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Healing with Magic

Magician Kevin Spencer interacts with people during a magic workshop. (Oct. 2014, Maryland, U.S.) Photo credit: VOA/Julie Taboh

Magician Kevin Spencer interacts with people during a magic workshop. (Oct. 2014, Maryland, U.S.) Photo credit: VOA/Julie Taboh

From VOA Learning English this is the Health Report.

Magic is the performance of tricks. It has been a part of almost every culture in the world for centuries. Magic shows today might include a disappearing act, card tricks, or pulling a rabbit out of a hat. But what could that have to do with health?

One American magician goes beyond just entertaining crowds. Kevin Spencer also makes magic to improve the lives of people with disabilities. VOA’s Julie Taboh attended one of Mr. Spencer’s special workshops near Washington, DC to learn how.

Kevin: “Solid?"

Client: "Yes!"

Kevin: What’s the magic word again?”

Client: “Abracadabra!”

Kevin: "We’re going to bend the dollar bill over like this ..."

Kevin Spencer has been a magician for more than 30 years.

“I saw my first magician perform when I was five years old and I can remember then, vividly, telling my mom, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be a magician.’”

But early in his career, a bad car accident changed the focus of his work.

“The car I was in was crushed by a tractor trailer. I woke up in neurological intensive care with a closed brain injury and a lower spinal cord injury and spent almost a year in therapy just trying to regain the skills I’d lost as a result of the accident.”

His accident made him think about using magic tricks as a tool for healing.

“We know from research that magic is therapeutic, but we also know from research that all of the movements that are required to perform a magic trick are the same kinds of things that we would be working on in more traditional forms of therapy.”

Kevin: "Push all the way down..."

So Spencer started conducting workshops all over the world. He teaches magic tricks to children and adults with disabilities.

Mr. Spencer says that magic therapy may seem non-traditional. But he adds many skills needed to perform a good magic trick are used in traditional forms of therapy – physical movement, thinking, understanding and social skills are all there.

“So we’re working on motor skills, cognitive skills, perceptual skills, social skills and when you’re done, you actually have a really cool magic trick you can show somebody when it’s all over with.”

Kevin: "Yes! Like that!"

And that social connection with other people can also help people feel better about themselves and increase their confidence.

Kevin: “One, two, three, four …”

Liam: "Oh, I get it. It's like a pattern!"

Kevin: "Uh huh, five ..."

Liam Shannon is an example.

Magician Kevin Spencer teaches Liam Shannon a magic trick. (VOA/ J.Taboh)

Magician Kevin Spencer teaches Liam Shannon a magic trick. (VOA/ J.Taboh)

Liam has autism, a brain disorder that can make learning and connecting with people difficult. People with severe autism may also have trouble understanding complex emotions. The 10-year old boy says that after he learned a few simple tricks, he felt many different emotions.

Liam: “Whoa! That’s so great!"

Liam says that after learning how to perform a magic trick he felt like an old magic man, a wizard, or as he puts “wizardy.” He also says he felt serious, happy and proud.

“It made me feel wizardy. Serious, happy, proud. It was great!”

Gitra Maitra is Liam’s mother. She says learning to perform a magic trick just made him feel good about himself.

“I think it just made him feel good about himself. Because he realized he had accomplished something. He’d seen it, he observed it, he learned it, and he did it.”

Kevin Spencer says seeing kids like Liam come alive during a workshop is better than all the applause in the world.

“We can be on a stage and get the applause of thousands of people, and that is nothing compared to the smile that comes across a kid’s face and when they say ‘Look! I did it’ and it’s like, yeah, you did!”

Kevin: "Parachute jump out of the plane..."

He says he plans to spend more and more of his time working with people with disabilities. He says he wants to help them discover their own inner wizard.

Or as Liam would say, to help them feel wizardy!

“It made me feel wizardy. It was great!”

And that’s the Health Report. I’m Anna Matteo.

VOA’s Julie Taboh wrote this story. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English and Caty Weaver edited it.


Words in this Story

magic – n. tricks that seem to be impossible and that are done by a performer to entertain people

focus – n. a main purpose or interest

therapy – n. the treatment of physical or mental illnesses

wizard – n. a person who is skilled in magic or who has magical powers

confidence - n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something

proud - adj. very happy and pleased because of something you have done, something you own, someone you know or are related to, etc.

applause - n. approval or praise expressed by clapping

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