About Me (and Blog)

Drama Therapist and professional Ventriloquist with puppets, is one of a kind in her work in hospitals and other therapeutic settings.

I have nine therapeutic puppets for use in my ventriloquism and through them I allow my clients(patients) to give trust. The most professional puppets for my work were created by Mariah Gorevich. Mariah made Chico, a boy-dog with wounds on his face and body and dressed in hospital pajamas. Chico is designed for use in the pediatric and surgery wards. Dudu, who resembles a bear, is intended for children who have received organ transplants, and comes with IV's, scars, bandages and applicable medical devices. Jero is an elf-boy who suffers from attention disorder is designed for youth with similar problems and for patients in the pediatric ward. Gaia, a teen-age, anorexic girl is intended for teen age girls primarily those suffering from anorexia nervosa. Lakia is an Ethiopian puppet with dark skin and big eyes. She was made at the request of an Ethiopian teenager who didn't believe that I would have a puppet to match her skin color.
These are some of the characters who were created for my work as a drama therapist. Through them I use ventriloquism as a means to establish trust with the patients. 
The old as well as the new characters and the voices that I used as a performer have changed their purpose and I feel the need to give them new life in the area of treatment.
The ventriloquism puppets allow the children to open up, communicate and be supported as they feel less of a need to operate the common defense mechanisms associated with typical one on one interactions regarding issues like illness or difficulty.
Ventriloquism began as a traditional and mystical phenomenon. For hundreds of years it was considered as a magical prophetic power by speaking the voice of God or as some kind of possessing entity which channels the voice of the dead through the voice of the medium. In modern times, ventriloquism slowly evolved into one of the arts associated with theater and entertainment. This change was accompanied by new perspectives in culture and modern psychological thinking which allowed ventriloquism to be utilized as a unique form of art. Ventriloquism went from the medium to the actor/performer.
For me, the puppet is a kind of "front line" for the therapist as it engages both the therapist and patient in a dialogue to help ascertain the tools and needs for treatment. This is how the child meets the puppet. The layers of the dialogue, the puppet and its operator determine the depth and represent my therapeutic "tool box." In this special field there is the duality and incredible power of being the puppet operator.
The ventriloquism puppet is an effective therapeutic tool in hospitals, capable of reaching patients who would normally be difficult to reach by standard methods. By observing the puppet, the patient learns new and sustainable ways of relating to the trauma for which they are hospitalized. Any therapists, who work in hospitals and wish to use ventriloquism therapeutically, should receive the most professional training. 
The current status of my puppets is as follows: Chico and Dudu are in the pediatric ward, in pajamas and with IV's after having operations. Taki, the violent elf-boy is in the psychiatric ward after a serious outburst. Lakia, the Ethiopian girl represents color and being different. Gini, from another planet, rattles her teeth like most of the other wooden puppets. Everyone of them has a place inside me, where I store their characters, their voices and their thoughts. It seems like I'm a stage actor who has learned the part of my characters thoroughly, except that a stage actor can stop playing the role at the end of the play, whereas the therapeutic ventriloquist lives with their characters for life.
Today, I work in Israel at Schneider Hospital with children in the Oncology Department as well as with children who have undergone transplants. I also work at Hillel Yaffe Hospital. In the past I worked at Nahariyah Hospital in the Training and Psychiatric Departments. In the last few years I've been preparing children for various medical procedures through the use of the puppets. I've also been teaching children to give themselves injections in a special therapy project using the puppets in the Hemophilia Ward at Tel Hashomer Hospital. Another similar project was with children suffering from diabetes or needing growth hormones and more. I also lecture to educators, psychologists, doctors, therapists, social workers, hi-tech companies and to the Religious Sector. 
In 2014 I led a joint research project with Dr. Swede, the Director of the Pediatric Surgery Department. The research was conducted at Nahariyah Hospital over a four year period and examined the following: The physiological and behavioral effects of using Therapeutic Ventriloquism among children who experienced trauma and were hospitalized in the Pediatric Surgery Ward. The results were impressive and have been presented in different conferences.
I have lectured at international therapy conferences in Japan and the U.S.A. I have been sent as an Israeli emissary to work in hospitals in Kenya, Ethiopia and India. I was sent to Japan after the tsunami event. I have also given lectures in the U.S.A, and England.
I also speak English and French. The puppets speak a little Japanese, Swahili, Hindi, Amharic, Arabic, Russian and …

Greetings to my fellow ventriloquists,

I met some of you when I attended the 2003 conference in Las Vegas, and others may be familiar with me from journal articles detailing the very beginnings of my work with hospitalized children. In the past decade, I have made this field my career, and today I am part of the educational-therapeutic team at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Tel Aviv. As far as I know, I am the only therapeutic ventriloquist / drama therapist in the world who is employed by a hospital. In my work, I visit the children at their bedside, bringing along a suitable ‘dummy’ or puppet (as I prefer), and, according to the requests of the medical staff and the needs of each child, I help them cope with different issues related to their illness and hospitalization. Some of my patients have life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, and some are undergoing organ transplantation. I offer them the puppet as a new friend, someone like themselves, who is going through similar feelings of pain, fear, uncertainty and loneliness. During the hour I spend with my patients, I try to alleviate some of those feelings by bringing them a friend who can smile, laugh and commiserate with them.
I lecture throughout Israel about my work, and as a specialist in trauma therapy using ventriloquism, I have been invited to needy populations in other countries and have even been sent to other countries by Israel's Foreign Office.  
My journey from the world of theaters and the stage to the field of therapeutic ventriloquism, together with the knowledge and insights I have acquired and experienced in my worldwide travels, have convinced me to document my stories in writing. The following are snippets from the book I am writing, and I would be happy to hear reactions and criticism from you before the book is published. 
With fondest regards,
Daniela Hadassy

2014, a foreword, a mysterious illness and the decision to write…

It's been several weeks that I've had this annoying cough. I've seen a family doctor several times, and each time it's been the same – he listens to my lungs and says "probably something viral….it will pass…" but that nasty cough doesn't seem to go away. I feel tired and my energy is gone. At work in the hospital, I ask not to visit patients who are especially vulnerable. 
It's another typical day at Schneider Children's Medical Center in the department where I work. The teacher has been on her morning 'rounds' and is now sending the various 'arts' therapists to the room where she feels we are most needed. I am sent to Room 6, and I head there with my cart, which looks more like a colorful and unusual shopping cart. In room 6 I meet Michal, a 6-year-old girl who has undergone complex neck surgery. Michal is very familiar with my 'Chico', and within a minute she's involved in an enthusiastic conversation with him. After a few minutes Michal's mom leaves the room and I suddenly begin to cough and choke behind my surgical mask. Chico looks at Michal, and she at him…. my cough get stronger and I feel as if I have no air…in another minute I'm going to choke in front of this child! Luckily, she hasn't even noticed my distress – she is carrying on a running monologue with Chico and I'm making his head move and 'communicate' somehow while I'm fighting for each breath and trying not to scare my patient…
I glance at the hallway. The sight of nurses hurrying back and forth calms me. If I faint someone will save me – I'm in one of the best hospitals in the country. Meanwhile, though, I'm rooted to the chair and can't get up. The cough has completely taken away my voice and I have no air. After a few more minutes of terror, I somehow part from Michal with a grunt from Chico and the appropriate parting hand motions. After a few labored breaths I manage to remove myself from the chair, place Chico in his bag, and make my way, exhausted, to the nurses' station where I slowly relax and regain the ability to breathe properly.  
I recount to the head nurse what I've just experienced. She sits me in a chair and makes me promise not to move until a doctor comes to examine me. Prof. Oren comes into the room and I describe the choking sensation and the months of coughing. "You have whooping cough," she replies. "Go home immediately." I do as she says, armed with a supply of antibiotics for me and my family, and with the instructions to rest for several weeks, a command that seems totally unrealistic for a workaholic like me.  
Later, when I had a chance to think about what had occurred that day, I silently thanked Chico for 'covering' for me, for being my voice in our meeting with Michal.  
I knew that I had to write about this.    

2012, Schneider Children's Medical Center, Tel Aviv, Israel

One day I am asked to go to the Oncology Department, where I see 7-year-old Tom, in a lengthy hospitalization prior to bone marrow transplantation. Tom suffers from a complex genetic disease, and the transplantation is the last chance for survival. The decline in his health was sudden and swift – within two months from onset he began suffering from severed brain processes and cognitive damage. Early in his hospitalization, when his vision was still intact, Chico and I visited him. Now I realize that he can't really see Chico, but he listens to the voice. Finally! Another child is talking to him! He smiles.
Chico reminds Tom who he is and immediately commiserates: 'I don't see well either…'. I let Tom explore Chico with his hands. He is thrilled that his friend is back – the only one allowed into his transplantation isolation room. I suggest to Tom that he try a glove puppet and he does, giving it a voice (perhaps somewhat like mine…?) and soon there is a dialogue. Tom is lively and chattering away, talking about colors and numbers and suddenly about the lava deep beneath the earth's surface and amethysts, and other topics unusual for a child his age.
Tom is thrilled to have his friend Chico in the room – talking and listening, but mostly talking. For 30 minutes Tom is in the moment with Chico, chatting, laughing, touching him, jumping on the bed. Finally we agree to meet again the next week, but as soon as the topic of leaving is mentioned, something in Tom shuts down, his face loses its liveliness, his manner becomes withdrawn. His friend is about to leave. My hearts breaks for him.
I leave the room and meet the department's head doctor and nurse in the hall. They have been watching through the little window in the door of Tom's room, and are thrilled over they've just seen. Tom is seriously ill with a rare illness, and of late the staff has had difficulty communicating with him. The doctor asks when I will meet with Tom again next, and is surprised to hear that only in a week… "I live three hours from the hospital," I explain. "I work only two days per week, two consecutive days when I leave my family each week for those days." I realize it's not enough…. It can never be enough.    

Some theoretical background on ventriloquism therapy 

When I walk into a sick child's hospital room, I have about a minute to understand the situation. By the time I'm sitting on the patient's bed (or next to it) I need to have 'translated' what I'm seeing and sensing around me into the words that the puppet will use to converse with the child, what he/she is feeling, and how much he/she identifies with the child's pain, frustration, fear… I want the child's attention to be on the new 'friend' and not on the pain, to laugh and joke and to forget the weight on those small shoulders for a few moments.
A person talented in drawing will choose to be an artist, one who writes well may be an author. And a ventriloquist will most likely end up on a stage of some sort and entertain. Actually, in retrospect, even when I was on stage entertaining, I was there not for the laughs but for a certain social message or educational issue. The transition to therapy and dealing with life-threatening situations was a way to inject real content and significance into the unusual capability I happened to possess.

Therapeutic ventriloquism using drama therapy is reminiscent of medical clowns and the world of acting. The integration of ventriloquism and the puppet invite humor and immediate communication that culminate in high-intensity therapeutic intervention. Each meeting is unique, and carries no guarantee concerning its progress and outcome. The work is conducted on a trial-and-error basis. My most exciting experiences have been the surprises that occur during a therapeutic session involving the duality of my voice and words spoken through the puppet and the patient’s reaction.

Background on ventriloquism therapy

Ogden (1992) contends that a major part of the therapist’s work involves turning impossible emotional issues into possible ones, a process that requires the therapist to be ‘a little less afraid of them than the patient is’. A child’s hospitalization, especially in life-threatening situations, is that kind of ‘impossible’ situation, for both the child and his family.
An array of caregivers is necessary, those who cope well with the anxiety of the hospitalization period by neither denying its difficulty nor succumbing to it (Cohen Mannarino & Deblinger, 2006). The challenge facing the caregiving team is daunting. One of the effects of working in a hospital is the development of anxiety or apathy, and the more extreme secondary trauma and burnout (Figley, 1995), especially when working with extremely ill children (Regher, Hemsworth, Leslie & Howe, 2004).
Combining drama therapy with puppet ventriloquism carries a unique potential for coping with these phenomena, since a characteristic of ventriloquism is the possibility of deviating from traditional human behavior to more imaginative, surrealistic and daring realms. Ventriloquism often utilizes a figure that is an extension of the ventriloquist’s self and who expresses emotional issues in a more urgent manner. This can be accomplished in the dialogue where the ventriloquist represents the person who conducts himself according to social norms while the puppet uses more primal and raw components. In this way, emotional conflicts are externalized and brought to the surface in the dialogue between the ventriloquist and the puppet. In fact, the puppet represents a more exact inner truth than does the ventriloquist (Dessa-Massa, 2004).
Actually, the basic surrealism that characterizes the puppet lends a special benefit in coping with extreme situations by allowing the puppet figure a free rein and expanding its range of containment. The puppet’s daring empowers the child, making him stronger and more courageous in his coping with an extreme situation.

2003, U.S.

I'm invited to deliver the opening remarks at the International Ventriloquist Convention in Las Vegas, travel with Ada my friend. Good thing I didn't know what was waiting for me – I may have bowed out altogether… The huge hall was filled with ventriloquists from all over the world, and television crews from all the major American stations and many international ones. 
I pull myself together and begin to talk about my work as a therapeutic ventriloquist at a rehabilitation center for handicapped persons. I can feel the ripple of interest going through the crowd at my choice to utilize my talents in the field of therapeutics rather than as an on-stage performer. Over the next few days, I am overwhelmed by all the talent around me – skilled ventriloquists, artistic performers, gifted puppeteers who captivate me along with the entire crowd. Surrounded by colleagues from throughout the world, for the first time I don't feel as alone in my unusual career choice. I have several opportunities to share details of stories from my work, and am rewarded with such positive feedback that I leave Las Vegas with a sense of self-confidence: I have made the correct career choice for me and it feels really good.

2007, Japan

Four years have passed since the Las Vegas convention, but I have kept in contact with Japanese ventriloquist Takeshi Ikeda and his wife Sho. Takeshi has connected me to Prof. Michiko Hara, a pediatric neurologist specializing in treatment of children with ADHD and toddlers with Down Syndrome, using puppets. Prof. Hara also founded the Japanese Puppet Therapy Association, whose members are educators and therapists who utilize puppet therapy in children with special needs. At her invitation, I traveled to Japan to be the main speaker at the first convention of the JPTA, in order to share my experiences as a therapeutic ventriloquist in hospitals and with special-needs kids. I had actually been introduced to Japanese culture during my theatre studies at Tel Aviv University, where I learned about Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku (Japanese puppet theatre). In retrospect, that initial introduction helped lessen the foreignness of Japanese culture when I needed to connect with individuals. I was also invited by Takeshi to speak at the Japanese Ventriloquists Association (JVA), along with well-known international performers such as Mallory Lewis. There I was thrilled to meet three other therapeutic ventriloquists.
The next year, I was, once again, invited to Japan to lecture before the JPTA, and to hold a workshop. By this time, Prof. Hara and I had struck up a personal relationship, which is quite unusual in Japanese culture. Following the conference, I went with her to Gunma University Hospital, near Tokyo, where I met the Department of Hematology medical staff. Considering that my Japanese vocabulary consists of three words, and compounded by the fact that it is not accepted in Japanese society to combine a visit with actual work, nobody expected me to stage a therapy session, but I couldn't resist! After all, children are children everywhere in the world, and the world of children in pain and sickness is so familiar to me that I felt completely at home, and that, of course, is the secret to working with puppets. I pulled out Chico who is dressed in hospital pajamas and has an IV connected to his arm and a hospital ID tag on his wrist, and sure enough, he becomes of them! Chico turned to an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair who was obviously not communicating with anyone and began to speak to him in gibberish punctuated with Japanese sounds. The boy examined Chico for a moment, then smiled and responded in Japanese. Chico continued to chatter in gibberish, pointing to his hospital pajamas and IV, and the boy laughed and told the nurse that he obviously could not speak Japanese well! The nurses and doctors who had previously had skepticism written on their faces, now insisted that I interact with all the children in the class (in Japanese hospitals, as in Israeli hospitals, children hospitalized long-term have educational sessions) and then enter the rooms and speak with the bedridden children.    
One of the patients, a 12-year-old girl with leukemia, wearing a wool cap, followed Chico's every move. She examined his IV, his scarred face, his pajamas, and laughed at his funny-sounding speech. Suddenly she began to tear the few hairs from his head, one by one. The nurses wanted to stop her, but I motioned to allow her to continue. She pulled out five hairs and laid them in Chico's hand. Obviously she was angry about having lost her own hair, and wanted Chico to 'feel' the same. In general, I have no problem with children hitting the puppets or otherwise expressing their anger.
At Gunma University Hospital I realized that ventriloquism and a puppet speaking gibberish crosses all obstacles in language and communication. Prof. Hara was pleased with my lectures at the conference, but was especially excited about my work in the hospital.

2010, Ethiopia and Kenya

The phone rings and my friend, a puppeteer involved in education, extends an invitation to join her as an envoy of the Foreign Ministry (department of science and culture) to Ethiopia and Kenya. The goal of this working visit is to lecture and train educational and medical staff (psychologists, nurses and physicians) to integrate puppets in emotional therapy.  
Standing before a room full of people, explaining about my work as a ventriloquist/ drama therapist, I sensed that my audience was fascinated. But the moment I took out my puppets and began to talk ‘through’ them, I was met with surprising and even scary reactions from my audience. “You’re a shaman, you’re either a witch or a holy spirit.” This was the first time I had been called a shaman, but it wouldn’t be the last time.
For hundreds of years in the Middle Ages, the ability to ‘throw one’s voice’ was regarded as mystical, mysterious and even holy, a sort of prophetic ability to voice godly, demonic and other-worldly messages. Ventriloquists were seen as controlled by a dybbuk and labeled ‘shaman’. In modern times cultural perceptions have accepted ventriloquism an art form, thanks mainly to progressive understanding of psychological thought and science. In Africa, however, people have not been exposed to ventriloquism as art and theatre, and the ancient beliefs that have surrounded ventriloquism still exist. Paradoxically, it seems to me that this history is indeed related to therapy with the use of ventriloquism.  
When I spoke that day, one of the physicians from the psychiatric hospital prodded me for details of how I could ‘throw’ my voice. After a lengthy explanation, I invited him to come and use a puppet. He placed his hand inside the puppet, stared at it and waited. I asked him what he was waiting for, and he replied: “He talked to you, why doesn’t he talk to me?”!
Ventriloquism elicits strong reactions, sometimes positive sometimes negative, but certainly no one remains indifferent. In Africa I felt that the topic of magic and ritual was still a sensitive one, even among educated people, and should not be approached. So, rather than discuss it further, I decided to continue with training the staff to utilize puppets in a therapeutic manner. Encouraged to become familiar with the puppets, the teachers, psychologists, nurses and doctors began to understand the opportunities they now had for communication with children.
Of my own experiences with hospitalized children in Africa, the most memorable was a 6-year-old Kenyan boy with burns over much of his body. The hospital staff, frustrated by his refusal to speak or communicate, asked me to visit with him. When I entered the room with Chico, I could not escape the bedridden boy’s icy stare. Slowly, as if conscious of the boy’s gradually increasing willingness, Chico nudged closer to his bed. First his eyes reacted as he stared at Chico’s hand softly stroking his. Then his hand reached for Chico’s, fingering the IV that was so much like his own, then Chico’s pajamas. At his mother’s encouragement, the boy sat up. He hugged Chico, still silent, but his face showed interest and curiosity. The medical staff was joyous at the sight of their patient reacting to Chico.  
Other children began to surround the bed, as well as some of the staff. Someone suggested we sing and Chico began to ‘sing’ “Acuna Matata’ from The Lion King. Soon everyone around the bed was singing and dancing (mostly by moving their shoulders). The boy was excited by the intensity in the room. The doctors and nurses with whom I had been working all week were amazed that this sort of celebration could be possible within the walls of the hospital.
Once again therapeutic ventriloquism had crossed cultures and beliefs. After I returned home, I continued to be in touch with some of my acquaintances in Africa. And, indeed, the educators are continuing to use puppet therapy.

The eve of March 11, 2011. The tsunami in Japan.
The terrible pictures on television of the tsunami in Japan hit a nerve in my body. I email Prof. Hara and Mr. Takeshi and learn from them how overwhelming this disaster is for the Japanese people, and that every new day seems to compound the tragedies of the one that has passed. We communicate on a daily basis, and eventually Prof. Hara asks for practical advice on how to help people cope with trauma, a topic with which we Israelis have, unfortunately, a great deal of experience.
Several more months pass as I nurse my mother through her terminal illness until her death. Meanwhile, I recommend to Prof. Hara to contact two Israeli psychologists who have built a therapeutic program using dolls and puppets, but Prof. Hara insists that an understanding of Japanese society is crucial. “You are Japanese to us, and, besides, you’ll be able to cope with the continuing earthquake aftershocks.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry decides to fund my trip, and send an official Japanese translator to accompany me. Prof. Hara plans the entire program, allowing me to hold workshops and to visit the tsunami-affected areas in order to witness first-hand the coping skills of children, adults and healthcare workers.  
I return to Israel and eight months later, I receive a second invitation to Japan, this time to help set up a post-trauma program. My colleague from Schneider Medical Center, a woman with vast experience in the treatment of trauma, accompanies me. This trip would to be the most stirring of all. We depart Israel with over 200 puppets, as a starting point for work with children in the affected areas. We set up workshops in schools in the tsunami-hit area, coaching educators, physicians and nurses so that they would continue our work after we left. While we are there, two earthquakes shake Japan, including one where my 26-story hotel building shakes like a house of cards.
In one school, I introduce Chico to a room full of children. Chico explains that he, too, has lived through a terrible trauma, and that he feels better when he speaks about his feelings with a friend. Putting his feelings into words makes him feel much better, he tells them. (This was the central message in Japan: to express feelings and experiences in words to a friend or loved one.) Then we distribute puppets to the children, and the excitement is immense. The school’s staff cannot believe the scene in the room – the children open up, laughing and chattering. We had legitimized the open expression of feelings and proved to the staff that our method worked.
Chico then asks the children if someone wantsd to express a feeling that all the children could repeat. One little girl steps forward and says simply: ‘The tsunami scared me’. Chico asks all the children to repeat her words. At first it is said quietly. The second time the words ring out louder, and the third time the children virtually shout. Expression of feelings is not common in Japanese society, especially feelings of fear, sorrow and pain. Even we Israelis, who are quite used to baring our feelings, are overcome with the excitement of the moment. We are especially in awe of the little girl who so bravely came forward to express her feelings aloud. Later, we find it extremely difficult to part from the children who have showed us such warmth and affection and are so happy to connect with our enthusiasm. They line up to press our hands and those of our puppets in farewell.
The school’s staff are surprised that the children have reacted so strongly to our encouragement to express emotions. As we leave, I hope that the educators have really understood that therein lies the power of healing, and that they would continue our method of therapy.  
One school principal insists on taking us to his school, in an area completely devastated by the tsunami. He tells us of herding as many teachers and pupils as possible onto the roof and helping them board helicopters to safety. I wonder whether he is aware of the extent of the trauma he has experienced, and whether anyone has listened to him until now. Across the street is a cemetery that has also been destroyed except for a clay statue of a child-Buddha that remains untouched. I clearly feel how small and insignificant we are in the face of nature’s mighty force, and sense deep pain at what has been lost and the devastating human cost.  
The next day we appear before an audience of families who have been severely affected by the tsunami, together with educators and therapists. Together with Prof. Hara, we decide to begin with an entertaining performance together with a Japanese ventriloquist, and the reactions are warm and enthusiastic. After the entertainment we broach the subject of working though traumatic experiences, and the parents in the audience ask many questions about how we, in Israel, cope with situations of war and terror attacks.  
Prof. Hara offers an emotional farewell, assuring me that we have taught our Japanese audiences about the importance of expressing emotions as a coping method for post-trauma. Something so obvious in Israeli society has opened up a new way of thought in Japanese society.              
Daniela Hadasy, M.A. in theater and education and M.A. in drama therapy, appeared onstage as a ventriloquist for 20 years. Ten years ago she abandoned the stage for therapeutic venues. Today she is a therapeutic ventriloquist, working with children in the Departments of Oncology and Transplantation, Schneider Medical Center for Children, in Tel Aviv. Prior, she had worked with children in other hospitals, including psychiatric cases. She lectures at physicians’, psychologists’, social workers’ and educators’ conferences. She has been an envoy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry to countries such as Kenta, Ethiopia, Japan and India, lecturing on the topic of therapeutic ventriloquism for trauma cases.


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