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Treating Trauma Through Shakespeare with Stephan Wolfert (ep. 562)

Stephan Wolfert

John O’Leary welcomes Stephan Wolfert to the Live Inspired Podcast as he shares how he’s treating trauma through Shakespeare.

When Stephan Wolfert was 24 years old, he found himself at a crossroad. After serving as a medic and infantry officer in the US Army, Stephan’s lifetime of grief and trauma became overwhelming. Drunk and suicidal, Stephan wandered into a random theatre’s production of “Richard: III” where his life was transformed when he recognized himself as a misfit like the main character.

After choosing to leave the service, Stephan began examining Shakespeare from a military veteran’s perspective, working with fellow military veterans and scientists, and using Shakespeare’s text and classical actor training to heal trauma and to aid in the transition from military service back into life as a civilian.

Today, Stephan powerfully shares his story in order to broaden the understanding of PTSD and other mental health challenges faced by our veterans through his theatre-therapy network DE-CRUIT.

My friends, if you or someone you love is seeking to understand trauma and how to start coming back from it, this conversation is for you.

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  • “I’ve tried to do no harm and undo the harm I’ve done.”
  • After facing abuse as a child, Stephan found joining the army an opportunity to escape his hometown.
  • An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other adverse childhood experiences. A higher score indicates a higher risk for health problems later in life.
  • While many factors contributed to Stephan’s desire to leave the military, his friend Marcus perishing in a training exercise was paramount.
  • Transformational night: After relating to Shakespeare’s Richard: III, Stephan moved to Whitefish, Montana to reconnect with nature and apply to graduate school theatre programs.
  • Almost immediately, Stephan say the healing power of Shakespeare for not only military veterans but also others who’ve faced trauma.
  • Theatre, and Shakespeare in particular, gives back what trauma took away including our executive committee, ability to self-regulate, and interrupts the trauma response of flight, fight, freeze or fawn.
  • The power of the iambic pentameter: With the rhythmic nature of Shakespeare’s writing, actors are able to regulate breath which is a powerful grounding exercise.
  • “They wired me for war but forgot to wire me for peace.”
  • Military veterans are four times more likely to be alcoholics, four times more likely to inject drugs, five times more like to die by suicide, and five times more likely to be homeless.
  • Learn more about Stephan Wolfert’s theatre-therapy network DE-CRUIT here.

Did you enjoy today’s conversation?

You’ll love my conversation with Gary Sinise. As an award-winning actor, Gary is most notable for his Oscar-nominated role of Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. This role reshaped the trajectory of Gary’s life; not because of the acclaim for the film, but because it ignited a relentless drive in him to champion veterans’ sacrifices and ensure they’re never forgotten. To hear lessons on gratitude, service, celebrate America’s defenders, veterans, first responders and so much more, listen to ep. 128.


About our sponsor: Keeley Companies wholeheartedly believes that if you get the people right -the results will follow. They set themselves apart with a forward-thinking culture that empowers their people and fosters loyal partnerships. Keeley Companies are a proud sponsor, partner, and super fan of the Live Inspired Podcast. Learn more about Keeley Companies.



  1. Q. What is the best book you’ve ever read?
    A. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. Richard: III by William Shakespeare.
  2. Q. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today?
    A. Kindness.
  3. Q. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be?
    A. My Irish drum.
  4. Q. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be?
    A. William Shakespeare.
  5. Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
    A. Be here, smile and accept the world around you.
  6. Q. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
    A. Get out of the army, follow your heart, you didn't deserve what happened to you and stop taking it out on yourself and others.
  7. Q. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read?
    A. His name was Stephan Wolfert. Who done to the and many people great harm and mischief, but spent the rest of his life being kind.