Drama Therapy


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Drama therapy is the use of theatre techniques such as acting, role-playing or improvisation in order to achieve certain therapeutic goals. The client is encouraged to explore difficult or painful life experiences through an indirect approach. This form of therapy has been successfully used in treating a variety of mental health issues as well as some cognitive and developmental disorders[1].

Drama therapy can provide a safe and supportive medium that encourages the participants to open up, tell their stories, set goals, express feelings or achieve catharsis[2]. Although this form of therapy uses spontaneous and dramatic play, mime, masks or scripts[3], no previous experience with acting is needed.

The psychotherapist however has both a clinical experience and a theatrical one. Drama therapists, along with Art and Music Therapists, need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council[4].

Goals of Drama Therapy

The goal of drama therapy is to help clients understand and accept their inner turmoil by encouraging the projection of feelings, beliefs, hopes, fears and vulnerabilities onto characters, objects, scenarios and other materials like puppets, dolls or fabrics[5].

Drama therapy can be an effective tool of self exploration and better understanding the people around us, argues drama therapist and Director of New York University’s Drama Therapy Masters Program, Robert Landy.

“The basis of drama therapy is that human beings are performers of their own lives”, says Landy.

The techniques used are meant to improve the quality of live by helping clients develop social skills, achieve psychological integration and develop their egos[6].

"The work I did in drama therapy gave me the stability and direction I needed to deal with personal issues stemming from child abuse, assaults and rape, and loss of self", says Cathy H., a abuse survivor[7].

When is Drama Therapy Used?

The foundation of drama theory was paved by the Jewish Romanian-born psychiatrist Jacob Moreno. His interest in the arts, the power of spontaneity and improvisation led him to the discovery of psychodrama, in the early 1920s. Although his work is credited as a mile stone in the development of drama therapy, the cathartic and healing role of this form of art was first identified by Aristotle.

Today, drama therapy is used in schools, mental health institutions, prisons and other correctional facilities, homeless shelters, substance abuse programs, college counseling centers and even some business training programs[8].

It has been proved helpful for a variety of illnesses and conditions, from children suffering of autism, older people with dementia, adolescents who harm themselves, patients with histories of sexual abuse, people with violent tendencies or women who experience post-natal depression[9].

''Theater has such an obvious connection to the emotions that it can awaken in people in a way that no other medium can,'' says actress Marilyn Chris.

''Other arts can be more abstract, but with theater you are dealing with communication between people; it has a unique key-in to our emotional selves”, she added.

Drama therapy can also be used for educational purposes for children who are presenting a challenging behavior, for anxious or withdrawn youngsters of for children with a difficult family situation or background[10].

This form of therapy can be practiced in groups or individual sessions.

How Drama Therapy Works

In drama therapy, the client’s creativity, expressiveness, spontaneity, playfulness and imagination are used to enhance self-esteem and self-image. The techniques used are meant to increase awareness by experimenting with different ways of thinking and behaving.

The process consists in walking the participants from fictional to real life material and from safety to risk-taking, with an emphasis on increasing connectedness to emotions in order to facilitate change. The therapeutic journey is eased and strengthened by a sense a gradual unfolding in which the work is paced and progressive, creating in the client a sense of readiness[11]. Beginning the therapeutic process within the creative drama mode is liberating, enabling clients to experience of sense of freedom from the constraints of everyday life.

The fictional realm is protective, at the same time that it enables self-revelation, in a safe and distanced manner. Over time the need to safeguard diminishes. Intense and varied emotions can be safely expressed in the context of fictional roles, scenarios and acting processes.

Experts say that the active and experiential nature of this form of therapy enables results to be seen in the early stages of the process.

“Unlike talk therapy, drama therapy gets there really fast. Role-playing, acting out issues and problems is more effective that talking”, argues Robert Landy.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also made a statement on the beneficial results of drama therapy.

“In the aftermath of September 11th, I witnessed the enormous benefits of these modalities [creative arts therapies] in helping people to express their emotions and have seen Capital Hill exhibits illustrating the meaningful gains through artistic process”, says Hillary Rodham Clinton.


[1] http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/dramatherapy

[2] http://www.nadta.org/what-is-drama-therapy.html

[3] http://www.iacat.ie/drama_therapy.php?epm=1_2

[4] http://badth.org.uk/

[5] http://tschreiber.org/drama-therapy/

[6] http://creativeartstherapies.concordia.ca/programs/drama-therapy-ma/

[7] http://www.nadta.org/what-is-drama-therapy/testimonials.html

[8] http://dramatherapyireland.com/

[9] http://badth.org.uk/dtherapy

[10] http://www.dramatherapist.net/dramatherapy-in-education

[11] http://books.google.ro/books?id=zvfyaVLHezsC&pg=PA483&lpg=PA483&dq=Balfour,+M.+(2003).+The+use+of+drama+in+the+rehabilitation+of+violent+male+offenders.+Lewiston,+NY:

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