Actors and therapy

Heather Graham in Petals on the Wind 2014

“Acting is telling a story, and you’re part of telling that story. In some ways therapy helps more than acting class. You realize why you operate in certain ways.”

Heather Graham expressed one of the most valuable and positive reasons for therapy or counseling: knowing your emotions and inner dynamics better, so you can portray being a human more authentically.

[Quote from our interview years ago.]

Therapy can also help with relationship problems, or painful life events.

Following the breakup of her marriage with Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston said, “I believe in therapy; I think it’s an incredible tool in educating the self on the self.”

Reese Witherspoon and her husband Ryan Phillippe have been open about using counseling, and she has said, ”It’s always struck me as odd that people grabbed onto that story and made it sound so negative. In what capacity is working on yourself or your marriage a bad thing?”

Maggie Gyllenhaal in SherrybabyLike many people who use the experience as a strategy to know themselves better, Maggie Gyllenhaal says she began therapy without a “specific, clear, rational thing” that made her start, “but as soon as I did, everything in my life changed, almost immediately.”

“There’s another part of me working that isn’t the intellectual side – the unconscious – and that was not awake most of my life. Not actively.

“There were times when it would push through, but now I feel I’m really honoring it.”

Katy Selverstone addressed one of the concerns actors and other creative people may have [in the article Soul Workout by Laura Weinert, Backstage] –

“I’ve heard people say therapy destroys your spontaneity, that when you understand too much about yourself it messes with your imagination, and your work is going to become less interesting as a result.”

But she disagrees:

“I don’t think that’s true. My therapy was much more about not being neurotic than about being neurotic. Everybody is neurotic in some way, right? My experience has never been like, ‘You’re going to be like a blank slate, I’m going to strip you down, and you are going to be normal.’ There isn’t any such thing as normal; there’s just what is right for you.”

Claire Danes also finds value in counseling:

“My therapist gives me permission to accept that I’m human.”

Jennifer Jason LeighJennifer Jason Leigh sums it up nicely:

“I’ve been going to therapy since I was twenty one.

“I think the more you know about your own psyche, the more you can know about other people’s, and can play them better.”

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No shrink required

In an issue of her column ‘The Craft’ on BackStage titled “Using Psychology in Creating Characters” [Aug 10-16 2006] , Jean Schiffman notes, “But we don’t need a shrink to uncover the psyches of the characters we play; a working knowledge of psychology can help us understand who they are and why they do what they do.”

Some resources for actors

She refers to the book Tools and Techniques for Character Interpretation: A Handbook of Psychology for Actors, Writers, and Directors, by Robert Blumenfeld as a “historical overview of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy and their uses in creating believable, deeply human theatrical characters.”

And she notes that Doug Warhit, an acting teacher and psychotherapist, “recommends that actors read the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-IV-TR… it’s full of descriptions of the psychological traits that characterize every condition from obsessive-compulsive personality disorder to paranoia.”

While many actors point out they do not judge the characters they play, it may be very helpful to explore the emotionally complex inner depths of real people.

Jean Schiffman site
book: The Working Actor’s Toolkit.

Doug Warhit site
book: Book the Job: 143 Things Actors Need to Know to Make It Happen.

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See related articles:

Learning to befriend our demons.

Pain and suffering and developing creativity – One of many artists quoted: Colin Farrell said he was finding that he is more creative being sober and happy. “I was terrified that whatever my capacity was as an actor would disappear when I got sober,” he admitted. “I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist, you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.”


Emotional Health Resources page

Emotional Health Resources
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.


Article publié pour la première fois le 23/03/2015