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Project Magic is a program, designed by David Copperfield, where teams of magicians and occupational therapists work together to teach sleight of hand to physically challenged patients to aid in their rehabilitation.
The tricks taught in Project Magic functions on several different levels, and were designed to help improve dexterity, coordination, visual perception, spatial relationships, and cognitive skills. There are specific magic tricks developed for varying disabilities. Another, and perhaps, more important benefit of Project Magic, is that it motivates the patients' therapy and helps them build self-esteem.
David Copperfield got the idea for Project Magic from a magician that he had been corresponding with for some time. Once, when Copperfield received a press clipping in one of the letters, he was surprised to learn from the photograph that the young man was in a wheelchair. "He had never referred to the fact that he was in a wheelchair," explained Copperfield. "His own self-image wasn't one that had a disability." This led Copperfield to wonder if magic could help recovering patients gain the same self-confidence.
In February 1982, Copperfield brought his idea to the Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, California, which was recognized by the National Association of Rehabilitation Facilities as the "outstanding rehabilitation center of 1981". The occupational therapy department quickly embraced the concept, realizing that it could offer other benefits beyond just bolstering the patients' self-image. Copperfield began collaborating with Julie Dunlap, the hospital's assistant director of occupational therapy, to develop tricks that could be applied to treat various disabilities. They soon discovered that Project Magic presented the patients with a pleasing distraction from the often painful and tedious hours of therapy, and motivated them to work harder than before. The participants also gained self-confidence by being able to do things that others could not.
The occupational therapists using Project Magic work in teams with local volunteer magicians. The magician first teaches the illusions to the therapists, then together, they instruct the patients on how to perform the illusions. The therapists then helps the patients to master the techniques involved during the following week. After a week, the magicians return and give advice on how to polish up the magical feat by using other techniques such as misdirection and the proper stage presence. "Project Magic is presently employed in hundreds of hospitals throughout the world," comments Copperfield. "I am pleased to say that the American Occupational Therapist Association has endorsed this program as being an authentic therapeutic tool."
Unlike the figurehead of many other charitable organizations, Copperfield is directly involved with Project Magic. When his busy schedule permits, he works directly with the patients and gives seminars to introduce and discuss his form of treatment.
- Fisher, Deborah M., and Fisher, Cody S. (2007): 'Rehabracadabra', ADVANCE for Occupational Therapy Practitioners 23(15), volume 23, 15–18.