Scholarly article on topic '“To Be On Stage Means To Be Alive” Theatre Work with Education Undergraduates as a Promoter of Students’ Mental Resilience'

“To Be On Stage Means To Be Alive” Theatre Work with Education Undergraduates as a Promoter of Students’ Mental Resilience Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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{Resilience / "Student population" / "Therapeutic theatre" / "Short autobiographical performances" / Improvisations}

Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Michal Doron Harari

Abstract This article forms part of a research based on the Being Onstage Interventional Program (BIP) that utilizes therapeutic theatre work with the objective of strengthening undergraduate Education students’ resilience. The working principles of BIP consist of the actor's work, group work, improvisations and repeated autobiographical performances. This article shall discuss the rationale of theoretical integration between resilience elements) and theatre work and Dramatherapy. The article includes a description of resilience. And theatrical practices like: BASIC Ph (Lahad), the Theory of Resource Conservation (Hobfoll) and Role Theory (Landy), the Theatre of Self Discovery (Emunah).

Academic research paper on topic "“To Be On Stage Means To Be Alive” Theatre Work with Education Undergraduates as a Promoter of Students’ Mental Resilience"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 209 (2015) 161 - 166

International conference "Education, Reflection, Development", ERD 2015, 3-4 July 2015,

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

"To Be On Stage Means To Be Alive" Theatre Work With Education Undergraduates as a Promoter of Students' Mental Resilience

Michal Doron Harari*

Babe§-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Cluj-Napoca, Sindicatelor Street no. 7, 400029,



This article forms part of a research based on the Being Onstage Interventional Program (BIP) that utilizes therapeutic theatre work with the objective of strengthening undergraduate Education students' resilience. The working principles of BIP consist of the actor's work, group work, improvisations and repeated autobiographical performances. This article shall discuss the rationale of theoretical integration between resilience elements) and theatre work and Dramatherapy. The article includes a description of resilience. And theatrical practices like: BASIC Ph (Lahad), the Theory of Resource Conservation (Hobfoll) and Role Theory (Landy), the Theatre of Self Discovery (Emunah).

© 2015 The Authors.Publishedby Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of ERD 2015

Keywords: Resilience, Student population, Therapeutic theatre, Short autobiographical performances, Improvisations


* Corresponding author. Tel.: 972523274407; fax: +0-000-000-0000 . E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of ERD 2015


Undergraduate Education students form a population that is forced to cope with numerous difficulties. Their lives at this period of time may be extremely demanding and stressful, necessitating higher levels of independence, initiative and self-regulation (Chemers, Hu & Garcia, 2001). The requirement of field work with complex populations adds a further element of stress in Education studies. In face of these difficulties, the researcher formulated an intervention program (BIP) aimed to strengthen and promote mental resilience, thus decrease students' stress levels and ease their lives The program is based upon theatre art, as theatre work enables self-expression and development of creativity, social communication skills and cooperation (Pendzik, 2008). The aim of student participation in the program is to increase their mental resilience and sense of self-efficacy, thereby promote improved academic achievements. Moreover, when in the field, the students will be able to identify, as educators, states of stress among their students and be equipped with tools and means with which to address these situations.

Higher education institutions are commonly perceived as bodies whose role is to research, enlighten and teach (Gans, 1986). Nonetheless, literature addressing the connection between academic curriculum and student wellbeing is scarce. This raises the question whether the academy is responsible for taking care of its students' wellbeing. Some scholars believe that academic institutions indeed bear the responsibility of attempting to promote student wellbeing, as there is an affinity between students and their academic institution that obligates the latter to respect students and act, if possible, on their behalf (Asselman & Bachar, 2014). It appears that there is a call for group intervention that addresses student resilience and self-efficacy as part of the academic curriculum. Currently, most offers of assistance at academic institutions consist of referrals to private sessions with psychologists, coachers and tutors. To this date, there is no study that deals with and relates to the mental resilience of undergraduate student population which offers group intervention via theatre. The current research shall address these gaps of knowledge.

1. Undergraduate student population

The period of academic studies entails new and exciting experiences as well as numerous challenges that may also lead to complex and severe mental states. (Caribe & Heiman. 2011) Students are required to cope in various life arenas, such as selecting a profession, choosing mates, creating economic independence, student competitiveness, family and social expectations and family issues, all of which pose difficulties (Tishbi, 2012). A research conducted in the U.S depicts a growing number of students suffering from mental disorders such as depression and PTSD. Students report emotional difficulty and fear of informing the college of their mental state. The research recommends that colleges should consider the increasing incidence of mental disorders and provide student aid (Gruttadaro & Crudo, 2012). Another research marks four major factors that place students at mental erosion risk: academic preparation, economic stress, gender issues and lack of social capital related to attentiveness provided by teachers and staff (Fentress & Collopy, 2011). A research conducted in Hong Kong further adds that mental resilience increases when students hold positive thoughts about themselves. Happy thoughts and feelings encourage interest and activity and broaden physical, intellectual, social and psychological personal resources in contrast to negative emotions that narrow student thought and activity repertoire (Mak, et al. 2011). Furthermore, when students attribute positive meaning to times of distress, it provides immediate relief and generates increased resilience, wellbeing and improved health, affording students broader perspectives and problem solutions (Fredrickson & Joine, 2002).

Resilience is described as the ability of successful adaptation or positive functioning in an environment exhibiting high risk levels and situations of continuous chronic stress. Resilience forms one of the features that construct and design human personality, among which is resourcefulness, perception of difficulties as challenges, commitment and control, search for meaning and self-belief that springs from the basic will to live. Social features such as social skills, human relations, social aid and provision of care and love to the environs are also important. These and more crucially affect the ability to manage stress (Kimhi & Shamai, 2004). Mental resilience is also defined as an inherent human ability constructed by personal features that are inner assets or personal abilities related to healthy development and success in life (Bonnie, 2004). Mental resilience is a collection of skills that assist a person in regulating disturbing emotions and responding to a new reality accordingly (Berger & Lahad, 2011). Mentally resilient persons, claim Raviv & Katzenelson (2005), are characterized as holding a sense of control over their life

events, having a sense of involvement and purpose in their daily life, and flexibility to adapt to unpredictable changes. Hence, those who have mental resilience exhibit the human ability to cope, overcome, be strengthened by and even transform as a result of crisis experience (Grotberg, 2005). Self-efficacy, Raviv & Katzenelson (2005) contend, is one of the central factors related to mental resilience, being a person's inner belief that they are capable of performing actions that will promote progression towards set goals. Hence, they argue, resilience is not only an innate feature but an acquired ability that develops over time, affected by factors such as personal temperament and the family atmosphere in which they were raised - level of warmth, support and proper communication during childhood and adulthood. Other scholars claim that resilience is influenced by personality and capabilities and is constructed of four inner strengths: social ability, problem solving ability, a sense of autonomy and a sense of purpose: these factors transcend those of origin, culture, gender, geography and time (Bonnie, 2004).

In this context, Positive Psychology's objective is to promote mental resilience, a happy meaningful life and prevent states of depression. Thus, emotional awareness, impulse control and realistic optimism enable students to believe in their ability to successfully cope with stressful situations (Seligman, 2010).

At the heart of Hobfoll's Resource Conservation Theory (Hobfoll & lilly, 1993; Hobfoll, Briggs-Phillips & Stines, 2003) lies the assumption that humans are motivated to achieve, protect and nourish things they value, which are their resources, conditions and personal features. Therefore, claims Hobfoll, psychological stress occurs when an individual senses threat over their resources and fears loosing their status, economic stability, loved ones and relatives, beliefs, self-esteem and, consequentially, their resilience. According to Hobfoll, the core principles of stress treatment are the establishment of a sense of security, calmness, community and self-efficacy and hope.

The BASIC Ph Model (Lahad, Shacham & Ayalon, 2012) suggests viewing each person's unique coping style as a combination of 6 channels of coping: belief, affect, social, imagination, cognition, physiology. Every individual has the potential of all six yet each develops the usage of channels that are uniquely theirs.

Another approach that relates to the physical aspect of resilience and is currently prevalent in medical and psychological care holds that body and soul should be regarded as a whole system, where each part affects the other (Levin, 1997). Research reveals that physical activity is effective in treatment of clients suffering from depression, generating chemical change in the brain as well as rise in sense of self-efficacy (Trivedi, Greer & Granneman, 2006).

In summary, mental resilience consists of:

• Inner forces - a sense of commitment and control, motivation, goal-orientation, self-efficacy, autonomy, flexible thought, self-awareness, emotional awareness, emotional regulation, imagination.

• Coping - problem solving skills, perception of stressful situations as challenges, flexible thought and adaptability to change.

• Social -social interactions, empathy, sense of belonging, ability to express and share.

• Spirituality and belief -belief, search for meaning, hope and optimism.

• Physiology - emotions, traumatic stress reflected at the physical level, physical activity relieves body-soul as one unit.

2. Theatre as therapy

Theatre art is the basis of Dramatherapy, a therapeutic approach that utilizes theatrical structures and techniques for clinical purposes (Jennings, 1998). Theatre and Dramatherapy consist of art fields such as music, sound, plastic art as setting, narrative, text, movement and dance, as well as role-play, improvisation, theatre games, dolls and masks. Yet, contrary to theatre that focuses on the professional outcome of the performance before an audience and under its effect, Dramatherapy utilizes these arts in focusing on the processes that the actor-client and audience undergo, who serve as participants in group therapy (Bailey, 2010). The dramatic process is oriented towards clinical objectives that promote personal awareness and growth (Doron Harari, 2014). The theatrical framework serves as a container that affords touching contents and emotions while maintaining a sense of security (Novich, 2006). Theatre's uniqueness lies in its affordance of creating a dramatic reality which forms a therapeutic space that generates change and healing in a person's life (Pendzik, 1994). Performances before an audience hold therapeutic value as they allow participants to feel that they can 'be themselves' via dramatic experience (Trayes, 2012). The sense of relief and catharsis accompanying the theatrical event further contributes to a sense of emotional relief (Ofner, 2011).

BIP relies on the following Dramatherapy theories: (a) Robert Landy's Role Theory which claims that in every given moment, a person is in a role that activates their physical and emotional expression and generates action. In therapeutic work, one may develop awareness of the role and change the quality and manner of its usage: flexible rolling and di-rolling affords a person a sense of control (Landy, 1993). (b) The Five Phase Model which contends that group therapy develops from joyful and relieving spontaneity to in-depth work, from play to process, from interactivity to personal work - all within the essential context of individual-group bonding (Emunah, 2010). (c) Autobiographical Theatre, a group therapy model in Dramatherapy that serves as a process that affords creative expression of the creator's inner world within the safe boundaries of stage and theatre (Doron Harari, 2014). Autobiographical theatre content emphasizes the individual's manner of coping with personal central life themes via stage performance. Performance organization, which includes planning, directing and performing, enable the participant a reorganization of their emotional life (Doron Harari, 2014). Therapeutic elements include highlighting a specific life narrative, the creation of theatrical art and receiving feedback from the audience (Emunah, 2015).

3. Being Onstage Interventional Program - BIP

The objective of BIP is to afford participating students development and promotion of mental resilience, by means of an integration of resilience elements, Dramatherapy and theatre work. The program's duration is 12 sessions. The following presents the program as working principles rather than an orderly program, in light of the understanding that mutual flexibility and attentiveness of instructor and student group in real-time sessions is of crucial importance. It is in this type of session where the core strength of the program lies. The developing bonds among group members and between themselves and the instructor are cardinally significant. The instructor is thus free to adapt the working principles suggested in the program in accordance with processes and events occurring within the group. The program is structured in a manner where each stage generates and produces the following stage; progression is conducted in a developing spiral movement that enables, when necessary, a return to and repeat of processes in a differing order. Program participants experience an array of roles: the role of an actor playing altering characters and situations, the role of director of personal others' life narratives, and the role of the audience.

3.1. Program principles promoting resilience elements:

• The principle of Actor's work and role-playing - supports and strengthens all resilience components. This principle relays the actor's work, which includes their body, soul and consciousness. The creative process of theatric acting bears inherent therapeutic forces that afford the actor personal development, not only as a repetition of childhood patterns or total absorption in imaginary reality, but also to cope with their personal biographical truth (Oren, 1997). The characters brought to stage by the participant express the narrative of the soul and inner world (Pedder, 1977). The ability to play multiple identities and characters develops

personal integration and ability to cope with altering complex situations from various points of view (Oren, 1997; Landy, 2008).

• The principle of group work and working before and audience - supports and strengthens social aspects that build-up resilience. Theatre work is group work, where the 'group container' affords space for social interactions, social formalization and experience that may lead to transformation, empowerment and healing (Bailey, 2010). Theatre work consists of group processes that enable self-expression, learning leadership and leading in the role of director and dedication, flexibility, service and empathy in the role of actor. Group members serve as the audience and playing before them strengthens participant's visibility (Oren, 1997; Bailey, 2010; Doron Harari, 2014). The importance of audience observation is in that it confirms existence: in this regard, the stage forms a reenactment of a child's preliminary existential experience when facing their mother's observing gaze, aimed to strengthen and promote growth (Novich, 2006).

• The principle of working with improvisations - relates to coping and inner forces of resilience components. Improvisation is a state of being and production of activity without prior planning (Spolin, 1986). During improvisations, the participants experience unfamiliar and altering situations to which they are required to respond without pre-preparation. They manage conflicts through attentiveness and action. When improvising, the participant brings forth coping abilities and flexibility, and utilizes their intuition which is broader and deeper than life memories (Spolin, 1986). Improvisation affords therapeutic work that reveals meanings, offers alternative empowering emotion-containing behaviors, and contributes to self-knowledge and assumption of responsibility (Emunah, 1994).

• The principle of repeated performance of autobiographical narratives in various forms - mainly relates to issues of spirituality and belief: the search for meaning, hope and optimism. The program offers participants the opportunity to repeatedly perform their life narratives, conflicts and dreams throughout the duration of the program. They are the ones who select what to narrate and in what style to perform, where the selection of narratives relates to the question of meaning participants attribute to their life narratives (Doron Harari, 2014). This type of work relies on the Narrative Approach's theory and practice, which holds that observation and renewed selection of how to narrate stories redesign life (White & Epstone, 1990). Like Dramatherapy, the Narrative Approach is intrinsically optimistic, inviting the participant to primarily connect with their inner strengths and creative forces rather than pathology and pain. The healing process occurs by means of observing life events through different perspectives, through understandings and selections of what to perform and how to perform it (Doron Harari, 2014).

4. Summary

This article forms part of a research that utilizes the Mixed Method research paradigm, to be conducted by use of quantitative questionnaires and in-depth interviews. The research consists of 60 Education undergraduate students at a college located in Northern Israel. The research will examine the effect of BIP and its working principles on students' mental resilience. BIP is a unique program which treats mental resilience of student population by means of theatre work. The program's objective is to strengthen students' resilience elements for the promotion of successful studies, and to provide them - as future professionals and educators - tools for identification and treatment of students in distress.

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