Michelle Sherman, PhD, LP, ABPP, has combined two disparate passions in her life to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. She practically grew up in a dancing studio, and music and theater have always played an important role in her life. Now, she works as a clinical psychologist at Broadway Family Medicine Clinic in North Minneapolis.

Before COVID-19, Dr. Sherman wondered how musical theater could be a way to decrease stigma, increase understanding, spark dialogue and increase empathy surrounding mental illness—both for the audience members and the production team. So, she completed a funded research project where she interviewed theatre professionals (actors, directors, etc.) to explore their experiences and perspectives. The participants believe strongly that their art is a way to powerfully educate and engage the community surrounding mental health. Further, they shared that behavioral health professionals could play an important role in helping the actors address these themes accurately and sensitively. 

Once COVID-19 began to spread, it was clear that many different industries and their workers would suffer, including the performing arts. Dr. Sherman recognized that many would be dealing with unemployment, especially with many side endeavors also being shut down, such as working in schools and restaurants.

With ties already established in the industry, she found a way to help. Although the research interviews were not focused on COVID-19, some participants spontaneously shared considerable challenges given the abrupt changes in the industry and subsequent loss of jobs.

It was really humbling to hear their voices and their pain, so I thought this would be an opportunity to give back and support them during this difficult time.

Dr. Sherman

In response to these interviews, Dr. Sherman launched a weekly, free virtual support group to help theatre professionals cope with stress, anxiety, loss or anything else that may be affecting their mental health during the pandemic. 

The support group sessions are semi-structured and offer a place for safe, confidential and mutual support. Participants have the opportunity to share their feelings and experiences at the beginning of each session followed by an open discussion about a specific topic. Topics range from how to remain creative during difficult times, how to stay connected to a sense of purpose and gratitude and how to cope with loss. Group members share their reactions to each topic, and each session ends with a brief meditation.

So far, the group has met every Tuesday since April and will continue to do so as long as interest remains. Any adult theatre professional (which may include professional dancers, singers, actors, etc) is welcome. For more information, please contact Dr. Sherman via email: sherman@umn.edu.