Play It Again, Ollie

I’ve always been curious about Oliver’s professional background and luckily, he was able to tell us more about his skill set in Entertainment Therapy and how he combines therapeutic work with his natural talents as a performer.

Bearded Ollie copyI started entertaining children when I was eight years old and I always used puppets, music, play, and theme oriented songs in my performances. Of course back then I didn’t realize that I was using therapeutic interventions, but now as a therapist,  those skills are quite valuable. I have been providing Entertainment Therapy to children for over two decades now and it’s been a very fulfilling career with many positives outcomes.

For example, in rural South Africa where the spread of HIV is rampant and illiteracy is common place, I would facilitate adolescent groups and provide psychoeducation and additional interventions with a focus on safe sex practice while performing. Sometimes the therapeutic interventions took the form of a talent show and when facilitating children therapy groups, I noticed that the children exhibited improved social skills and a decline in aggressive behaviors. They mirrored my stance of respect, praise, and acceptance  during each performance by sitting quietly and then cheering at the end of each act. The talent shows also gave young performers a chance to shine. I remember a rather quiet and shy seven year old, who was often teased at school, performed a wonderful rendition of Swan Lake. His mother later told me that was the first time he felt accepted and praised by his fellow classmates because they applauded his performance.

I’ve also performed in England, Canada, and in the U.S. and have integrated lessons on cultural awareness into my performances; as group facilitator, I sing, dance, and teach children songs in different languages supported by my Earth Puppet.  Through musical play, the children name continents taking turns to interact, proudly showing off their knowledge and demonstrating pro-social behavior while the upbeat musical arrangement subliminally creates group cohesiveness. In some sessions we explore the jungles of Africa and meet the elephant puppet Joey who asks the children to help save him and his friends from poachers. I provide psychoeducation about ivory and  the harm done to elephants by poachers and the children work together by using their arms as trunks to blow trumpet sounds to scare the villainous poachers away. This intervention reinforces feelings of empowerment; by saving the animals and saving each other I’ve learned that afterwards the children would proudly describe to their caregivers how smart and strong they felt. Now that I’m becoming certified in Somatic Experiencing, I’m discovering that Entertainment Therapy also supports regulation of the central nervous system, allowing individuals to tap into their own body sensations.; sensations that stay with clients long after the performance.

For therapists who plan to use Entertainment Therapy I suggest engaging the children with content they are familiar with and find exciting.  A facilitator can incorporate competitions, movie heroes, animal naming games or you can let the group choose by picking suggestions out of a hat. The therapist could also  have teams and  have one child from each team keep score on a chart while standing in front of the others; utilizing token economies wonderfully increases group cohesion and reinforces positive behaviors that are paired to positive stimuli. I also find pendulation useful; facilitating quiet still time for about 10 minutes then 3 minutes of activated energy using body, exciting music and dance steps that the children relate to and find cool. An important thing to remember is that the session should not remind them of school- BORING!

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Oliver Olwyn MSW, LCSW combines Evidence-Based Social Work Practice with Performance Art . He performs internationally and is based in NYC.  Find out more about Oliver at

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