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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The tricks are on me! » » Magic and mental health (2 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Ikswonilak
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I'm curious to hear from folks who have experience performing magic for persons with mental illness. I am a primary care physician with a special interest in this patient population and am trying to put together a small show to bring to group homes where my patients live and share the world of live magic with them.

I think there are very special considerations that need to be kept in mind, so to speak, with both effects chosen and scripting/staging but I love this challenge and think there is much to be learned just by going through this process.

Cheers.
AK
Siraldi
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I think this is wonderful! Would you mind telling us some plots or themes you are considering... or ones you want to stay away from?
jugglestruck
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I too would be interested in what you decide on and how it goes down. When you say they have mental illness, how severe or not is it?
Ikswonilak
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The folks I work with tend to fall into the category of having "severe mental illness" meaning schizophrenia, severe depression/bipolar, etc.

The effect that goes over best, and I use it as a closer, is my own scripted version of The Gypsy Thread which I think works for just about anybody. What I wouldn't do, for example, is an effect where I am claiming to read minds or "put a thought" into someone else's mind (ie thought control), but even there - I'm curious to know if a person with a mental illness would perceive this differently, could even be entertained, would be offended, etc? I don't think this has been explored either in the field of medicine or magic.

When thinking about why we like mentalism, as performers and as an audience member, it's that I think we find it "impossible" that someone could predict/transmit/etc thoughts/the future/ etc etc etc. But what if you are someone who perceives the world as a place where this is actually possible (and perhaps happening all the time)? Where does illusion begin and delusion end, or vice-versa?

The themes I'm aiming to develop: hope, mystery, overcoming adversity, joy. I want to use magic to bring these things to persons who otherwise don't have access to live performance and see if it can be a small therapeutic tool in some way.

I sure hope I'm not sounding like I'm the one who needs medication!

As 2013 approaches and progresses, I'll be sure to share any experiences I may be able to have as this project moves forward. I'm hoping to hear from folks with more experience than I in this realm.

Thanks.
AK
jugglestruck
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Thanks for the update AK - I can see why thought control might not be the best option Smile
MrBukey
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It sounds great that you're looking to take magic to a new audience - and an audience that would really benefit from something entertaining and usually don't get to see magic.

I'm no expert in the field of by any stretch of the imagination but I did a very brief 6 week stint in a home for those with mental health issues. It wasn't my career area before or since, I found it a huge eye-opener to the world, to us as humans and whilst very, very tiring and draining, very humbling and worthwhile at the same time.

I notice that you said that you are a primary care physician - and with that will come a wealth of knowledge and experience... As I say, I'm not an expert and can only talk from a perspective of having a very small glimpse into one home but I would say that you could benefit hugely from the experience of the carers and nurses that spend their working days with people in your target audience... They will be able to explain better than anyone about where the nuances or fine lines are that you are concerned about - and with your knowledge of both the magic side and the medical side, you should be able to do so by presenting magic only as you want to to lay people.

When it comes to mentalism in particular I think it is, as you put across, a difficult area to perform in. I would suggest that if you do anything in this area that you wouldn't want to present it as "mentalism" (obviously), nor even "psychological illusionism".... And instead of any mention of you reading their mind, you may want to reverse the concept so but I can't think of how to word it properly (if it's possible). Again the best people to help with this terming may be those who work with your target audience daily. Obviously if anyone has any issues with paranoia it could be a particular area to take special care around - in that sense, it may be best to perform your routine to carers, nurses and staff ahead of time if possible as they will have an understanding not only of those they care for from medical and practical perspective but also taking into consideration individual's needs for those they care for?

Good luck and congratulations on a worthy initiative.
Remarkable Marco
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Paradoxically, the best way to sell mentalism in these contexts may be to make it appear as stage magic. Instead of saying you are reading their mind you could ask them to write down a word, seal it in an envelope, place the envelope in a box, the box in a bigger box, and then you look at the box and reveal the word. In other terms, you make it look like x-ray vision. Things like that. I know a bit about mental illness (my wife is a psychiatrist, and we often discuss mental illness), and a key factor is to link concepts to concrete, tangible things.
Remarkable Marco
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Paradoxically, the best way to sell mentalism in these contexts may be to make it appear as stage magic. Instead of saying you are reading their mind you could ask them to write down a word, seal it in an envelope, place the envelope in a box, the box in a bigger box, and then you look at the box and reveal the word. In other terms, you make it look like x-ray vision. Things like that. I know a bit about mental illness (my wife is a psychiatrist, and we often discuss mental illness), and a key factor is to link concepts to concrete, tangible things.
Emanuel Chester
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Over the past months I have been performing magic to clients of the local activities centre for the mentally handicapped. Their deficiency is usually benign, ranging from memory loss through autism into low IQ and low functioning. Some clients function better than others. I haven't seen anyone with a psychosis, schyzophrenia, or other more severe afflictions.

I find that what keeps them entertained without freaking them out, are intense story-telling that engages each of them, and fast-paced visual changes: transformations, teleportations, vanishes, etc. All enjoy participating. Some enjoy little contributions, others like to steal the show. Most of them will cheer on a volunteer.

I found that I lose their interest if I forget to show the normal outcome of an action before showing the magical effect: with most of my clients, their sense of reality is like that of a 3-year-old: they accept for real, that you can make those flowers appear out of thin air. It isn't magical to them, and though they might like the flowers for their visual appeal, they felt no sense of wonder.

I also lose their interest if the build-up of the story takes too long, unless I manage to have them participate and play a role in the story.

I am interested in seeing how someone with a more severe mental disorder reacts to magic. Please share your experiences!

Cheers,
Emanuel
Renaissance Man ~ I am interested in a lot, I can do a lot, I have done a lot. Not all equally well, and there's still a lot more for me to explore.
Rook
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As a psychologist, I do quite a bit of this with my Rook Project. For me, the trick is to lace the effect with varying themes based on the message you want to convey. Also, rather than what I call exhibitionistic magic ("Look what I can do!") or expository magic ("Look what this thing can do!")...both of which are very valid and have their place, I frame my presentations as empowering ("Look what you can do!").

There are exceptions, of course. Thankfully, most of the SMI folks for whom I've performed the straitjacket escape have never worn one (very recently, I had someone that was buckling me in say "I've been in one of these...it's nice to turn the tables!" and I was afraid that I'd touch a nerve...but it went well). In this case, my patter delivers a message such as:

"Have you ever been in a situation that you're not quite sure about? Some kind of setup where you're pretty certain you can't get out of some predicament? Many times, it just takes a bit of flexibility and persistence."

Struggle a bit with the bindings here.

"It's a myth that you have to dislocate your shoulder, by the way. You don't need to change yourself into something you're not. Try instead flexibility and persistence."

I keep with the escape while emphasizing the keywords of flexibility and persistence until I'm out.

I also do a coin bending routine (I find coinvexed to be pretty effective here, as it occurs in the spectator's hand) in which the participant draws a picture reprsenting a problem on one coin and themselves on the other. The "problem" coin comes out bent with my amazed comment "You're much stronger than you realize!"

Unless the person is floridly psychotic (on the far more severe end of SMI), the illusions are seen as simply magic tricks and are not incorporated into the delusions.

-Tom
Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.

-Roald Dahl
dykstraj99
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I'm a family practice physician and find that magic breaks down barriers with all types of people. It certainly depends on the audience as to what tricks work best.
I recently performed for a group home of mentally disabled people. I did the misers dream. I thought it would work well - very visual and good sound. Was going great until I "pulled" a coin from my helpers ear...the folks were shocked and my volunteer kept trying to get more coins out. I had to quickly go on to something else for fear of him hurting himself. Overall a really good show and tons of fun, but I learned a few things as well.
Zappos7
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I realize I'm very late in my response but I'm hoping some of my experiences might address the original poster's questions surrounding "special considerations".

I am a School Psychologist and use magic based interventions in a variety of ways throughout my practice. The following is a list of different ways I use it in my school-based practice.

1. Establishing rapport with students who are new to counseling.

2. I also use it as a hook to peak the child's attention at the beginning of a session.

3. Sometimes I'll script a trick in a particular way to be a metaphor of sorts, surrounding a topic that is specific to the student.

4. I've also used some tricks as a visual form for different concepts when doing executive function coaching.

5. I've also used it to help students who were in crisis shift into a different thought set.

6. Generally, I have found most people tend to be more open minded/mentally flexible during the session when it began with a magic trick.

The following is a list of special considerations for using magic waste interventions in a counseling/ mental health setting.

1. I always ask the student before we begin if they'd like to see a magic trick. Getting their permission is important as some people, for a variety of reasons, do not like magic.

2.I always let the individual know that while there may be people who have real magic powers, I do not and everything they will see me do are things that any person can learn how to do, including them. This is an important boundary to set right at the beginning, as in a counseling setting me being perceived as being able to do real magic could actually subvert the counseling relationship, through deception. In a mental health setting, it's critical that the therapist always acts in a truthful way.


3. If I am going to be performing a trick for an individual, I will offer them the opportunity to be taught the trick by me. Some kids don't want to know how the trick works which is important to ascertain, however, it creates an unfair power difference and can distract from the session if I show them a trick but don't explain it afterwards. Personally, I find the teaching of the trick to be a really important point that opens many doors within the session.

4. I avoid using magic-based interventions with individuals who have problems with reality testing/ distinguishing reality from fantasy. This might include very young children.

5. For people with highly perfectionistic tendencies, consider that showing them a trick may be a trigger as it creates a feeling of not knowing how something works, even with an opportunity to explain it. For some individuals this can be distressing.

6. I'll end the session by inquiring whether they liked seeing magic during the session, ask what they liked about it and if they'd like to do more work with magic in future sessions. Magic-based interventions are only effective in my opinion, if you have buy-in from the individual.

7. Consider whether the individual has any cognitive weaknesses which may be frustrated by a particular type of magic trick. For instance a person with visual special weaknesses might not perceive
a highly visual trick such as a card trick in the same pleasurable way that a person who does not have those same weaknesses experiences them. Or a person who has auditory working memory weaknesses might find a magic trick with a lot of dialogue to be an unpleasant experience.
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