In the play a therapist meets with four successive versions of the same patient. Four different actors play different parts of this person’s self: her child self, her adolescent self, her false self and her real self. As these selves tell their stories, we see “the resolution of the trauma, as the patient kind of comes back to herself,” says Harnden.
Harnden plays the therapist, and also narrates. Students in her graduate-level courses play most versions of the patient.
Harnden says the play is based on what she learned working with hundreds of families in acute crisis at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Children from the age of four to adolescence would present as suicidal, or with other serious psychiatric symptoms. “We focused on working with the families to see what was really going on,” she says.
You Arrive shows the effect parental stress and rage can have on kids. “Their central nervous system goes into a state of ‘fight, flight, freeze,’ where the child feels chronically in danger,” says Harnden. “That can lead to neurological changes … They won’t be listening to the teacher anymore, they’re stuck in that state. The nervous system doesn’t know how to calm down, and that creates changes in the brain.”
External trauma — like a car accident, for example — can cause the same reaction, but the focus here is on family issues.