Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Hillary Hurst '72

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Drama therapist and middle school drama teacher

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

The ancient Greeks recognized that drama could provide catharsis, revitalization for actors and audiences. For Hillary Hurst ’72, drama has proven to be a powerful tool for changing lives. As a drama therapist, she works with psychiatric patients at SageView in Bend, Oregon, helping them recognize how they can better their lives.
Hillary loved drama at Catlin Gabel, and thought that was her calling. She studied theater at Bard College, then decamped to New York and immersed herself in the heady days of experimental theater. She acted for many years, until she wanted something that would provide a better living. Drama therapy fascinated her, and she earned her degree at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Her first jobs tested her mettle. Hillary worked in Oakland with at-risk youth and abused girls, learning how theater and therapy can work together to restore self-worth for people who sorely need it. “The girls shared their daily life through scene work on difficult experiences. We talked about what they would do differently now, and how they now can stand up for themselves.” She’s brought those lessons to her therapy work at SageView with society’s most fragile people.

Hillary Hurst '72 with some of her students at the Cascades Academy of Central Oregon. Photos: Carol Sternkopf


Hillary makes extensive use of metaphor: she asks her clients to think of their life as, say, a river, and imagine their journey—then asks what they’re missing. “People say things like, ‘I dropped my oars years ago in the water, and I allow life to drive me along.’ You let them know that they do have some say in their lives, that they are survivors.”
“My basic premise as a therapist and healer is that human beings want to be seen, heard, and loved,” says Hillary. “In people who have been through trauma and abuse, this triad is grossly neglected. The process in therapy involves seeing them, hearing them, and reflecting back love.”

“I was so blown away by theater at Catlin Gabel. My being an actor was valued as much as being a scientist. Catlin Gabel was a gift to me.”