Magic And Psychosocial Intervention

The Tricks of Illusion as Intervention

David M. Levin, Therapist
Inner Harbour Hospital, GA

(edited for clarity by Kevin Spencer)


“Magic arts” or “magic therapy” counseling is defined as a nontraditional, experiential curriculum utilized for promoting student growth. In an effort to systematically explore its benefits, several educational factors and key elements of magic arts counseling are defined. This study examined the use of a six-week magic arts small group counseling module with pre-adolescent boys. The study compared measures of self-esteem and subsequent behavioral outcome measures for students receiving the magic arts sessions described.


The setting is an intensive-level experiential residential psychiatric hospital for severely emotionally disturbed youth 6 to 18 years of age. Admission to the school program requires the diagnosis of at least one Axis 1 diagnosis and each student is prescribed psychotropic medication(s). The entire student population is classified as special education.


To evaluate the potential benefits of learning magic tricks for both academic and personal/social development in a variety of classroom settings or programs.


The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE, Rosenberg, 1989) was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the “magic therapy” program on participants.


Within the setting described, a population of six pre-adolescent boys was utilized for this study. Diagnoses of students comprised in the study included: Depressive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Bipolar Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Schizoaffective Disorder. Common psychosocial stressors included a history of physical and/or sexual abuse, poor family functioning and/or termination of parental rights, legal issues, and substance abuse.


The six students utilized were divided into two groups of three and three respectively. Each group met six times; once a week for one-hour sessions.

A pre-post test assessment was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the program for participating students. Each group took the RSE (Rosenberg, 1989) before and after the magic therapy small group counseling module. The measure of self-esteem was chosen as a construct that could be clearly measured and that would directly relate to the key elements of empowering the child and self-esteem.

In addition to the RSE, student’s behavior progress was tracked by direct care staff or classroom assistants using direct observation recording. Staff documented behavioral observations every 8 hours on student flow sheets. According to Inner Harbour program policy, staff records a boundary violation after each time a student has clear difficulty keeping limbs to themselves, engaging in horseplay, or bringing up information about other students without permission or in an inappropriate context.

These measures were chosen as two clear measurable indicators of students’ behaviors in the school milieu. Student totals for each behavioral indicator were collected at the beginning of the first session and again at the end of the last session.


The results of the RSE pre-test indicated a wide range of responses among the six participating students. The RSE post-test results indicated gains in self-esteem when compared to the initial assessment. Students improved on eight (8) of the ten (10) scale items. Behavior Tracking also indicated significant improvement.


Question 1 (I am satisfied with myself) produced a change in mean response from 1.5 to 1.17, a .33 change in the direction that indicated students were more satisfied with themselves after the intervention.

Question 2 (At times I think I am no good at all) produced a .5 decrease toward agreement with the negative statement with a mean of 3.0 in pre-test and 2.5 at the end of the module. The results of this statement may have been more positive but students may have confused their responses to the statement by responding in agreement versus disagreement with negative language.

Questions 3, 6, 8 and 10 (I feel I have a number of good qualities; I certainly feel useless at times; I wish I could have more respect for myself; and I take a positive attitude toward myself) demonstrated gains consistent with improved self-esteem.

Question 4 (I am able to do things as well as most other people) seemed to demonstrate no difference in the aggregate mean.

Questions 5 and 7 (I feel I do not have much to be proud of and I feel that I’m a person of worth) demonstrated identical gains and positive changes.

Question 9 (All in all, I am inclined to think I am a failure) demonstrated the largest improvement in measure of self-esteem. The initial response of 2.83 increased to 3.5 upon post-test, a mean change of .67 in the direction of increase disagreement with the statement.


The tracking behavior progress measure indicated significant positive gains on every measure. Behavior measures in pre-intervention demonstrated 120 total boundary violations for the six students, a mean of 20 violations per student. In addition, students’ misbehaviors and safety required a total of 82 “time-outs,” a mean of 13.67 per student.

In post-intervention evaluations, only 42 total boundary violations were recorded, with a mean of 7 per student. In addition, only 31 “time outs” were recorded, with a mean of 5.17 per student. These totals indicate a 65% decrease in interpersonal boundary violations and a 62% decrease in the requirement of staff intervening with behavior disciplines.


The “magic arts” or “magic therapy” counseling experience appears to successfully employ several educational factors and promote key elements critical for personal/social development and related student growth. Despite several limitations of the research, the overall outcome of the investigation suggests a clear benefit of using “magic arts” or “magic therapy” with students in this population.