An interview with Dr. Robert Cochrane, CEO & Founder, Yes, And…eXercise! On September 1, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Dr. Robert Cochrane is a graduate of UNLV’s Integrated Health Sciences department. He’s researching the effect of improvisation and storytelling on Parkinson’s disease. He received grants from the Parkinson’s Foundation and support from the Davis Phinney Foundation along the way. He is a popular, unique and high energy Keynote speaker, bringing joy, optimism and practical tools for people in the PD community to thrive today. He is CEO of the nonprofit, Yes, And…Exercise!, which delivers evidence-based improvisation and storytelling programs improving quality of life measures including anxiety, isolation and depression. One of the keys to the programs’ success is participants laugh a lot.
He has a background in filmmaking, with the Artisan Entertainment release, The Playaz Court, and two Stephen King-based short films among his credits. His father, Dan, was diagnosed with PD in 2001, which shifted Robert’s artistic lens to health. He made his first documentary, the award-winning Boys of Summer in 2004. There are two follow up films in the series completed, with the fourth film coming in 2023/2024.
He lives in Walnut Creek, CA with his beautiful wife, two crazy kids, and an old, cranky Cockapoo.
Can you tell me more about your advocacy?
I’ve been at this since 2001, when my dad was diagnosed.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
Helping people with and affected by PD – in particular helping them discover and share their stories. Hope is critical and helping each person in our community recognize and do their part is what allows us to move forward.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when working with you?
Increase confidence, creativity, and communication. Get out of isolation.
What type of training and how long are the programs?
The Jam for Joy programs are drop-in improvisation programs that last 60 minutes. The Day One: Parkinson’s Prison and the Hero’s Journey to Escape program is a curriculum-based program. Details:
Participants: 16 maximum – people with Parkinson’s disease and care partners are welcome Instructor & Course Creator: Robert Cochrane, PhD
Time frame: 16 weeks, meeting once a week, 90 minutes per session. Classes will be recorded so that if you miss, you can watch on your own time within the week. To stay with the cohort, you must submit your weekly writing and read two classmates’ writings each week.
Format: We will present material from the Hero’s Journey and several films that tell relatable, informative stories we can use in discovering our own path. We will also lean on supplemental reading material (participants are not required to read these on their own), including the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown.
What effect can your advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s?
Some testimonials from former students speak best:
I would describe Dr. Robert’s class as fun, challenging, imagination stretching, and deeply emotional. The Doc is amazing. I have surprised myself when I look over my own weekly assignments. His concepts convey feeling and edge of seat anticipation from the reader. My thick skull is sometimes hesitant to absorb new ideas, but I’m improving week by week.
There is no room for any negative thought…just uplifting guidance and suggestions to help what we write as compelling and descriptive as possible. The challenge is formidable, but it sure as hell is picking corners of my brain that haven’t been harvested before.
Our stories are aimed to bring new PD awareness with a personal touch to each individual experience. This is good stuff! Perry
The first Day One class was huge for me; an opportunity to stretch in so many directions, and to have fun at the same time. Parkinson’s Prison is on a whole new level. I find myself willing to dig deeper into the fear and high anxiety that have become more problematic as PD steamrolls across my life. And since I can no longer prevent them from coming to the surface, what do I have to lose? I might as well learn how to disinfect them with light.
That’s a round-about way of saying “thank you” for adding immense joy, laughter, challenges and purpose as I continue “Living Doris Days.” I hope you know what an impact you make and how important and appreciated you are in so many lives. Regards, Doris
For me, the most valuable aspect of the Day One class is increased self-understanding, and therefore increased self-confidence and
self-efficacy. In addition to my own awareness of courage and capacity increasing, my family and friends are astonished at the changes they have seen in me as I have traveled on the Day One journey. These changes are a direct result of the self-exploration that was supported and encouraged by Robert and by my fellow travelers on the hero’s journey.
We all know about the proverbial onion, the one whose layers are peeled back to reveal greater self-knowledge. In my case, each layer of the onion was not easily peeled, which is to say some of my inner truths were so deeply buried they were not easy to uncover. The way Day One was organized made it possible for me to continue peeling back the layers, and while I suspect that that will be the case for the rest of my life, I have also observed an astonishing transformation. This onion has a cake hidden within. Don’t misunderstand me, this is not an onion cake. This is a magical mystery cake; one whose ingredients still surprise me. Courage, wisdom, fun, insecurity, security, happiness, shyness, joy, strength, and even an increasing ability to face fear have combined me in a way that nourishes me in all the best and healthiest ways possible. Somehow it even encourages me to exercise! Rather than adding rich calories to my everyday diet, it provides nourishment like I’ve never experienced.
I don’t know if Robert and my fellow travelers really understand the depth of the significance of their presence on this journey. I do. Even with their own struggles and challenges, their very presence and interest in me and in understanding what I discovered as I peeled back the layers of the onion made the difference. The community we built and the connections we experienced on this journey helped transform the proverbial onion into the life-giving cake. This is a recipe I will treasure forever!
The Parkinson’s Prison (and the Hero’s Journey to escape) course was a drive through the winding, mountain roads of my life encountering dark tunnels, treacherous detours and roadblocks containing my darkest fears, and adversaries. GPS, road signs and guard rails were my mentors, guardians, and attractors, guiding me, helping me adapt, protecting me from danger and navigating me to a beautiful secluded vista of the sunrise glistening off the mountaintops spreading rays of hope that wishes for my best possible life can become a reality. Well, I could have just said the course was great.
But my journey while taking this class taught me that a story is more than just a series of events and surface level observations. It’s about how those events made me feel, behave, and bring forth a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me. Being able to tell my story using expressive metaphors and externalizing deep emotions and passionate actions has lit a new fire of creativity for me. This will enhance my voice as a Parkinson’s advocate and educator and give me a deeper understanding of my persona, my feelings, my life, and relationships within the PD community.
As a bonus the class created a tight lifelong bond with my classmates and Sherpa Dr. Robert. I learned a lot from them as we shared our deepest fears and wishes. We played games, told stories, laughed, cried, and supported each other. An experience I will never forget.
I highly recommend the course Day One: The Parkinson’s Prison (and Hero’s Journey to escape). It is a great way to enhance how you express yourself through writing, discover your true self and engage in fun thought provoking activities. The course is also a call to arms to shout out to the medical and scientific communities that we need a cure for Parkinson’s and we need it now! I hope you can join in the journey! Russ
I think the most valuable thing I have learned is how much more of a storyteller I am than I thought I was.
Also, the story telling, using metaphors, helps tremendously. They allow me to be more free to express my emotions since I am not directly part of it.
This itself has helped me to experience some more freedom.
I believe anybody regardless of where they are in their journey will benefit. Robert is a great facilitator to really engage people with their emotions, rather than just cognition. Peace & Joy! Shabbir
What would you like to see as a future goal for your advocacy?
Expand the programs so there are more stories and greater effect.
How does your advocacy also assist the caregivers?
They are welcome to participate in the programs along with PWP.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
How can others also become advocates for awareness?
Everyone has their own path to discover.
In your opinion, what is the key to effective advocacy?
Pay attention. Listen. Discover and share your truth along with others – we’re better together.
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
Don’t let the disease eat you.
Asti, A. (2022). PMD Alliance: Father and son: Baseball & Battling Parkinson’s. Retrieved from https://www.pmdalliance.org/2022/06/01/baseball-and-battling-parkinsons/