Healing Through the Arts

I am big believer in balancing our efforts to intervene on the pathological side of the equation of life issues, with efforts to enhance individual strengths, talents, and creative life energy. When we solely focus on problems, like addiction, depression, and trauma, we often – quite surprisingly and opposite to what you may think – get more of the same.

The reason has to do with how systems operate in life, and the fact that there is a big difference between interventions aimed at reducing and stopping addictive behavior, and taking action to creatively bring something cool into the world that gives your life meaning and purpose.

One of my favorite books on this topic is The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz. He says:

There is a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away – the problem.  

Creating is taking action to have something come into being – the creation.

He goes on in the book to explain how the actions are very different, and why spending time creating cool things may in fact lead to better outcomes than focusing on getting addiction to go away. Now I say all of this because I believe one of the most creative, inspiring and healing forces in life can be found in theater.

Yes, you heard me correctly, theater!

Whether you watch theater, decide to get into acting, or engage in set design, lighting or some other aspect of the production, being involved in theater is a way for the soul to nourish creative desires. While I am fortunate to have the opportunity to experience amazing theater multiple times a year in New York City.

I can honestly say that theater in my home town of Portland, Oregon rivals the best of what I have seen on Broadway. Some of the most amazing productions come from Portland Center Stage that recently put together the following video in honor of theater and all that it can provide us. Enjoy!



  1. says

    Hi John,
    I agree; our approach to healing addiction and other problems should not omit creativity. The 2012 movie ‘Ceasar must die’ shows this perfectly; it follows a group of Italian inmates as they struggle to re-live some of their traumas while preparing a fantastic performance of this classic art piece. The play brings ‘something cool into their world that gives their life meaning and purpose’. Cheers, @janklimas

  2. Hannah Maxson says

    Thank you for this insightful read. I totally agree with you on the creativity thinking. In order to address a problem, trying to solve the problem straight on won’t do the trick, but being creative about the approach. I took a creativity class last term and one of the concepts was to think like an archeologists. In order to find the issue at hand, there needs to be some creative thinking involved, which requires digging for information.

    One of the examples using this perspective is to address the whys, not the what. For example, there is a village where boys are getting education and girls aren’t. Asking what the problem is might seem straightforward. However, it’s asking why that puts a whole new twist on the issue. Why aren’t these girls getting the education? Reason was there was a high mortality rate for mothers giving birth. So the girls had to stay to take care of housework and child caring, instead of getting an education. The real issue here was that girls weren’t able to get education; it was the death rates among mothers giving birth.

  3. Carmen says

    I loved this ideology and feel that the more individual thinking is done regarding the management of addiction the more success will be achieved. What I began thinking about as I read this short post was the question: “what drives my life?” The answer, passion. I enjoy living a healthy and productive life because I have passion for what I am involved in. Theater is a great community, and encourages creative thinking, self-efficacy, and of course passion. I am no longer involved in the theater, my passion is athletics and endurance challenges. It drives me, gives energy to me life and leaves me feeling full-filled. This makes it easier for me to resist the many harmful temptations the world has to offer, nor do I have the time or inclination to obsess over any perceived problems in my life. I have been rewarded for having put good into the world by receiving good in return, for me it has always been that simple.

  4. Geoffrey J. says

    I agree. Finding an artistic muse can contribute to ending the cycles of dependence. There is something to be said about stimulating the brain’s creativity and that satisfaction can replace a form of chemical dependency. These ideas help to strengthen arguments for supporting addicts in ways other then treating them chemically. I remember hearing an episode of Snap Judgment on NPR about a group in England fighting homelessness by introducing them to opera (http://snapjudgment.org/homeless-opera). These groups of homeless people received support from the community and found a community amongst themselves with support from this program. I believe communities everywhere can benefit from creative groups such as these.

    Geoffrey J.

  5. admin says

    I agree, passion is a very important key in life. I might suggest reading “The Rhythm of Life” by Matthew Kelly – very much about passion.


  6. says

    Theater, Music, Arts of any sorts as well as physical activity are all good ways for addicts to help themselves to stay focused on sobriety. Creativity helps a person to feel good about themselves when they see what they have created. Theater isn’t easy, it involves memory, can even be physical, musical, many aspects of theater can be a helpful tool for overcoming addiction through creativity.

  7. Serge Wiyalika says

    I can relate to the power of creativity that theater has. I do write drama play and play some character in them too for a local church in Portland. being the person that everyone are relaying on to bring the next big idea to stage is great thing. it is combination of creativity and inspiration. it like one has drive force withing that push you to the limit and bring out the best in you. Changing from different life reality in a matter of minute. it take ours of rehearsal and practice but when you look at the end product it just beautiful. sometime you wonder if you were they one putting the all show together. it can help one get over the addictive behavior. we may ask you to live your life viewing like it was play where you didn’t need any of the stuff that you were using before. it is wake up call because once you do that people do change their perception and idea about how their life should be like following the example displayed in the scene. it is great way to embrace creativity.

  8. Haneen says

    I think that theater and the art of acting is a very big form of healing espeically for somebody with an addiction. I believe that having a goal or a passion is something that can prevent someone from becoming addcited in the first place. Because if you have a goal and you are gong for your goals in life you will not let something like addiction take hold of you unless it has already taken hold of you. That being said sometimes taking your craft to serisouly is not good take in point Heath Ledger who got so good at his character the joker that he had to self medicate so there is a darkness to acting. That could lead to addiction but I think that as long as you have support it should be fine.

  9. John Hoang says

    I have lived in Portland my whole life and I’ve never been to a theater show. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of theater. I’m not a great actor, and I hate memorizing lines. That’s probably why theater doesn’t interest me enough to do or watch it. But when I read in your blog and you said, “Theater is a way for the soul to nourish creative desires” it caught my attention that I might’ve been wrong. As a Psychology major, it does make sense for me that theater is one of the most creative, inspiring and healing forces. I have really not have thought of theater like that before. By the way, I enjoyed the clip and it was exciting for me to hear you say Portland rivaled against Broadway. Maybe sometime soon I will visit the theater near Portland State University.

  10. admin says

    I really encourage you do so! Why do you think it has never interested you? I know there is a lot of crappy theater, but it’s the plays that make me laugh, cry and stand up that keep me coming back for more. PDX really is an amazing place for theater, hope to see you there.


  11. Ariana Wight says

    I think that breaking the norm of treatment should be encouraged and I think that it has the possibility to change the stereotypical outcomes associated with addiction type problems. Getting involved with theater gives people an outlet for their emotions will give some a new meaning to their life.

  12. Danielle Sahli says

    Reading your posts honestly make me think different about how there are many different ways for an addict to begin the healing process. I always thought there is only one way someone can overcome an addiction was by rehab, but you made me realize it’s more than just that, it’s finding the root cause of why this addiction even began. Also you made me realize that theatre is a great thing in helping someone overcome addiction, seeing things in different perspective. Also by making one feel they have a talent, being creative, and seeing that they can enhance there abilities and strengths and see more to life. Having something in your life you can admire and be so passionate about can help overcome ones addiction.

  13. says

    Danielle, thanks for the nice feedback! Yes, there are many paths to healing, and no one path that outshines all others. This is good because it means those who struggle have options, thus our intervention goal should be to help match people with a path that makes sense for them. And including theater is always a plus in my book!


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