Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro are two of my favorite method actors because they get totally lost in the character that they play to a point where the character comes to life and is fully believable. I am not implying here that actors suffer with a mental disorder. Some may do and some may not. What I am trying to argue here is that some aspects of method acting can be used to help people with mental disorders.
Method Acting as a Coping Mechanism
What we are interested in is how subjects like method acting
and emotional regulation can be useful in helping sufferers
acquire skills that help them to cope with mental health issues
such as depression and anxiety.
One of the most obvious benefits of acting is that, as my
friend Judy Wright puts it:
“When performing, one dissociates from personal
issues and focuses on telling a story. Maybe focusing
outside ourselves makes it easier to regulate emotions.”
I tend to agree with Judy, that performing on stage can help us
focus outside ourselves therefore making it easy for us to regulate
emotions. However, this is easier said than done, particularly for
people who have no access to a stage or to acting classes. Never
fear. This is the reason for this book, to inform the reader about
what can be done to acquire some actor’s skills. Just how would
a person go about using acting skills, to get out of a debilitating
depression? Perhaps the person is in bed, unable to move due to
severe depression. How can that person help her/ himself?
When one is depressed, one ruminates: that is, a person keeps
thinking about negative thoughts that go round and round in
one’s mind, in circle, indefinitely. Breaking the cycle of the rumination
is extremely difficult. Some argue that it is the rumination
that causes depression, while others say that it is a biological
defect of the brain that causes rumination. Both may be right,
but ultimately this is a chicken-or-the-egg kind of question.
In my opinion, both as a sufferer of bipolar II and as a fulltime
caregiver to my wife who suffers with bipolar I, acting skills
can help. The actor has, by necessity, to put her or himself in
another character’s shoes, whether this is a real character or a
fictitious one. In order to do so, the actor has to take on the
characteristics of a new personality. In other words, the actor has
to be able to store and retrieve a variety of emotions, feelings and
states of mind that go with the character.
If there is need to play a depressed person, they will do it; if
there is need to assume the character of an extremely happy
person, they will do it; and this is regardless of how they really
feel inside. Sure, an actor can try to prepare, to have a very
relaxing and peaceful time days before performing, but in the
end, life goes on and even if an actor experiences problems in
their lives the show must go on. Indeed, the show must go on,
and this is the key.
What if a sufferer was to learn how to stop ruminating at
once, after much practice, to go in front of the mirror and
pretend that he or she is happy, and even smile. I am going to be
OK today, she or he tells the mirror. I am going to be a different
character today, one that is full of hope and full of zest for life
regardless if inside I feel like I am dying. I am going to act to feel
Is this possible? If you were to ask my wife and me, we would
say yes, it is perfectly possible because we do it often. Indeed, my
wife suffered from terrible depression and often needed hospitalization.
But with hard work we have been able to develop skills,
similar to those used by the actor, so that we can break the
rumination, even if for a short while. This is enough for the brain
to recharge, to escape the constant worries and rumination
which are a real drain on energies, on the nervous system, and on
personality. In this way, the person gets a break from the rumination
and this makes all of the difference as the brain has a chance to recharge.
Also important, I feel, is the idea that many people are unable to speak about themselves and about their problems, particularly in a therapy situation. However, if they assume the role of a fictitious character, they often become able to discuss their problems through this invented character and open up. I know so because I help people online. I use written stories to help people, stories, for example, such as the Cracked Pot