Drama therapy uses theatre techniques to facilitate the process of psychotherapeutic healing. It was first used with clients in the late 1970’s to produce plays and later combined with improvisation and drama methods. The focus is on helping individuals with mental health problems face their issues and grow and heal by taking on and practicing new roles.
Drama therapy can be used for helping people who are in therapy but drama therapists have used it to prevent problems and to enhance wellness of healthy people. Education for such programs require a measure of training psychological training as well as a strong background in theatre.
Drama and therapy has been a natural part of therapy for centuries! Evidence suggests that humans began to make art, music, dance, and drama between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago when they became capable of symbolic and metaphoric thought. Dance and drama were used in rites to create magic and to symbolize myths and rituals. That the arts have been connected to healing and meaning-making shows how vitally important they are to health and to development of civilization.
At its heart, drama and psychology both study human behavior. Psychology studies thoughts, emotions and behavior; drama analyzes and presents thoughts, emotions and behavior of characters so people watching can experience empathy and understanding of the person being portrayed. Dramatic literature often addresses psychosocial and cultural issues and is a natural venue for helping real people more consciously confront their psychological issues.
Psychotherapy treats people with difficult thoughts, emotions or behavior. Drama therapy uses dramatic techniques like trust games, improvisation, role play and even performing to help people with self-introspection and growth to improve their behavior. Most types of therapy talking only as therapy but drama therapy is based on doing things!
Because there are so many forms that drama can take, drama therapy can be considered a very broad field. Drama therapists must train in several general areas:
• Drama and theatre
• General and abnormal psychology
• and drama therapy
Each of these requires many classes, practicing, getting supervisory feedback, and refining skills. Once educated, the drama therapist should be able to use the client’s experience in a way that keeps the client emotionally and physically safe while improving mental health through dramatic techniques.
Using the goals and needs of the clients, drama therapists choose methods to achieve the understanding, catharsis, and behavioral modification. Some methodsare done within the therapy session and will never be seen by an audience. However, some methods are more formal, involving an audience..
Drama, improvisation, role play and performances usually involve fictional work. A client can be a character completely unlike him or herself. This can be accessed for use in real life or it can allow the client to explore their problems saying “it’s not-me-but-someone-like-me.” Other techniques allow the client to explore his or her life directly. A person needs to have good self-esteem because these techniques demand an honest and introspective look at oneself.
Many drama therapists are individuals who realize the healing power of drama due to therapeutic experiences they’ve the theatre; during education or career and realize they can help change people and inspire growth. I, too, was caught deciding between majoring in psychology or theatre and first followed the theatre path. It helped me realize that theatre could be a social change agent, education and therapy.
Mark Gittner : Theatre Performer and studying for Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work