Bill Harrison is a psychotherapist whose primary interest is working with people in the performing arts. He is also an accomplished musician and an occasional actor. You can find him at billharrisontherapy.com
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By Bill Harrison
In the mid-1990s I was delighted to discover Dr. Alice Brandfonbrener. As a full-time professional musician, I had developed a variety of work-related physical ailments that my primary care physician had no idea how to diagnose or treat. Dr. Brandfonbrener was the director of the Medical Program for Performing Artists in Chicago, a practice she’d founded in 1985. At the time, she was the only MD in our city who knew how to take care of the specific problems performers typically suffer from. I was relieved to find her and she was a tremendous help to me on the several occasions I saw her.
Dr. B. helped both the famous and the obscure. Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine were among her patients, as were members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, dancers from various ballet companies and countless other actors, singers, dancers and musicians. Sadly, Dr. B. died in 2014, leaving both a long legacy of caring for artists and a paucity of clinicians who knew how to do similar work.
If you’re in the entertainment business, it can be truly difficult to find medical providers who know how to assess and treat the physical, mental and emotional issues most often presented by people who do what we do. The large majority of primary care physicians, social workers and mental health counselors have neither the training nor the experience dealing with people in our professions. Of course, you can easily find a clinician to prescribe an antibiotic, set a broken bone or help with problems you may be having with your significant other. But when the injuries are occupational, finding a practitioner who really ‘gets it’ is both essential and burdensome.
Fortunately, we now have a few more resources than were available during most of Dr. Brandfonbrener’s career. It almost goes without saying that there’s a huge divide among all Americans regarding health care – the insurance gap. If you don’t have decent health insurance with a reasonably low annual deductible it can be significantly harder to find the help you need at a price you can afford. Keeping that in mind, here’s a selective list of organizations, clinics and practitioners you can contact if and when you need assistance:
- If you have good insurance, check with
the ShirleyRyan AbilityLab’s Performing Arts Medicine Program. This is the clinic that has continued Dr. Brandfonbrener’s work. They have physicians, and physical and occupational therapists on staff as well as a list of specialists for referrals.
- Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) offers a limited selection of MDs and related healthcare practitioners, some of whom work with folks on a sliding scale basis.
- The Health in the Arts Program at UIC is an excellent resource for performers’ medical needs, regardless of
insurancesituation. There are a number of physicians in-house and a network of healthcare providers who work with them to provide care for members of the performing and visual arts communities.
- The Actors Fund is a unique service organization dedicated to meeting the needs (not just healthcare) of people involved in the entertainment industry. It’s a bit hard to find on the website, so here’s their Chicago office’s contact info: 8 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 601, Chicago. 312.372.0989
- Illinois Bone and Joint Institute: With several area locations, IBJI offers services specifically for performers, including onsite evaluation and training (they’ll send a clinician to a rehearsal space or dance studio to observe you in action). They have staff PTs, OTs, massage therapists, etc.
- Not In Our House has a webpage of mental health professionals who are savvy about the needs of theater professionals and other performing artists. I know a few of these folks personally – they’re good.
- Chicago Institute for Voice Care: Laryngologists and a speech pathologist who
workwith actors and singers experiencing vocal difficulties.
Finally, if you’re looking for a knowledgeable, empathic psychotherapist, please give me a call. I entered this profession to provide psychological healing and growth for my colleagues and peers. I’m not the right counselor for everyone (no one could possibly be, just like not every actor can play every role) but I can certainly refer you to someone excellent who knows what’s up in the arts and entertainment field if we’re not a good therapeutic fit.
If you’re aware of a resource I’ve neglected to include here please add it in the comments or email me the information. If there are more than a couple of omissions I’ll write an addendum to this article.