Magical twist on rehabilitation therapy

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | 6:27 p.m. CST; updated 9:09 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Kevin Spencer shows occupational therapy students at MU how to make a magic wand “float” in the air. Spencer teaches magic as a kind of rehabilitation therapy. He came to MU to encourage students to “think outside of the box” when it comes to types of therapy.

COLUMBIA — "Sneaking therapy through the back door" is how magician Kevin Spencer describes his outreach program, "Healing of Magic." Paper clips and rubber bands are a far stretch from rabbits and top hats, but they prove more effective in the world of therapy.

Spencer, known for his "Theatre of Illusion," which he will present Thursday as part of the University Concert Series, brought his "Healing of Magic" program to MU on Wednesday. Spencer taught occupational therapy graduate students and alumni simple tricks with rubber bands, paper clips and ropes, engaging them to identify the therapy-related functions of each trick, such as flexing and extension of fingers, pinch and release, directionality and visual motor training.


What: "The Spencers: Theatre of Illusion"

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Jesse Auditorium, MU

Tickets: $14 for children 12 and younger, $19-$26 general public, half off for MU students with a valid ID; available at the box office, 882-3781, and online at

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Kelly Baranyai, a graduate student in the occupational therapy program at MU, said she and most of her peers were new to using magic tricks in therapy sessions.

"It's a very different approach to therapy that actually seems very beneficial," Baranyai said.

As Baranyai watched Spencer perform a paper clip and dollar bill trick, she said, "That's not possible." But then she learned it was a pretty easy trick to do.

"(The magic tricks) would be something really exciting to throw into a treatment session," said Shana Pauley, another occupational therapy graduate student.

The "Healing of Magic" came to Spencer when he went through a year of physical therapy after a bad accident left him with a spinal cord injury, and his doctor said he might not be able to perform again.

"As a long-term patient, therapy became very frustrating and boring for me," Spencer told the students.

"Magic became very key," he said, explaining how he began to see that his skills could help others in similar situations. "We were able to teach them (patients) magic tricks so that at the end of the day they were able to say, 'Hey, let me show you this magic trick,' and not, 'Hey, let me show you how to put pegs on a board."

An example he gave from his experience doing the program was teaching a quadriplegic mother a trick that she then talked someone through to be able to play with her children.

"They're not just magic tricks," he said. "They're really having an impact on the quality of people's lives."

Pauley was impressed. "He knew so much about what could benefit a person with special needs," she said. "That's just a really great calling for him to use magic to make a difference in people."

Baranyai agreed, saying his tricks gave a new adjunct treatment for somebody that traditional treatment may not work for.

"It was nice to be taught something outside the box," she said.

Spencer — who also presented the "Healing of Magic" program at MU on Wednesday to an adult day care, a language preschool and to physical therapy students, — is proud of his program's impact.

"It's not your traditional magic show," he said. "It lets (therapy patients) latch onto something and give them a purpose."

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lee cava March 3, 2009 | 8:05 a.m.

thanks for comeing to seward high school. we had a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun when i had the chance to go see your show. i really loved it when you had that news paper and the spikes. that was so cool to see. also thanks for comeing to are school and showing us how to do a little magic are salfes.
by leecava
from the seward school

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