Drama Therapy: A Lifeline for Teens Struggling With Mental Health Problems

Discover the incredible benefits of expressive arts therapy in our latest podcast. This form of drama therapy provides a unique way for young people to explore and express their emotions, challenge defense mechanisms, and improve their understanding of body language and relationships. Through creativity and imagination, teens can gain deeper insight into their mental health struggles and develop improved emotional regulation skills. Furthermore, we'll examine how this type of therapy can lead to deeper insight and improved emotional regulation in adolescents struggling with mental health challenges.


The Therapeutic Effects of Performing Arts: How it Benefits the Mental Health of Teens

In addition to other forms of experiential therapy, participating in the performing arts can have a significant impact on a teenager through their healing process. It invites the students to step out of their comfort zone and gain new insights about themselves and their relationships.

In this episode, therapist Tiffany Silva Herlin, LCSW, and Nate Marble, Performing Arts Director at Discovery Ranch South, discuss:

  • How do the expressive arts benefit a teen’s mental health?
  • Using the performing arts and drama therapy to explore and express emotions.
  • Challenging defense mechanisms by getting out of your comfort zone.
  • Exploring body language and how it reflects your emotions.
  • The value of unlocking our imagination and creativity.
A teenage girl looks through a microscope while attending a residential anxiety treatment center | Discovery Ranch South - a residential treatment center for adolescent girls and teens assigned female at birth

If your child has gone through talk therapy and hit a wall, we have a solution. At Discovery Ranch South, we offer personalized mental health treatment that enables teenagers to live a life filled with meaning and self-reliance. Our therapeutic program helps in creating life-changing experiences and building strong relationships. Start healing today. To learn more about our services, call us at 855-667-9388.

School Refusal Podcast Transcript:

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    Tiffany: All right, everybody, welcome back to our podcast. Thanks for joining us again. My name is Tiffany Herlin. I'm a licensed clinical social worker, and today I get to interview from Discovery Ranch South residential program, Nate Marble, who is the Performing Arts Director. Today, in this episode, we will be discussing specifically performing arts and how it can help a student gain deeper insight into their therapeutic journey.

    So I'm excited to have you today. Thanks for coming.

    Nate: Yeah, I'm excited to be here. Thanks.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Discovery Ranch South.

    Nate: So like you said, I'm the Performing Arts Director. I tell everybody I'm from Northern Utah. I grew up in Wyoming and eventually ended up at UNLV studying performing arts and arts in the arts program at UNLV, there's a program where you can teach while you're going to school there. And while I was teaching undergrads, I kind of developed my own studies into the performing arts. So that's kind of my background, but I'm here at Discovery Ranch South to be the performing arts director, like you said, and kind of give these kids an opportunity to step outside themselves and learn more about themselves. That's 30 seconds.

    Drama Therapy and Performing Arts

    Tiffany: Yeah. No, that's awesome! We're going to dive more into, my next question leads into this perfectly is, what exactly is expressive arts therapy or performing arts?

    Nate: There's a lot of different kind of ways to look at performing arts and expressive arts therapy. My whole basic theory behind it is that in order for an actor, somebody to perform on stage, they really have to know who they are at the core.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Nate: In order to discover that it takes a process, of course, and a lot of these kids have no experience being on stage, being in front of people and that's hard. That's not easy to get up on stage. And so to give, I mean, to give them the opportunity to learn a little bit about themselves while they're exploring these different art forms, like the dance, the art, the music, all of these different things and programs that we have at Discovery Ranch South teaches them a little bit about themselves and I'm really just here to guide them where I think they would most benefit from, if that makes sense.

    Tiffany: I took a training from Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who writes the book, "The Body Keeps a Score." And he talks a lot about with experiential therapy in regards to processing trauma and, you know, other things that are stored within the body, how this can be such a powerful tool for people to be on stage in various aspects, like you were saying, and explore different parts of themselves and maybe process difficult things as well. I don't know where I'm quite going with this…

    The Power of Acting and Dance

    Nate: No, that's great. So there's a few things that you touched on that I can go into. First, in order to play a different role, to act, I've always said that acting and performing arts therapy is probably the best empathy and sympathy training you can have.

    Tiffany: Oh, absolutely.

    Nate: Because if you step on stage in a different role as somebody else, you have to be able to see that world from their point of view. So you have to step outside of yourself, first of all. You have to, this is, I mean, getting away from your core to find out what somebody else's core is, that core character.

    And so even in dance I have some students that just at the beginning of their program sit in the background and I go ask him, I say, you know, what's going on? Why aren't we getting up and trying to dance? And they're just like, I just don't do that. But by the end of the program, inevitably they're finding different ways to express themselves through dance and we have them. They're up on stage. They're learning from the instructors that I have, that we have here and they're moving their body through dance in a way that they probably have never done before.

    And so it's to get them out of this day to day, every day, what they do and put them in a situation where they might be a little uncomfortable, but in that uncomfortableness, hope that's a word, in that uncomfortableness they're able to find something out about themselves and they can take that with them if, you know, whenever, inevitably when they leave here, they're able to take that with them and decide if they want to use that later too.

    And so the dance side of it, that's one, that one part of it.

    The Therapeutic Impact of Dance

    Tiffany: Well, let me just jump in real quick. It's so great to hear that. I mean, dance is a very vulnerable thing. You're taking your body and doing something that you could look really silly doing, right? And people could judge you and, you know, but at the same time, you know, it's such a great way to release scenes that you're storing in your body. I mean, from a therapist point, I'm like, I love dance. I grew up dancing. I, yeah, it's been therapeutic for me. I taught dance for many years and always joke, like, this is my therapy, like, this is my time.

    Nate: There's really nothing more beautiful to me than somebody who has lost themselves in movement and it's not just dance movement. Like part of arts, the arts program and performing arts is movements in yourself. So the body language aspect of it, but to see somebody lose themselves in a dance, which you've probably experienced and everything outside of that world disappears, everything outside of that person. They're just there moving and that's gorgeous to me. That's beautiful just to be able to watch somebody get lost in that. It's kind of like one of those Pixar movies. What was that? Where they're in the zone.

    Tiffany: Yeah, I've had those experiences personally, and I was talking about dance being my own therapy, is that there's been times where I've had a really stressful week and I've gone to teach dance and I get lost in the music and lost in the movements and I kind of come to you at the end of class. I'm like, I was really stressed. Like what was it? What was going on? Like, it's like this release and this escape for that, for that time that I get to connect.

    The other thing I was going to say that just came back to me is that we were talking about in our first episode of the series with Jennifer Hedrick about how as adults and as even teenagers and kids, we learn as a society to put up self-defense mechanism cognitively.

    Nate: Yeah.

    Challenging Defense Mechanisms

    Tiffany: And we're really good. Sometimes in talk therapy, I'll have clients come in and they're just really savvy at what to say, but they don't always apply it because, yet when you're challenging them, you were talking about allowing people to be challenged in performing arts and you're putting them in a situation that is uncomfortable and let's say, quote unquote perceived threats. There's nothing threatening about performance arts, but you know, if you're worried about what people are going to think of you or you're going to be embarrassed or make a mistake, that's a perceived threat, right?

    Nate: Totally, yeah.

    Tiffany: You're allowing people to reprogram their brains and when they do well at it and they succeed and overcome, even if it's a little thing, like I was scared to get on stage and sing, but yet I did it. Maybe I didn't sing well, but I did it. No one made fun of me. It's like your brain goes off like, Oh, like, and it creates a neural pathway and allows them to explore other parts of themselves that they didn't realize they had.

    Study of Body Language and Relationships

    Nate: Yes. And moving from like, I believe that one of the main aspects of performing arts is really is just a study of body language as it pertains to relationships. So if I put somebody in a situation, body language is huge for me because I believe down in, deep inside, whatever is happening on the inside is going to eventually happen on the outside. So people, you watch people, you can see how they're feeling about any given situation, you and me sitting here talking, you can see if, or in any conference, you can see if people are interested in the conference, you can by watching that.

    So when I bring kids into this, the performing arts studio or room we really delve deep into what they are giving off personally, just walking around campus, walking around this area and I point it out to them, and that's very uncomfortable to be seen. I mean, you know, we talk about our parents seminars. Some of these kids had never danced before they, stand up on that stage and do that dance in front of their parents and they've never done that before. But it's a very therapeutic form of, I would almost say pride that, look, I did something outside of my comfort zone.

    And so to point these body language aspects out and then say, how's that serving you right now? How's that serving you with your therapist? How's that serving you with your family?

    Tiffany: Especially if they're like this.

    Nate: Exactly.

    Tiffany: During a session, or like...

    Nate: Is that serving you in the moment? And not to say, I mean, body language can be manipulated, you know. But somebody who's watching that would probably be very closed off. If you're going to be closed off like that, they're gonna close off on you.

    Tiffany: Yeah. By the way, my listeners who are not seeing this video, I was turned back, turned towards you and arms crossed and head down, right, so sending off a lot of body language.

    Nate: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, that's one thing, those neural pathways you were talking about, that's one thing people just don't realize it, especially these kids at this young age, they've built these mechanisms, like you were saying, these walls, these defense things, they've manifested in how they're reacting outwardly.

    Reprogramming Behavior and Relationships

    Nate: And how are those things translating within this group? Is it serving you? Could I change that? Not, I hate to say, to get what you want, but can I change that to better myself in any situation.

    Tiffany: To facilitate more open relationships that are changed, relationships to be more beneficial for both people, right?

    Nate: For both. Right. And again, you can tell when people are lying. You can tell when people are trying to fake the body language thing on my end and to be called out on that, like I said, is that's kind of heartbreaking because you're like, Oh, I didn't realize I was doing that.

    It took me until my my second year in my master's program, I used to be really closed off on stage and one of my directors says, why do you do that? You're diminishing yourself. Cause I'm a big guy. I'm again, for the people listening, I'm 6'2" 240. I can be very intimidating. If I wanted to walk into a room and open up and just intimidate people, I could.

    And then a director comes to me and says, you're really closing yourself up on stage. You've done that forever. Why are you doing that? And it's because I didn't want to intimidate people. So what's that giving to people that saying, well, he's diminishing himself. Why would he do that? And to me, that was like mind blowing. It was like, you know, I'm playing a role, for instance, I played John Proctor in The Crucible and John Proctor was a farmer. He was very religious. He could have been intimidating. So closing myself off, crossing my arms, turning away was not serving that role. I had to stand up in myself, claim the stage, claim the role and be that person.

    And again, that sympathy and empathy for that person taught me about myself. Every role I played in college and afterwards and in any role I've played, I've learned something about myself, not just about that person. And that's what we're trying to do with these kids, put them in a situation where they're like, this is not comfortable and I don't want to be here and I've had people that have sat in the corner through the whole class. And I and I talked to him about it and like, why, why is that uncomfortable? Why don't you want to be here? But eventually we come to, okay, this is something that you're learning about yourself in this moment. So let's try it. Nobody's going to laugh. Nonjudgmental. Performing arts is a very nonjudgmental place.

    Tiffany: It's a safe space for them to try new things.

    Nate: Yeah.

    Tiffany: I love that and as a therapist, you know, it's so much more powerful to put a client or a student in a situation in performing arts that would help them gain deeper insight versus us just saying, Hey, you're really closed off. Let's talk about that, right.

    Exploring Emotions Through Acting

    Tiffany: You know, like you can only go so far with cognitive words at that point versus having them act it out or showing them their body language because that's what we do in therapy. We point out to our clients things that they're doing that they may not notice, it may be a disadvantage to them and say, Hey, do you want to change that? What do you think of this? You, I'm now making it, I'm shining light on this and you may not be aware that you're even doing it and it's going to be uncomfortable. So what do we do with that?

    Nate: Right. What do we do? And I've had it on the other end too. We've had scripts in class and there was an experience with one student here that, they were nonsense scripts, so they didn't make any sense. They were just words on a page. But there were two people going back and forth and I was saying, okay, I want you to do this angry now. I want you to do this happy. I want you to do the sad and just see what the subtext of all of that is. Let's see how, how it reads, you know.

    And we talk about boundaries in therapy a lot. Well, this, this student did it angry, but it was only to a level, it was to a level that they were comfortable with. And I said, okay, now I want you to take it a step further. You're on like a level four angry. I want you to take it to a six. They tried to take it to a six and I said, listen, I want you to just be ticked. I want you to be as mad as you can be. And they looked at me and said, I don't feel comfortable doing that. And as me, as a director, I'm like, I want you to, but with these boundaries, I'm going to respect that and say, okay, maybe that's something you would like to explore in the future so you can see where that goes, right, because if I'm trying to play someone that's really angry, but I'm not willing to go there myself it's not going to be believable on stage, and we talked, you know, Shakespeare, all the world's a stage. It's not going to be believable in the real world.
    Now I use anger because that's a very powerful emotion, but that can be anything. I want you to take it to a level 10 sadness. I want you to, and some of these kids have never experienced those emotions. So how do I get them to draw those so that they can experience them, be in that place so that when they experience them in the real life, in the real world, it will come and they'll be like, okay, I recognize this. Do I want to go there or do I want to pull back from it??

    Tiffany: Well, you're teaching them to be vulnerable in a safe space because a lot of times, when the students that we're working with, they've shut down, they've numbed, they've found outlets to navigate their uncomfortable feelings. And when you shut down those feelings, you shut down all feelings, right? You can't just shut down anger and sadness. You also shut down joy.

    So helping these kids. Experience all emotions, not as good or bad, but to just experience them and open themselves up is allowing them to be vulnerable, which allows them to connect, which allows them to overcome shame, which allows them to grow and heal, right? I mean, you got, you and I are geeking out over all this stuff. I could talk to you for hours.

    There was one other thing that you said. I just loved it. I was just envisioning, have you ever seen the show Ted Lasso?

    Nate: Oh, yeah!

    Tiffany: I was just, there's a character and she talks about how she gets really big before she does something scary. And for those of you who can't see, but she like goes in the mirror and puffs herself up with these claws and like a lion, like "raaaa", you know, like, and, and she does that because it helps, I mean, you and I know what that does. What does that do for someone to do that body language before something scary?

    Nate: That gives you, first of all, it gives you power because in your own mind, because you're putting your body, there's two different thoughts towards acting. There's inside out acting and outside in. Outside in is what she's talking about, where you put your body in a state where it is huge and that hopefully translates to the inside.

    Tiffany: Yeah. I can even feel that when I do it.

    Nate: Yeah. It makes you feel good.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Nate: Makes you feel powerful. So when that, she in particular was talking about walking into a room of men.

    Tiffany: Oh, right.

    Nate: Because of that whole dynamic, right.

    Tiffany: Yes, being a woman in the business world.

    Nate: She was the only one. She was the only owner. So she walks in and she has to find a way to put herself technically in their world. Whatever their perceived world is, she's putting herself in that position because to them, they could be the same thing to her. They could be these huge monsters, just overpowering and she has to put herself in that position before she even walks in or else she's going to be sitting in the background, right?

    Types of Expressive Arts Therapy

    Tiffany: We could go off the rail of so many different conversations. Let's back up just a little bit for our listeners.

    What different types of expressive arts therapy are there? We've mentioned a few, but. Let's talk about maybe a broader range.

    Nate: I mean, some of the stuff that we explore here on the ranch is of course, like we talked about earlier, dance.

    Tiffany: Yep.

    Nate: We have dance classes every week for each kid. So they come to us and do that.

    We have music. We have two different things of music. I mean, our first class of music is a guitar and percussion class and I teach that percussion class and it's fun to just watch kids get out their frustration on a bucket. We do bucket, like street performing bucket drumming and to see that the kids just like, I need to get this out right now, so we're going to stomp and we're going to hit this with a stick for a while, it is really fun.

    Of course, and then we talk about music as it pertains to a group, yeah,. we have a band here, so it's a cover band that the kids and some of these kids have never played instruments before. They've never sang before. And so it gives them a chance to actually work as a group because we all know that if a band is not playing as a group, it probably won't come off very well.

    Tiffany: We all know that working with a group can be frustrating sometimes and teach us a lot about ourselves.

    Nate: Yeah. Especially in this atmosphere, you know, because you have to learn in order to do that. If the bass isn't doing right, the drums are going to be off. If the drums are off, the keys are going to be off, the singer is going to be like, where the heck are we? So we've got to figure out how to do that as a group.

    You've got literature. I try to work with them at least once or twice a year on maybe like a slam poem or something, but that is very personal to. They'll dig deep into maybe an experience that they've had and I want them to write that out and they share that with the group and some of these things they'd never talked about before. So it gives them a chance through poetry and through literature to be like, okay, here it goes. I'm just going to lay it all out on the line.

    Pictorial Art and Therapeutic Insights

    Nate: We'll see what else. I mean, just pictorial art.

    Tiffany: Yeah, that's one of my favorites. As a therapist, when I'm stuck with a client and we're not making any headway, I'll often switch gears and keep them on their toes when they come in my office and hand them some medium. I usually like looser medium, so not pencils or markers because I've learned that when you dive into paints and say oil, oil pastels, it actually helps them open up more and they have less defense mechanisms with it, with that part of their brain and I'll have them draw a picture and they'll be like, why are you making me draw a stormy sea with a boat? And a lighthouse. You probably know where I'm going with this. Something like, yeah, and me standing on a cliff because every client draws it differently and it all tells a story of what they're doing and then we discuss it and I point out what's going on and ask them insights and they're like, Oh, I'm in the storm. I've had clients put the lighthouse under the sea. And it's like, and I don't tell them where to put it, you know, and it tells like, Oh, so there's no hope for you right now. Like, and they're like, yeah, I don't feel like I have any hope.

    So that type of stuff I love, I'm like, it just starts so many conversations that they wouldn't normally have.

    Benefits of Three-Dimensional Art

    Nate: Yeah. And I've found that in the journey, like even one of the best fun things that I love to do is just give them a thing, a clay and be like, all right, do whatever you want because it's in the journey of it. They start molding this clay and then all of a sudden they start talking and like, hmm, and they start talking about things that you wouldn't even expect them to talk about.

    And so you're around a group with, with six or seven kids and they're all talking about personal experiences. And then all of a sudden you're like, Oh, I get you a little bit more now and why you're at where you're at so that, I mean, the three dimensional art, the spatial art, it's really fun for me too.

    Tiffany: Well, that's a looser medium too.

    Nate: Yeah.

    Tiffany:So it's not this concrete medium. It has movement.

    Nate: Yeah. Yeah.

    Tiffany: So, okay. So there's drama, art, music, dance, literature, poetry. I mean, the list goes on.

    Nate: Yeah.

    The Ideal Client for Expressive Art Therapy

    Tiffany: Who is, and we're jumping around, but this is really fun. I'm enjoying this conversation. Who is an ideal client for expressive art therapy?

    Nate: That's a really hard question because I don't know that there isn't... there's not, not an ideal client, if that makes sense. I've taught people from like, I have a student in one of my classes in town right now that is 76 years old and they're expressing acting. They've never done it before. And then I have students that I've taught that are eight years old. So there's not an age range. It's not an experience thing.

    The Value of Pretending and Imagination

    Nate: What I've found is that, anybody who has forgot how to pretend really, and we discussed that too. Like what, when do we forget to pretend when do we, you know, I've got my theories, but when we stopped going out to recess and playing kickball with our friends and when we're, you know, I believe arts can teach so much more and pretending, and so I had this 76 year old guy out there cleaning. I was like, what did you pretend this week? And he says, well, I was cleaning up a lot next to my house, but I was pretending I was a storm trooper in Star Wars. But we forget to do that and I think pretending is where the creativity happens.

    So really, I don't know the answer to like the perfect arts therapy person.

    Tiffany: Sounds like anyone.

    Nate: Really.

    Tiffany: Anyone, it's anyone who needs to build more positive experience and really find themselves in a safe space could really benefit from this.

    Nate: Or get back to the basics.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Nate: Get back to the very simple, like I was when I learned, when I really sunk into this for myself, I went home and started playing dinosaurs with my three year old and that I was like, I haven't done this. That was when I was probably 34. I'm like, I haven't done this since I was a kid. And that was really touching for me because I'm like, Oh, this, why can't I have a both ways?

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Nate: Why can't I go to work? But then still enjoy, you know, and pretend and imagine things and it's kind of beautiful in that aspect.

    The Broaden and Build Theory

    Tiffany: It's so beautiful. There's a really cool theory that is a foundation of this. It's a broaden and build theory of that we have negative and positive experiences and the negative experience evoke a specific reaction. Are you familiar with this?

    Nate: No, but keep going cause I want to hear this.

    Tiffany: Okay, so when we're scared, we run, right? We have fight, flight, or freeze. So when we're angry, we fight, you know, the list goes on, but it's very narrow and it's specific. Now, when we have positive experiences, it opens us up to a variety of things, like there's no exact action that comes from a positive experience. It could be a number of things, which leads us to build further character and confidence and have more resources.

    And so experiential therapy and specifically performing arts is allowing them to face process negative and difficult emotion in a safe space, but then also hopefully have those positive experiences that broaden them, allow them, it induces creativity, play. It just it, like I said, it broadened and builds. Which is exactly what it is. And that's really what we want as therapists is a broaden and build our clients to realize like there's more than just this initial knee jerk reaction to defend yourself, which are important and necessary. But there's more.

    The Power of Choice and Self-Realization

    Nate: There is, yeah, and that's the wonderful thing about performing arts, especially the acting side of thing because you hear about method actors all the time. Well, there's probably a hundred different methods to get to be an actor. There's different ways to approach this part.

    One of them is like the Alexander Technique, where it's all about neutrality and you have to find neutral before you can do anything on stage. You have to find neutral so you have a blank slate to work on.
    There's another one that's Michael Chekhov, who's all about finding an emotion and then using that emotion to completely engulf it into your body and all over.

    You know, there's hundreds of them and each one of those would pertain to a different person or kid or actor or anybody in a different way. And they would use, so that's, that's what I love about it is there's no one right way to it. They can use all of that to get what you're talking about, to open yourself up to possibility, either on the positive or the negative side. And then once they see where those are, they can sit in it, realize it and say, do I want to be here or not?

    I think that's the biggest thing. It's like the realization that they can choose. There is no good or bad. It all just is.

    Tiffany: Well, and that they get to rewrite their end of their story, right? Or they get to rewrite the end of their play or their script, like they're in control. Oh my gosh. I just love, love this topic.

    Insight and Emotion in Therapy

    Tiffany: Let me ask you this question. What are the goals of your students participating in expressive art therapy? Or have we touched on that already?

    Nate: We've touched on it. I mean, the real goal is just to have them participate and I've really just found that they're not willing to participate unless I participate too. I mean, the people in the room that they're looking to at the most, they need to see some kind of form of reciprocation in it. But I think the real goal is just to push them out of the comfort zone and have them do something that they would not normally do. And in doing so, that journey will help them learn about themselves, hopefully, they're open to it.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Again, growth doesn't happen and comfort, growth happens and challenge and change.

    Nate: On the fringe.

    Tiffany: Yep, on the fringe. And so it sounds like such a great opportunity for them to be placed in that situation.

    Goals of Expressive Art Therapy

    Tiffany: How does expressive art therapy help students gain deeper insight into their therapeutic journey here?

    Nate: The biggest thing that I've found is that emotion like we've talked about. There's a, there's a book called Tuesdays with Morrie.

    Tiffany: I love that book!

    Nate: Isn't it great?

    Tiffany: It made me cry. I've read it a bunch of times.

    Nate: Yeah. For those of you, it's about a professor who's nearing the end of his life. He has ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease.

    Tiffany: Yes. I think so.

    Nate: And one of his students comes back and just asks him a bunch of questions about life, philosophies, all of that kind of stuff. And one of the main things that I took, it's really quick read, but one of the main things I took from that book was Morrie, he said in the book, he says, when you feel an emotion, don't hide from it. He's like, don't hold it back. He says, the minute you hold it back, you're just like putting a bottle cap on something, right? He says, the minute you feel like, we've talked about angry, the minute you feel anger, instead of holding that anger back, fully feel it, let it engulf you. He says, let it just wash right over you.

    Do whatever you need to do in that moment. So if it's sadness, feel sad, let yourself cry, let yourself roll up in a ball on the floor if you need to, because the next time you feel that emotion, like we've talked a little bit about this, you'll be able to recognize what that's there. Okay, this is sadness coming up. What am I gonna do with it? You'll be able to sit in the moment, self-realize, realize what you're doing, what's happening with yourself and say, this is sadness. Do I need to take a walk? Do I need, instead of pushing it away again and just denying it it's there because it is there. You're not gonna deny it's there.

    Tiffany: It's curiosity, not judgment.

    Nate: Yeah, yeah, there you go. And I I talked about the difference in our classes between feeling and emotion. The feelings are, and we always come up with the same definitions, it's like feelings are on the inside. Emotions are how you express those feelings. At least that's what, you know, that's kind of the research that I've done.

    And so we can hide our feelings from other people. We can hide that anger and, you know, I've done it with my kids all the time, my personal kids, you know, I have four daughters. I can be angry and not show it through my emotions. That might not be healthy for me. I might need to find a way to get that anger out somewhere else instead of on my kids. But eventually it's going to come out.

    Tiffany: It usually comes out sideways too. That's what I tell my clients.

    Nate: Yeah, well explain that.

    Tiffany: It's like, I like to say like, it's like a soda can being shook up, right? Those bubbles are in there. And the more you don't open it and allow them to breathe, you know, like a normal soda, if you shake it, It's going to build and build and build. So when you do open it, it explodes everywhere. And who knows where it's going to come out of depending on where you open it, you know, and explode.

    And that's a lot about emotions, right, is that it comes out in ways you don't want to, like you've been holding it in for so long that it's just going to come out how it comes out and you don't really have any control, even though you've been trying to control it. It's a little counterintuitive, right?

    Nate: Yeah, that's totally true though, because those emotions, like if emotion is happening here at work, that I am very, something's happening inside of me that will inevitably come out at home, probably against someone that I really love that I don't mean to bring that emotion out against.

    So yeah, the ability, back to Tuesdays with Morrie, the ability to be able to just sit in it for a second and say, how do I want to deal with this, in that moment instead of closing that bottle can and shaking it up is probably the biggest, I think the biggest lesson that I could give through the performing arts.

    Tiffany: I love that. I think that's such a great example. I think, in regards to more application, I also see that expressive arts is a great way to role play, not only to model behavior, but also expose fears, process deep, you know, difficult emotions, learn new coping skills, and basically you said it much more eloquently than I was saying. But it's just a safe environment to explore all these scenes and develop new ways of coping, right?

    Nate: Yeah. Well, that's why I mean, improv, we talk about improv in acting as well. And the ability to just come up with something on the spot and having to feel you have to drop an emotion at the beat of a hat.

    You talk about Romeo and Juliet, this might be a segue, something completely off course, right.

    Tiffany: That's okay. Go for it.

    Nate: But I've always had the discussion, cause I was in Romeo and Juliet and I was Capulet. I was a Julia's father. And we have this discussion about Romeo and Juliet. They see each other, not 10 minutes, but they're automatically in love. So is that possible? Is love at first sight a possibility?

    And we have this discussion when inevitably we're like, okay, love is an emotion, right? Something you feel on the inside. Can I feel anger at the drop of a hat? Yeah. If somebody does something against my kids, I'm going to be mad. Or fear, I can feel fear at the drop of a hat. So if those are all in the same aspect of love, why couldn't Romeo feel love for Juliet at the drop of a hat?

    And this is all stuff we're learning through acting. We're learning through portraying somebody who lived, well, they didn't even live, you know. John Proctor didn't even live. They would have lived in the 1500s. So there's no way we would have known exactly how they felt. But emotions, I think, are universal. They kind of span all of us. They span all the continents. So yes, I think emotions are kind of the key.

    I forgot where we're going on this.

    Tiffany: No, no, I like it. Emotions definitely are the key and they are, it's one thing as a therapist, you know, I can have someone say, well you've never been through this exact thing that I'm going through, and I can say yeah, you're right. I haven't, yet I know you feel fear and sadness and loneliness and I felt those too. Maybe not with the exact same thing, and you can still connect with people, which leads us to empathy, which leads us to being seen and heard, which leads us to connection, which leads us to healing, right?

    And so what a beautiful way to experience that in a safe space with experiential or, you know, excuse me, performing arts.

    Nate: Yeah, either way.

    Expressive Arts and Teen Mental Health

    Tiffany: Yeah. I think we've talked on this, but how does expressive arts help nurture teens with mental health challenges?

    Nate: Okay. So teens are in such kind of a volatile situation. Teens, this is where they're really, really learning who they are. I do this exercise every once in a while, and this is really the core of everything that I teach and what I want to teach is we talked about positive and negative experiences before and how you react to each one of these.

    I have kids, right? A T graph with a positive on one side and a negative on the other side. And then all of the things that affect their lives, I have either put in a positive or negative category. And then the ones that do the most, the ones that affect their lives the most, I have them put a one, two and a three by each side. The ones that are positive ones that are negative. And then I have them, what I call, swarm around me. So they're just walking around the room the whole time and I give them an opportunity. I play some music and we do a little piece of devised theater and I give them an opportunity to speak those things because a lot of times, and you can get into some pretty deep stuff in just three words.
    But inevitably those kids are the ones, when they're speaking those things, there's at least one other kid in the group that speaks the exact same thing and they don't know that. Teens don't realize that other teens are probably going through the exact same thing they're going through in that moment. And the things that are affecting their lives for the positive, things that are affecting their lives for the negative are happening in other people's lives in that room.

    So they're in this volatile state and if you give them the opportunity to say, Oh, I see you, you know, and...

    Tiffany: Be vulnerable about it, speak them loud. I don't let them speak them softer. I'm like, I play this music loud. I want you guys to use your voices and get it out into the universe, into the room, whatever it is.

    That's why it's so important for teens. They have to experience that so that they know that other people are experienced the same thing and all it takes is a pat on the back sometimes to say that I see you, you know.

    Tiffany: And you're not alone.

    Nate: Right.

    Tiffany: Which is all we really need and want to hear at times when we're going through something really painful and hard, which is what the teens who come here are going through. They wouldn't be coming here, their parents wouldn't be sending them here unless, you know, if they didn't have something really painful and hard that they may or may not want in their life. It doesn't matter. They're struggling.

    Nate: Right. Right.

    Tiffany: That's so beautiful. Can you share a success story that you've witnessed over your time working here at Discovery Ranch South with one of your students through performing arts?

    Nate: Yeah, I was working with this student not too long ago, and they graduated not too long ago, and they were actually on a different side of the experiential program at first, but they had something happen to their ankle, so they came into the performing arts side. And at first, I was, we were coming up on our performance on our parents and our variety show performance. I was just having, I knew they were a great artist, so I had them paint some backdrop for the show that we were coming up with because they were kind of in it late and we only had two or three weeks and I couldn't really put them into the show.

    So I had them paint and then through one thing or another, I learned that they wanted to try to sing and they were progressing through the program and they were almost done. And, so I said, okay, I want you to sing a song for a variety show. And they looked at me sideways and like, I can't do that. I can't do that at all. And I said, yeah, you can pick one. Let's figure it out and let's do it.

    So they did. They sang for our cabaret and then our variety show. And they loved it and their parents came and saw it and their parents, when they were ready to go home, they came to me and said, thanks for finding her voice. Thanks for helping her find her voice. We're getting her voice lessons when she gets home.

    And I'm like, that's what it's about. It's like just helping these students find their voice through the performing arts because I think at times they think they know their voice, but I think at times they have a skewed perception of what that voice is. And so if we can pull them into something that is new and speaks to their soul, speaks to their whatever's inside and gives them that opportunity and give them that voice, that's the goal. That's the real goal.

    Tiffany: You just made me tear up hearing that. I mean, that's really ultimately what we want as therapists is working in this industry is helping these kids feel heard, seen, which allows them to feel connected and can heal and to find themselves again cause a lot of times they've lost themselves. So helping them find their voice that really touched me.


    Tiffany: Thank you so much for coming. It's been so, I want to talk to you for an hour more, but we'll, we'll spare our listeners. Maybe you and I can talk.

    Nate: Another day, yeah.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Another time we could dive more. There's so much to say about this topic, but ultimately, performing arts is so powerful and just personally, I love art. I love dancing. I've performed, singed, you know, studied it and it's just a powerful pool to, in a safe way, to express yourself and find yourself and work through difficult emotions like we've talked about. Such great things.
    In our next episode, we'll be meeting with Jennifer Hedrick again to talk about the next steps when you feel like you've reached the end of talk therapy and what next, and you're ready to possibly look for residential treatment programs like Discovery Ranch South and so stay tuned. We're looking forward to talking about that.

    Thank you so much again for joining. Is there anything else that I missed that you wanted to say?

    Nate: I think so. We cover a lot. Thank you. Thank you very much.

    Tiffany: Thank you so much for joining us.