David Copperfield has been using magic in his off-stage time to help cure patients. He has designed a program where teams of magicians and occupational therapists work together to teach magic to physically-challenged patients to aid in their rehabilitation. He calls this form of therapy "Project Magic."
David Copperfield feels that his work with the patients may possibly be his greatest magic of all. 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 got the idea for Project Magic from a magician that he had been corresponding with for some time. Once, when David 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 David. "His own self-image wasn't one that had a disability." This led David to wonder if magic could help recovering patients gain the same self-confidence.
In February of 1982, David 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. David 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 David 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, David 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.
As spectacular as David Copperfield's stage performances are, his most impressive marvels have taken place in rehabilitation centers. He plans that Project Magic will serve as the building block for many other similar programs. "This particular program is just the very beginning," he explains. "Project Magic will eventually become Project Music, Project Dance, Project Photography, and Project Puppetry. There's a growth potential for this. It will go into a lot of different areas using professionals from the entertainment world and putting them with the medical community to organize programs that are medically sound and have therapeutic value."