Physical therapy is an honest, tried and tested approach to addressing injuries and there’s really no magic involved. But it didn’t seem that way in 1988 when professional magician Kevin Spencer was nearly killed in a car crash.
He survived, but with extensive spinal cord and head injuries, and doctors told him he might never be able to perform magic again. Spencer was determined, though, and got into a comprehensive physical therapy program … and eventually he came back to be able to pursue the craft he loved.
Now he’s founded a program that encourages people involved in physical therapy to keep moving forward. With the Healing of Magic, a program that uses magic tricks as physical therapy, Spencer has dedicated his life to raising awareness about its benefits. He calls it “psychosocial rehabilitation,” and travels the country demonstrating his shows at clinics.
Attendees learn how to put together “magical knots,” float wands, and perform tricks with rubber bands on their fingers. All of these activities involve touches of the magician’s trade, but they’re also a joyful way to engage in therapy.
Making therapy fun
Particularly popular with kids, Spencer shines when he demonstrates how magic can help with hand dexterity, core strength, balance, and coordination. But it’s not just kids who thrill to Spencer and his program; adults are also happy to have something different to look forward to.
Spencer admits there will always be frustrating obstacles when you have to engage in physical therapy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include some fun in the mix. In fact, as with anything else, individuals are more likely to give something their all, and succeed, if they enjoy it.
Most recently, Spencer was teaching a workshop at the University of Iowa, where he showed off illusions and then did what no magician is ever supposed to do: revealed how his trick works. It’s refreshing to see how the magic really happens, he said, and Spencer told the crowd: “I love sitting back and watching you guys do these tricks; you laugh, you’re engaged. Now put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s going through therapy.”
In addition to workshops, Spencer also offers one-on-one support as a complimentary service to patients, such as an elderly man who lost all motivation after a particularly long and frustrating journey. Spencer said that as soon as magic was introduced, the patient was excited to learn because he wanted to impress his grandchildren.
The University of Iowa’s Chair of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitative Sciences observed: “This is powerful, the interface between any treatment and being effective on humans is motivating them.”
This isn’t the only trick Spencer has up his sleeve. He’s also founded the Hocus Focus program, which introduces magic to the classroom in order to motivate students with learning disabilities. As a member of the UI physical therapy faculty, Spencer has traveled around the state, demonstrating his tactics and garnering new fans along the way.
The success stories he shares are priceless, sometimes shocking, and really do work magic when it comes to giving patients a breath of fresh air and encouragement that physical therapy not only works, but it can even be fun.