Emma Levillair was introduced to me—by Stillpoint Paris director Alessandra di Montemozolo—on a grey afternoon in London. Right away I learned that Emma had been trained as both an actor, and a clinical psychologist with an interest in psychoanalysis, a combination of disciplines that intrigued me. Both theater and psychology are sciences—and arts—of the human psyche where meaning is communicated between people—whether actor and audience, or counselor and client—through the nuances of the body, the voice, the gaze, and language. And so, watching Emma command the room as she delivered a few insightful remarks at the end of a lecture in Stillpoint London’s airy Lab, her transition struck me as quite natural: from an actor who carefully observes another’s psyche in order to bring it to life on the stage, to a psychologist who carefully observes another’s psyche in order to help alleviate that person’s suffering. Both require a keen ability to observe, empathize, and communicate. As she describes below, Emma continues to draw on her training as an actor in her bilingual clinical work, including in her use of play therapy, especially with children and adolescents.
You can learn more about Emma by visiting her website: http://emma-levillair-psychologue.fr/ or her Stillpoint Spaces counselor profile: https://www.stillpointspaces.com/counselors/277-emma-levillair.
-Anne Marie Spidahl
AMS: So, before completing your training in clinical psychology, you spent several years studying and practicing theater. Can you tell me a bit more about the specifics of this time in your life and career?
EL: I studied for 4 years in Paris at les Cours Florent, but I was not satisfied with the training—I felt like it was lacking something. We had 15 hours of class a week, and I felt it was not enough. I wanted to take a chance, because I spoke pretty good English, to study in New-York, which I did. I studied at Stella Adler in an intensive program but I did not like the technique. Then I enrolled in a 2 year program at the Michael Howard Studio—he studied with Adler and Strasberg so he was a junction between all the techniques. He had hired very good teachers with various techniques, it was very intensive, 40 hours a week, sports, improv, speech, all of it.
One of the most memorable productions I participated in was A Streetcar Named Desire. I’d read it in French and I felt like it was a bit empty, emotionally speaking. But when I played it in American-English, it took all it’s glory, and I really enjoyed it. I love words and it took me closer to words and their meanings. I also played several times in Cuisine et Dépendance, a modern French play. It’s about a family dinner that goes wrong, everybody is stabbing everybody in the back with insults etc. It’s very fun and I enjoyed making people laugh.
I do not work as an actor now as I feel it might get in the way of my therapeutic relationships with my patients. I feel that if I got successful the image of the actress might compromise my role as a psychologist. Transference is already hard enough to manage in the consultation room, that’s why I don’t want to add interference from outside in the world.
AMS: I am also interested to know what brought you to theater, and how (or if) this inspiration is related to your choice to shift careers and work as a clinical psychologist, or if it continues to influence your work.
EL: I chose theater for the same reasons I choe clinical psychology and psychoanalysis. First, I love words, and as in drama, in the consultation room I deal with words and their meaning. Second, I love to aim at understanding people, their life path, how they dealt with it… when you learn a part that’s what you try to do, and when you listen to a patient you are in the same position. There’s is a bonus though, in the consultation room you can (sometimes) ask questions! Try to do that with Hamlet! Also, I love to learn and I can (and should) do this all my life long with psychology. That’s one of the reasons why I changed careers.
I guess the way I speak might be one of the ongoing influences of theater on my clinical work. I can see the influence of theater most with my work with children, as playing comes easy to me. I also feel like I have a better eye, as training in theater is mainly observing other people struggling on stage, thriving etc. Because of that I’m very attentive to non-verbal communication. I feel like sometimes it helps me to see the undertext of what is said out loud.
AMS: In your description of your work, you say that you craft consultations to be unique, but that this uniqueness rests on a common foundation. What are some of the core principles of your foundation as a clinical psychologist?
EL: Even though I’m an integrative psychologist (which means I take in all the tools I find in other orientations), my foundation belongs to psychoanalysis. I’m strongly attached to the psychoanalytic idea that there is no “normal” person, and that because of that we shouldn’t aim at getting our patients to be “normal”. It allows a non-judgmental space. Also I do believe in the unconscious and its link to our symptoms. That’s why I try to be attentive to the subtext in order to allow my patients to feel in touch with their unconscious, so that it can reveal itself when they’ll be ready to embrace it, and become who they are supposed to be.
AMS: I was particularly interested in the emphasis on children and adolescents in your descriptions of your clinical work. What do you love about working with these populations? How is it different than working one-on-one with adults?
EL: I also work with Young Adults. It has been proved by a research that we are teenagers from 10 to 24 years old, which makes perfect senses to me. I work with people from 4 to 28 because I feel like they are moving faster in therapy. Whatever problems, symptoms, they may have, however how bad, they are not “used to it” like a 40 year old is. Also, I really like how crude and rough children and teens may be, when they don’t like something they’ll say it, and more than once. It allows for more observation of the subtext. Us adults are so censored, I feel like it’s harder to “read” a patient.
AMS: I love the synchronicity of the way you found Stillpoint. Can you share that story with us?
EL: Yes of course. I posted a free ad to find “the perfect place to start practicing” because I could not find anything that I liked in Paris. Alessandra (Founder of SPS Paris) contacted me and told me “I might have a project that you will like.” We met and we clicked right away. The project was not ready yet, but we talked about our previous life and I told her how I work on web content. She was interested in hiring people that had other skills but that were therapists too, so she invited me to join the team. Now, I’m in charge of (almost) everything that is related to the web: I take care of our blog, our Facebook. I communicate on our events, and help our counsellors get there profiles ready. I’m excited because our counsellor community is much bigger than it was last January. We have wonderful Stillpoint Spaces events coming up, a seminar on refugees, social and solidarity businesses—we’re launching a theme season!
AMS: What connection do you see between your clinical work and Stillpoint as an organization?
EL: I guess I see myself and my practice as fun, modern and open, and it’s exactly the same for Stillpoint.