Can theater be therapy? Does an ability to “get into character” and portray other people help actors resolve their own internal conflicts offstage? Or will the pursuit of a career that values emotional vulnerability, but at the same time involves frequent rejection, inevitably lead to poor mental health and instability?
Dr. Paula Thomson and Dr. S. Victoria Jaque of California State University, Northridge, endeavored to answer these questions in “Holding a Mirror Up to Nature: Psychological Vulnerability in Actors,” a study published this month in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Over the course of several years, the researchers surveyed a sample of 41 professional actors in Los Angeles; Toronto, Ontario; and Cape Town, South Africa. The actors’ answers were compared with those of a control group of 41 non-actors.
“This study demonstrated that the actor group had greater fantasy proneness and a greater distribution of psychological security as compared with the nonartist control group,” Thomson and Jaque write. “Despite no group differences in type and frequency of trauma and loss, the actor group had more unresolved mourning and elevated dissociation.”