I’ve been thinking more about Wallace Shawn’s comment to me that a psychotherapist and an actor are much the same thing. Aside from it being a funny comment, I find much truth to it.
Exploring background, motivation, and reaction with the characters I played or monologues I studied seems very analogous to my work as a psychotherapist. With the people I work with as an analyst as well as the roles I had played as an actor, I explore how they experience the world and function in it. Both involve how I perceive others and how I function in relation to them.
The difference between the two professions are also intriguing. As an actor, I attempted to merge myself with the character I was presenting which is part of the nature of acting. As a psychotherapist, I have to be diligent that merging doesn’t happen. If it does, I explore whether what is happening could be projective identification – feelings felt by the person I am working with that are intolerable and, hence, unconsciously projecting into me; or my own countertransference – feelings that come from my own emotional makeup.
Considering this analogy between the two disciplines, I can see why acting was always such an alluring profession for me. Now that I am a psychotherapist, much of what drew me to acting is now expressed in my work with the people I treat.
After some thought, what initially seemed like a funny statement from Wally Shawn now seems quite insightful.