Drama therapy is a form of experiential therapy designed to re-contextualize an individual’s treatment in the form of an applicable and appropriate play or scenario, providing a setting for therapeutic roleplaying, acting, or make-belief.
Drama-based therapy sessions allow individuals to utilize the context of a different character or a scene from a greater narrative to explore their thoughts, emotions, experiences, anxieties, or true concerns without the weight or expectation that might come from conversational or talk therapy.
Because plays are also very physical, drama can make use of an individual’s five senses to recreate a past event in a different context or explore an emotion or a fantasy in a safe way. Most drama therapy programs focus on helping individuals with trauma disorders or a history of abuse, but drama therapy may also be applied in cases of familial conflict, social or occupational problems, general anxiety, clinical depression, and more.
What is Drama Therapy?
Drama-based therapy is, surprisingly, one of the oldest mental health treatment programs in Western medicine.
Utilizing drama and playwriting for the sake of a person’s mental well-being and psychiatric treatment can be traced back to the 18th century when English mental hospitals allowed patients to utilize plays and theater to explore their mental health issues under the pretext of a fantasy presentation.
Drama therapy continued to grow as an idea in the coming decades, throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th before it was finally validated as a therapeutic method in the 1930s. Today, drama therapy is a well-studied and documented art form and therapeutic program, with international recognition and several national organizations dedicated to its continued development.
An essential distinction between drama therapy and other similar experiential therapy programs is the element of flexibility. Drama entails every form of creativity that plays a role in developing a stage play, story, or acting scenario. It includes the props, the dances, the fashion, the backgrounds, the music, the script, the movement, the body language, the intonation, and voice coaching.
For individuals who find talk therapy difficult or cannot express themselves through traditional means in an art therapy program, a drama therapy program provides an entirely unique and different framework by which they might be able to bring their creativity to light, and do so in a way that benefits their treatment either indirectly, as a source of joy and creative coping; or directly, as a means to address or shine light onto their trauma, resurface unconscious or forgotten abuses, or give meaning and substance to a profound personal breakthrough or realization.
Furthermore, this type of therapy can work on multiple levels – among individuals working with a single therapist, in a group setting, with a family, or even between multiple families in a group therapy session.
How Does Drama Therapy Work?
Not everyone who enters into drama therapy programs means to act, nor might they wish to. As a type of mental health treatment, drama may help someone who wishes to explore a certain memory or scenario in writing first and foremost, for whom enacting and performing are in second place.
In other cases, individuals can perform via proxy – through puppets, for example, allowing their makeshift personas to express themselves for them, and relying on their script, their voice, and their hand movements to make up for limited expression. Other forms of drama therapy include:
- Exercises in drama or play
- Improv comedy or improvising from a prompt
- Role-playing as a group
- Enacting existing scenes
There are multiple different elements at play in drama-based therapy settings. Larger groups can work together to create an entire production in tandem, bringing all facets of drama into one piece of art. Among smaller groups or individuals, a therapist will identify different ways in which a drama therapy program might help create the necessary pretext for a therapeutic experience. This may entail:
- Storytelling and writing
- The use of the metaphor
- Improvisation and humor
- A personalized and emotionally charged performance
- Projecting through a character
- Embodying someone else
- Playing out events under a different pretext
- Safely exploring alternate events
- And much more
On the surface, this seems like an opportunity to play at being someone else. But oftentimes, it allows people to be themselves more than they might dare to be in their day-to-day and explore what that might mean in a capacity that they would not be able to in a regular talk therapy setting.
As an experiential therapy, drama serves to help individuals in the same way that other, more popular forms of psychotherapy do, but as an alternative for those who do not feel comfortable or cannot wholly benefit from regular psychotherapy.
Drama therapy may also help people experience the catharsis and relief that comes with telling your story, without the pressure of telling the whole truth. A fictionalized retelling of events can help others learn about your experiences through the lens of a different world or setting or set of characters.
Is Drama Therapy Right For You?
Drama therapy aims to utilize the power of the story as a therapeutic tool. People who might struggle to be honest with themselves in a straight therapeutic setting could appreciate the ability to use metaphor, innuendo, and humor to explore their mental health without compromise, and as a means to help a professional address their issues with a dedicated treatment plan.
Many artists have used the stage or the silver screen as a means to explore their own personal fantasies or traumas. The difference with a drama therapy program is that you get to do so through the help of a trained mental health professional who specializes in this form of experiential therapy and may subsequently continue care through other forms of treatment.
Drama Therapy at Amend Treatment
Our drama therapy program at Amend Treatment helps individuals freely explore the context of living with their mental health condition through the elements of a story, or through the expressional freedom that comes with the different aspects of role-play or enactment, whether in a bigger production or as part of a smaller exercise in drama and play. Learn more by contacting us today!