Psychiatry professor Matthew Goldenberg ’99 MED ’03 is looking to bring award-winning Broadway productions, like “Dear Evan Hansen,” to medical school classrooms.

In an article published in the journal Academic Psychiatry on July 22, Goldenberg discussed the utility of Broadway musicals in psychiatric education. Medical schools around the country are exploring alternative teaching methods, and musicals can be effectively used in the classroom to teach themes related to mental health, Goldenberg argued.

“I am looking for ways to engage learners, specifically medical students,” said Goldenberg. “One of the things that is true of adult learners is the need to think outside the box of a traditional lecture format and find multimedia ways of engagement.”

Historically, musical theater has not been used by medical educators as a resource. Goldenberg speculated that this is because it has been viewed as “escapist entertainment.” He also noted that for pragmatic reasons, musical theater is less accessible than television and movies and thus, educators might be less familiar with these works.

Still, Goldenberg pointed to the recent rise of national musical tours and the transformation of musicals into movies to argue that the genre is now more accessible than ever. With platforms like YouTube and Spotify, show tunes and clips are accessible to everyone at all times, Goldenberg said.

Musicals such as “Dear Evan Hansen” discuss difficult mental health topics from various perspectives — such as those of teenagers and their parents — and educate the audience on how mental illness can impact family dynamics.

“At first I thought the play was about Evan Hansen’s mental health, but then after watching it, I learned so much about the other characters, including the girl named Alana,” said Eden Mendelsohn ’21, who is double majoring in economics and theater studies. “At first, she wanted to start a campaign for the boy who committed suicide, but then as you watch more, it is clear that it is a coping mechanism.”

But not all musicals have to be centered around mental health to be useful for classrooms, Goldenberg argued. For example, Goldenberg pointed to the song “Turn It Off” from The Book of Mormon, which teaches psychological concepts such as suppression, repression, displacement, avoidance, projection and reaction formation.

“As actors performing in pieces that will inform conversations about mental health, we have a responsibility to make choices that are conscious but not just telegraphing what our intent is,”  said David DeRuiter ’23, a potential theater studies major. “What compels the audience to be involved through emotion is one that reminds people of who they know. It is important to make the symptoms of mental health palpable but real.”

Goldenberg is not alone in calling for alternative teaching methods in medical education. In the 2016–17 school year, the School of Medicine offered a psychiatry elective that used fairy tales for medical students and psychiatry residents. And at the national conference Goldenberg attended, presenters discussed the role of media in science education, Goldenberg said.

“The content is becoming more relevant,” said Goldenberg. “A lot more shows are dealing with psychologically minded subjects that are more informed, making the content even more easily adaptable to psychiatric education.”

In 2013, Goldenberg authored the book “A is for the Artisanal: An Alphabet Book for the Hip, Modern Baby.”


Tamar Geller |