Hollywood Shrinks on How to Manage Mental Health During Production Shutdown: "Use Your Creativity as an Outlet"

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Three therapists weigh in on how Hollywood creatives can get through the quarantine with a focus on creating content, allowing time for creative exploration and staying social.

At a time when TV and film productions have been shut down, big releases delayed and the entertainment industry largely on hold for the foreseeable future, Hollywood shrinks are weighing in on how creative types can keep their mental health optimized during the coronavirus quarantine.

Dennis Palumbo, a former screenwriter-turned-psychotherapist who says 90 percent of his clients work in entertainment, is advising people (during his Skype and phone appointments) to allow for an adjustment period before throwing themselves into work.

“A number of my patients, particularly writers, are instantly going, ‘Well, now that I'm home I can start writing my magnum opus,’ but they don't feel like it because they're scared to death and think this may be Armageddon,” Palumbo tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I'm suggesting people, this first week, just let yourself process what a change this is, whether you're now working virtually and used to work in an office or a writers room or if you're a producer or an executive who's used to running around town having lunches. I think rather than try to get right back on the horse, I would suggest walking alongside the horse for a week, just sort of getting used to the fact that for the time being — maybe as long as four or five months — this is going to be the new normal.” 

Palumbo also recommends making a structure and work schedule for the day, particularly for those working at home with partners and children, but points out that while writers and executives can work from home with relative ease, actors and actresses and directors don’t have a lot of work options while their productions are shut down. As a result, he advises these groups to use this time for creative exploration. 

“If you're a TV director who's always wanted to direct a six-part series of Les Miserables, read the book again and outline how you might do it,” says Palumbo. “If you're an actor who's looking for a meatier role than the one you're playing on the CBS procedural that you're on, start reading books, plays and finding something that excites you so that the next time you have an opportunity, you can pursue it.”

Dr. Jenn Mann, a psychotherapist and host of VH1’s Couples Therapy and Family Therapy, is also advising her Hollywood clients to start on dream projects and ideas they had long procrastinated about during this time.

“There's a lot of anxiety from people around ‘What does this mean in terms of productions being halted?’ and all of that, but at the same time, there's a sense that everybody's going to be starved for content by the time all of this ends,” she says. “Part of my advice to creatives is have your content prepared and ready to go. While you're on lockdown, you want to create content, content and more content.”

Adds Mann, “if you're feeling blocked, pull out the The Artists Way, pull out something about writer's block, do some exercises, some meditation, but this is a really important time to try to use your creativity as an outlet for stress reduction. We are all under an enormous amount of stress and if you can morph that energy, if you can sublimate it into the creative process, then you will come out of this stronger and better as a creative professional.”

Both Mann and Palumbo also note how creative types tend to be more susceptible to the effects of isolation and to depression, so they stress the importance of staying connected to friends, family and co-workers by phone and through video apps like FaceTime, Skype and Zoom, with Mann saying that she’s heard of several executives who have switched over from phone calls to video calls for more social interaction. She also emphasizes the importance of getting up at a reasonable hour, taking a shower, changing clothes, exercising and “if you're a writer, a lot of writers prefer to write first thing. But start your day immediately with something and map out your day and map out your schedule every day so you know what you're doing.”

Philip Pierce, a producer and Beverly Hills psychologist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy, says he has been telling his patients the story of Isaac Newton, who came up with three theories, including the theory of gravity and invention of calculus, when he was quarantined during the London plague.

Pierce encourages Hollywood types to use this time as “a sort of a period where one can kind of reflect on one's values, and what is truly meaningful. You’ve got this period where maybe there are things that are more important for you to be doing in terms of your work, whether it's producing a film that you thought maybe people wouldn't like or wouldn't be popular enough and to go into the personal things that have the most value for you.”