If you are an avid theatre goer, you probably understand the capacity that live performances have to move you in inexplicable ways. You sit in your seat and witness a story as it unfolds, possibly becoming enamoured with the characters and their struggles. You are invested and drawn into the drama. When the story reaches its climax, you are shocked. You don’t even realize until the curtain closes this story has an end, and you’ve been changed somehow. You look around at the other audience members and you can feel that they too have been moved. This is how powerful theatre is. The stories we see on stage impact us greatly and sometimes alter us in a way that we can’t explain. It is this power that lends itself to the healing effects of Drama Therapy.
Therapy is a treatment aimed at helping participants to relieve emotional distress
Drama therapy is “the use of theatre techniques to facilitate personal growth and promote mental health” according to Wikipedia. The definition of therapy is a treatment aimed at helping participants to relieve emotional distress and other mental health issues/symptoms. It must be provided by health care professionals that are specialized in psychiatry, psychology, social work, or counselling. Therapy involves diving into a person’s life, their psyche, and the external influences that have brought them to this point in their life.
This all begins with Jacob L. Moreno’s studies of psychodrama. Psychodrama is a combination of theatre elements, such as role playing and the use of props, in tandem with psychoanalysis. A professional psychodramatist will conduct sessions involving re-enactments from a participants’ life and situations they’ve been through.
Participants have the chance to face their problems and traumas head on in a safe environment that is guided by a professional. Since the inception of Moreno’s psychodrama practice in the early 1900s, the use of drama therapy has spread across the globe, and has now been developed by practitioners into variations of drama therapy.
The art of “doing” and of physical activity helps boost dopamine in our brains which produces feelings of happiness and boosts our energy. Drama therapy has the same intention, and it is implemented by playing games, role-playing, group dynamic games, puppetry, and using improvisational techniques. The goals of drama therapy today are to foster positive behaviors, improve social relationships, maintaining emotional and physical well-being, increasing self-awareness, and improving overall quality of life. The followings are some of the most common techniques used in drama therapy.
1. Exploring Creativity
Throughout the session, participants would be encouraged to explore their creativity, therapist would “provoke” them by giving them prompts to encourage them to go deeper.
2. Role Play
During the exercise, the person would be asked to play different versions of themselves when interacting with others (sometimes people from their real life). This will let them see the different outcomes each interaction would bring. They are given the chance to gain new perspectives and try different action/routes to approach the situation.
3. Scripted Characters
This is very similar to how theatre actors work. Participants are given a script and assigned a character. Then, they carefully study the character and being to understand them through studying intentions and relationships. Often, participants find elements of the character that they connect with which helps inform their “performance”.
These are improvised activities and scenes rooted in the participant’s own imagination, experiences, and memories. They create their own characters, scenarios, and relationships on the spot. These are essential when it comes to expressing one-self, and let freedom run wild for this exercise.
Telling a story is effective in art therapy because it allows the participants to talk through events from their life in a safe environment. Allowing someone the space to tell their story brings a sense of control back into their life, as well as peace, and a healthy release of emotions that might have been repressed.
6. Projective Play
This for of drama therapy is used primarily with children of varying ages and abilities. Through the use of toys as props, this technique gives participants the use of objects to help explain/express difficult situations or emotions. Props are tools in which allow the children to see themselves in a different way.
7. Movement and Mime
Getting on your feet and using movement/physical theatre techniques is a great way to release tension in the body and get you heart pumping. Participants often feel a sense of clarity in the mind and a purging of emotions through movement sequences. Without the use of text, mime asks the participant to explore how certain emotions can manifest in the face and body. Sometimes words don’t do justice to how we are feeling, and often people feel uncomfortable trying to express themselves verbally. Movement and mime are used to communicate the harder-to-pin-down thoughts and emotions.
Masks are used to provide participants with a layer of safety between them and the story they are telling. It allows them to freely express themselves without the fear of being fully seen by those spectating. It is even encouraged that the masks be made by the participants themselves.
9. Acting Out
This is useful when it comes to addressing problematic behaviors that are a result of the participants’ mental health issues. Participants are provided a safe environment to act out these “negative” emotions so that they can face challenges directly. The purpose of this technique is to find out the reason behind the negative actions and how to avoid them in the future.
How Do I Become a Drama Therapist?
There are lots of programs/institutions in Canada where you can major in psychology studies, as well as training in theatre and performance. There is even a master’s degree program at Concordia University in Montreal specializing in Drama Therapy. To qualify for the program, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in theatre, psychology, and have had drama therapy introduction courses, with a GPA above a B level average. After completing the educational requirements, applicants must complete a drama therapy internship under the supervision by a registered drama therapist. You will also need 500 hours of drama or theatre experience and 1000 hours of paid experience as a drama therapist. Finally, you need an additional 500 hours of training or work experience.
For more information in how to obtain a drama therapy license: