apply mud masks. While they may look forward to covering up with the masks, the sisters find themselves more authentic and vulnerable after removing them.
"Drama therapy is particularly useful because you can use metaphors or stories in ways that give those in recovery a little more space, putting distance between them and the eating disorder," Wood said.
Recovery Through Performance is also an active research program, and Wood is continuing to collect data on using the Co-Active Therapeutic Theater Model in supporting eating disorder recovery. Initial research suggests that the approach motivates people to maintain recovery, gives them a strong sense of community, and creates an opportunity to work on unfinished business, develop spontaneity, take risks, and build new structure in their lives.
Recovery Through Performance is part of NYU Drama Therapy's therapeutic theatre series, As Performance, which seeks to explore the aesthetic, therapeutic, and ethical issues embedded in the process of making theatre. Drama therapists participate as artists, and artists explore a therapeutic process.
*Photos courtesy of NYU