Artwork by Erin Lombardi
Photos by
Grace Chu Photography

The Performing Art of Therapy explores the myriad ways in which acting techniques can enhance the craft of psychotherapy. The book shows how, by understanding therapy as a performing art, clinicians can supplement their theoretical approach with techniques that fine-tune the ways their bodies, voices, and imaginations engage with and influence their clients. Broken up into accessible chapters focused on specific attributes of performance, and including an appendix of step-by-step exercises for practitioners, this is an essential guidebook for therapists looking to integrate their theoretical training into who they are as individuals, find joy in their work, expand their empathy, increase self-care, and inspire clients to perform their own lives.

 


Endorsements

The Performing Art of Therapy is a significant contribution to the field of counseling and psychotherapy. Mark O’Connell has given us a smart, practical, and deeply personal book that will be useful to therapists of all orientations. So much of psychotherapy is taught by text, in a removed, scientific, objective style. O’Connell presents therapy as a creative art, emphasizing performance and the experiential dimension of the encounter. This is not a list of techniques but rather a journey into the use of oneself as the essential instrument of therapeutic engagement.
— Lewis Aron, Ph.D., Internationally Recognized Psychoanalyst, Psychotherapist, Teacher, and Author
Mark O’Connell writes to enliven therapists’ use of their selves as creative artists. He situates himself at the intersection of acting and psychotherapy from which he offers practical exercises that focus on mind, body, emotion and breath; he does so not in the manner of a how-to guide but in keeping with a therapist’s reach for the freedom of potential and the luxury of being. Sweetening the read, O’Connell serves up wonderful anecdotes from well-known actors who help bring to life his valuable psychotherapeutic suggestions.
— Ken Corbett, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis

In conversation with actress Robin Weigert (who plays the therapist on Big Little Lies) and mental health activist, Dior Vargas, at the launch for The Performing Art of Therapy, at Housing Works Bookstore in NYC. Photos by Grace Chu Photography.

The Performing Art of Therapy brilliantly explores the nuances of therapist and patient on the therapeutic stage. O’Connell’s creative, useful and inspiring work offers us new ways of thinking about our clients as well as our own aliveness, engagement, and self-care.
— Galit Atlas, Ph.D., Author of The Enigma of Desire: Sex, Longing, and Belonging in Psychoanalysis and Dramatic Dialogues: Contemporary Clinical Practice
This revelatory book proposes that the elements of observation, empathy and truthful self-examination so essential to the art of acting are also fundamental to the practice of therapy. In clear, readable, almost conversational prose that is remarkably free of scientific jargon, Mark O’Connell shares insights learned through years of training and practice that are equally applicable to artists and mental health professionals. Any student actor could open a page of this delightful, thought-provoking book and find a nugget of wisdom or practical advice, and any seasoned professional could find—analyzed with simple clarity—the lessons of a lifetime of experience and training. This book, written in a voice that is at once wise and wise-cracking, serious and ironically self-effacing, is a great gift to the field of therapy.
— Brian McEleney, Head of M.F.A. in Acting, Brown University
The Performing Art of Therapy, is a tour de force presentation of how skills in which actors are commonly trained, can become ways to prepare for being on the “stage” of each therapeutic session. [Both therapist and client] assume a variety of roles depending on the contemporaneous dramatic context. These roles shift rapidly for both participants, revolving through being players, audience, directors, editors, and so forth to one another, all in an effort to author a new, more meaningful and fulfilling fiction.
— Philip Ringstrom, Ph.D., Psy.D., Author of A Relational Psychoanalytic Approach to Couples Psychotherapy
Drama is often dismissed as a means of exaggerating a point, as in making something “dramatic”! By contrast, I see drama as essential to our theories and practice. It is the “flesh and blood” on the epistemological “bones” of every theory of contemporary psychoanalysis, making it essential to Relational Meta-psychology. Properly trained in dramatic techniques, clinicians become more alive, authentic, and effective in how they perform their interventions. In this vein, The Performing Art of Therapy is the best book I have read proffering both exercises and techniques for helping clinicians better “use themselves” therapeutically. This is critical, since as Mark O’Connell argues, psychotherapists are inescapably performers of their art. Further, of much greater significance than our theory-driven interventions, is how our clients experience us performing them. This book is a drama training manual for therapy par excel lance, breaking down every dramatic element of treatment in both highly meaningful and useful ways. As a sincere, serious, fun, and deeply engaging text, it is a must read for clinicians of all levels.
— Philip Ringstrom, Ph.D., Psy.D., Author of A Relational Psychoanalytic Approach to Couples Psychotherapy

Structure of the Book

  • Act I: Prepare

    • Listen

    • Know What You Look Like (And Use Your Subtext)

    • Know What You Sound Like (And Disarm Your Inner Critic)

    • Be Present

    • Embody

    • Speak

    • Warm-Up

  • Act II: Rehearse

    • Frame

    • Play

    • Find the Characters

    • Love

  • Act III: Perform

    • Narrate

    • Direct

    • Publicize

    • Present

    • Take a Bow

    • Audition

  • Exercises

Artwork by Erin Lombardi