One of the newest additions to our faculty, SJ Langer, has been making innovative use of the department’s two-way mirror. He invites actors to play clients and gives students the opportunity to counsel them while the rest of the class looks on from the other side of the mirror. I asked SJ a few questions about this training activity.
Where did this idea come from? I am wondering if this is an idea that comes from your background in Film/Video at SVA.
Debi Farber, the department chair, came up with the idea of using the two-way mirror. The idea for using actors came from thinking about my own experience in grad school doing mock sessions where classmates played the patient. It didn’t have much verisimilitude. You always knew it was your classmate and they weren’t very good at improv. The actors are more unpredictable to the students and thus it makes it a more realistic interview.
Where do you find the actors?
A friend of mine had done medical patient acting in the past so I asked her and she asked some friends who had similar experience. My comfort with working with actors I’m sure has come from my experience in film school directing my films.
What are some of the benefits of this two-way mirror exercise?
The two-way mirror helps the student forget the whole class is watching. It also enables me to ask questions to the class about what could be done differently or what is missing in the interview without disrupting the flow.
SJ is a writer and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. SJ began his professional life at SVA with a BFA in filmmaking, which taught him to think differently and creatively. His clinical practice is also informed by psychodynamic, psychoanalytic theory, philosophy, neuroscience and phenomenology in order to work with a wide variety of clinical presentations. He is on the Executive Committee for ICP’s Psychotherapy Center for Gender and Sexuality. SJ writes about and presents internationally on gender theory, clinical practice with gender minorities and recovering from trauma. Most recently at the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Biennial Symposium, SVA’s Art Therapy conference: Trauma, Art and Social Constructs, PCGS’s Trans*Literate, Philadelphia Trans* Health Conference and was the White Institute’s Annual Pride Lecture, Trans* Bodies, Mirror Failures and the Tacit Knowledge of Gender. His academic articles include How Dresses Can Make You Mentally Ill: Examining Gender Identity Disorder in Children, Gender (dis)Agreement: A Dialogue on the Clinical Implications of Gendered Language and Our Body Project: From Mourning to Creating the Transgender Body.