The Tara Treatment Center Blog

Chris Plunkett, Farley Foundation: Drama,Trauma,& Student Mental Health

stage to screen, catered cabaret chris tompkins dancing

Treating Trauma with 'Theater Therapy'

In the last chapter and epilogue of The Body Keeps the Score, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Expert Bessel Van Der Kolk posits that Theater began with the ancient Greeks in the form of spiritual exercises and “communal movements” like yoga. When we do things together, we become greater than the sum of our parts.

Dr. Van Der Kolk shares our belief that mental illness is often the result of unprocessed trauma.  Chris Farley’s brother Tom and local Director Chris Plunkett agree that theater is a great therapy for general mental-health.

There’s ample research out there saying that some people respond to trauma by ‘dissociating’ from it.  Sometimes the urge to escape traumatic thoughts can manifest as a substance abuse problem. Ultimately, it’s all part of the healing process–being able to get back to reality.” 

Dr Donna Vaughan

The Chris Farley Foundation

Tom Farley and his biography of his brother Chris

Tom Farley (brother of late comedian Chris Farley) will be speaking at Tara Treatment Center’s upcoming Ann Daugherty Symposium.

We asked Tom his thoughts on The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, and his thoughts on using drama as a way of treating trauma.  While Tom leaves the technical advancements in the field of addiction recovery to others, his work with the Chris Farley Foundation has “Offered kids the chance to actually put all this knowledge into practice…the chance to rehearse their drug refusal responses in a context similar to the real world.  Kids today learn all this through D.A.R.E. etc in the classroom, but the real trick is getting them to practice it.  The best way to do this is through acting, improv, and humor.

The cardinal rule of improv is “Yes, and…”, meaning that when a person is acting a skit with another person, the most important thing is to acknowledge and accept (“Yes..”) the reality of what your partner has provided you with, and then make your contribution by giving your partner the best possible material to work with in-turn (“…and”).  This involves so much trust, since you’ve got nothing but faith that your partner will set you up for success.  As it happens, trust is often the precise skill that students with addiction problems struggle with. I get to see them open up–and they all have an amazing sense of humor. Suddenly we find ourselves laughing about things we couldn’t even talk about before.”

During our recorded interview, Tom also agreed to be online for a facebook live premiere and chat, answering questions from Chris Farley fans.  We look forward to bringing you Tom’s video interview! 

“Laughter truly is medicine for the soul.  Laughter gives a boost to our happy chemicals (endorphins). When this happens, it can provide temporary stress relief. More long term (daily) doses of laughter can equip our bodies with more endorphins to help fight off things such as depression, sadness, and irritability.”

NaKaisha Tolbert-Banks, Laughter Coach & Therapist in Indianapolis

nakaisha tobert banks, laugh therapist indianapolis

Chris Plunkett:  From School Theater Teacher to Stage to Screen: Catered Cabaret

“Like any good therapist, a good director’s job is to slow things down for the people around them.”

Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

“My wife Melissa is a therapist at Kenosis Counseling Center We know firsthand how theater and drama can alleviate depression and lift your mood.”

Chris is director of technical services; in charge of all audio/visual elements and is also co-owner of Stage to Screen:  Catered Cabaret.


“I spent the last seven years teaching technical theater to kids in schools. Sometimes it’s the misfits that the theater catches–sometimes its not. During my two years at Carmel High School and five at Broad Ripple Magnet High School, I saw so much growth.

For example, many people are absolutely terrified of public speaking at first.  Some of us don’t even like private speaking at first.   With drama, you’re pulled out of your shell again and again until public speaking becomes muscle memory.  Eventually you realize you can ‘pretend’ in front of crowds effortlessly, and public (let alone private) speaking becomes downright easy.

In my experience, the most important thing school can teach you is this:  Find something you can be good at.  This often means finding a supportive group of peers and your place within that group.  Team sports are a great way to do this, but not every kid is athletically inclined.

I think there is something about acting that helps people lower their guard. When you’re in the midst of a show it is a team effort. It isn’t about individuals up there on the stage anymore– if they don’t work together it will simply be a horrible show.  But once you’ve assembled the right team of individuals who are so passionate about the bigger cause behind a project, they’re eager to put differences aside and work together for a common purpose.  It creates a very strong bond. It allows you to feel more empathy and more sympathy for other people, lets you understand another person’s point of view…for directors too, you end up considering points of views that are completely different from your own.”

Stage to Screen: Catered Cabaret’s Lynn Smith reports that one of the ways Catered Cabaret hopes to serve our community is by demonstrating the mental health benefits of performance to our kids in school. 

Marketing Director Lynn Smith states that Screen to Stage:  Catered Cabaret hopes to be an educational resource for those interested in performing arts. Whether it be schools, theatre groups, or youth programming Catered Cabaret offers the opportunity for groups to take in a show and then get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to be a part of a live production. Guests will be able to participate in a Q&A session ranging from entrepreneurship, technical services, costuming to directing and performing. Interested parties can call the theatre at 317.360.2733, visit or send a direct message through Stage To Screen, Catered Cabaret’s Facebook page.

Chris Tompkins and Chris Plunkett on Stage at Stage to Screen, Catered Cabaret

According to Van Der Kolk, “Trauma is our most urgent public health issue” and things have only gotten worse in schools since The Body Keeps the Score was released.  


Experiencing trauma makes us afraid to remember. The good news is that we can face our fears together–there is help out there.  Thank you to Tom Farley and Chris Plunkett for demonstrating the mental health benefits of drama and theater!