Juggling Therapy Project
Juggling therapy project was born in Italy in 2007 when juggling was introduced as a part of the rehabilitative path in a psyco-social centre of a public hospital, you can read more about this experience that is still working.
Active ingredients, uses and directions of juggling therapy
The hospital where I lead the group is in Milan, Italy, it welcomes mentally-ill clients which are enrolled in a rehabilitation program. The clients are called to voluntary partecipate at the activities offered by the center. The center offers assistance by the medical, nursing and rehabilitation staff whom assist in the pharmacologic and rehabilitation therapy. The service is sponsored by the italian government.
Why starting a J-T group?
Because first and foremost it helped me, being a new form of expression, a new way to relate to others and something relaxing and fashinating.
When I’ve enrolled at the university, “Techniques of Phsychiatric Reabilitation”, I had the chance to see various forms of therapies. Theatrical Therapy, Dance Therapy were among the ones that readily cought my interest.
First, the Dance Therapy, for its ability to communicate via the language of body movement and second the Theatrical Therapy for the espression of one self and relationship with others with the objective of a common goal.
This is how I’ve got the idea about Juggling Therapy. Juggling Therapy as something that could merge both aspects present in Dance and Theatrical Therapy.
My tutor for this on-the-job training was very excited at the idea and started right away talking with clients about it. The youngest in body and spirit where readily hooked at the idea of learning something new that they had only experienced at the circus, on the streets or on TV.
So, what do we do there?
The first step was to start building the material required to juggling. We started building juggling balls. Building the juggling balls was an integral part of the Juggling Therapy experience. While we could have bought the Juggling Balls, building them helps get more confident with using your own hands. Off the shelf Juggling Balls could have resulted better looking and even better performing but definitely more cold and estraneous to the users.
It’s Juggling time ...
We start every meeting in a Gymnasium trying to occupy all the space omogeneusly then only by using our gaze, the person holding one of the juggling balls tries to communicate who is going to get the ball next.
This is a very important excercise as most of the mentally ill clients have difficulties looking at others in the eyes. Often these clients are looking at the floor or simply direct their eyes to the emptyness. The clients often find it difficult to being the target of somebodyelse’s gaze.
This excercise makes them move around, look around, try to establish awareness of the surroundings and try to understand if somebody else is looking at them and is ready to pass the ball to them and to make sure that the entire space is filled omogeneusly with people.
Usually we continue with some circle-time. Each patient is called upon to perform in the middle of the circle improvising and using different juggling tools.
They are aware that everybody is looking at them, but they know that those are not judging eyes as everybody knows that he has to go next and everybody is going to be new at juggling. There is no mandated “right way” of using the different tools, everybody is asked to experiment, to try these new, foreign objects that for the first time they have the chance to touch with their hands and that they have only seen used by people at the circus or by artists in the street.
Most of the clients find it really difficult being watched by other people. They feel judged by other people and they profoundly believe that other people may want to arm them or that are conspirating behind their backs and that they will judge every action that they have or will perform.
By design, the environment that they find themselves in during Juggling Therapy time, is “playful”, they are surrounded by people who share their ill-condition and they share the will of being in a reabilitation path.
The clients know that everybody is looking at them just to see what they could do with the different tools, each of them in fact starts by mimicing what others have done before starting to experiment themselves. When standing in the middle of the circle, they grow the awareness that people can look at them for what they are, with estime, interest and comfort.
The clients are invited to organize in pairs to start exercises of different degrees of difficulty with 1, 2, 3 balls. After 6 months, most of the clients, when paired with Veronica or myself are able to juggle 3 balls and their faces truly reads satisfaction for having learned to do something objectively complex, beautiful and that many other people can not do. They are very proud of their achievements.
One of the clients came over one day to confide that one day, while sitting with family friends he improvised and built juggling balls with napkins to play with some kids, the kids were impressed by his abilities and were eger to learn.
The clients are called upon organizing in groups, the excercises are simple but result in really beautiful and fashinating performances as they involve many people. Everybody is required to coordinate with others and adapt their movements to the rithm of the group, everybody is aware that the result is the multiplication of their effort (as opposed to the sum).
Juggling becomes an opportunity to create relationship at three distinct levels:
Relationship with one-self and his own body: Juggling helps in coordinating your own movement and helps pausing/stopping the stereotipical movement associated with mentally-ill clients. They recognize that they can do something and that juggling and playing is just something you learn by practice and passion.Relationship in a pair:Understanding the movement of another person, finding a rhythm that is suitable for both and using a form of non-verbal communication with the other to understand when to start and when to stop.For some of the patient it is difficult to detatch from a the wall of the gym where they would find comfort for the whole day. Getting close to them, shoulder to shoulder establishing a phisical contact and explaining that the excercise will get easier if done shoulder to shoulder helps them overcome the phisical contact which is often deemed unbearable to them.Relationship with the group:Everybody pitches in. Everybody offers his capabilities and his concentration to achieve a common goal and results in something fascinating to look at.
Setting the Objective
Our objective was to do something that could help in creating a new level of relationship, a relationship with things, a relationship with the surrounding and a relationship with people. It is our goal to prepare a show to be presented at next year’s “Ferrara Buskers Festival” one of the most famous street’s artist festival worldwide.
The clients will be exposed to the general public with hundreds of people watching but with the knowledge that you are doing something beautiful, fashinating and interesting and knowing that these spectators are there to watch you do something beautiful and fascinating and you are good at it.