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  • Max Mount

What is Studio Therapy?

In the stories of Harry Potter, the protagonist is given a cloak of invisibility that allows him to be present in an environment without others being aware of his existence.

Although an effective device in storytelling (and maybe a superpower that we all occasionally daydream about), the idea of being invisible is neither effective nor mentally healthy for any of us within the story of our own lives. In all schools and campuses (including Heritage) there are students who do not fit into or feel comfortable engaging in academic/athletic or outdoor rec-therapy situations. Due to their feelings of inadequacy or alienation, they can, in their own minds, become invisible - neither feeling heard nor seen , and this sense of anonymity can quickly become pathological, leading to a sense of low self-esteem and purposelessness.

These same students may instead connect more fully to a hands-on performing or design arts arena. Personally, I was altitudinally challenged growing up; measuring all of 4'11 3/4" until my senior year in high-school - I made no big impressions on the sports field, nor was I lighting-up the social or academic worlds as the human equivalent of the Pillsbury dough-boy. It was only in and through the arts that I was able to find my voice and place within Lake Forest High School, and adolescence in general. At Heritage, we are creating a renaissance of the arts and hopefully opening doors to those who may have only experienced empty canvases, dark stages or soundless instruments.

Our Studio Therapy program is a multi-disciplinary approach to reach students whose command of language may be clumsy and ineffective, inhibiting their ability to express and process their emotions toward healthy resolution and progress. Studios for drama, art, music, recording, dance and design will soon offer a programmed outlet for expression toward greater self-awareness and artistic process therapy. Spoken language can be a slippery and clumsy vehicle for self-expression, while image and action are universal to communication as well as interpretation; this “interpretation” component becomes a conduit toward recognition of others’ processes and culture; helping the participants see alternative perspectives and consequently be more open to application of healthier thought patterns.

This modality is essential to a comprehensive approach to treatment and education because so many students identify with arts and media; so much so that it (media in particular) has been one of the contributing to many of our students’ dysregulation and triggering in the first place. An appropriate understanding of and approach to arts and media will greatly help to heal old wounds as well as fortify them against future injury due to their ignorance to its ubiquitous and often detrimental effect. Currently the majority of our students are only passive consumers of the arts - they only listen to the music they enjoy - without creating or dancing to it … they simply watch movies, instead of embodying a different character themselves and bringing their creative spirits out of dormancy. Listening and watching are certainly effective, but if we as families and staff encourage our students to be active in their own lives and choices in media use, then the pattern will better translate into all areas of their lives. The arts will nurture their proactive, as opposed to reactive, roles within their own environment and proactive thinking and behavior are the foundation of change.

Not everyone is a performer, artist or designer but without having the opportunity to try - we are not giving them the best chance for recovery and growth. And even if the jock or scholar doesn’t feel comfortable participating in artistic endeavors, it gives another opportunity to for them to support their peers - who otherwise would either be regarded as invisible or “weird”

If a student can’t find a support system within the Heritage community, they are likely to continue to isolate - they may try to fit into other structures: sports, academics, outdoors, equine, etc. but if their true center is more artistic, they may only find failure and rejection when they don’t lift as much, shoot baskets as skillfully, read inexpertly or socialize awkwardly. The frequency of the problem can be pervasive, as these daily failures to "fit-in" are found in most of the waking moments of our population:

- awkward social connections in residential,

- mediocre academic performance,

- apathy toward extra-curricular activity programming ... the cloak goes over their heads and they simply disappear.

As the make-over shows say "time for the big reveal" - our first step on the journey to build studio therapy is to mount our first live full-length theater presentation since COVID. CLUE will be presented 4 times during the upcoming parent weekend and the students are involved in all aspects of the production from acting to stage direction, painting and construction to lighting. We are adjusting procedures as we go, since this kind of production has not been seen or experienced by any of our current student population and enthusiasm is carrying the day. We are also planning on some changes in the facility in order to accommodate the upcoming studios and programming.

As both a therapist and the director of the current production I would be remiss if I didn't finally share what some of our clinical goals are with this endeavor:

Promote positive behavioral changes

Improve interpersonal relationship skills

Integrate physical and emotional well-being

Achieve personal growth and self-awareness

Improve overall quality of life

Aside from tackling these larger, overall goals, studio therapy can also benefit participants by providing them with the opportunity to:

Express their feelings

Tell their story

Act-out, "create-out" issues and problems

Achieve emotional and physical integration

Experience catharsis

Expand their depth of inner experiences

Boost their self-confidence

Improve their self-esteem

Increase their sense of play and spontaneity

Develop trust

Work out relationship issues

Improve their interpersonal/social skills

Strengthen or expand their personal life roles

Increase their mental and emotional flexibility

For all those who may hide under a cloak of invisibility, the time to become, has come.

See you at the show!


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