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What Is Dramatherapy, And How Can It Heal Trauma?

Written by Sarah Norman

Review by Alina Ivan

Tagged in

  • wellbeing
  • Therapy


Sep 10, 2021, 5 min read

While conventional and mainstream therapy practices like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling have shown incredible results for a lot of people, they may not be what someone needs at that moment in time. So let's dive into centre stage to look at one of many possible alternatives, dramatherapy; what it is, how it works, and what it can do to help relieve trauma or just improve mental and emotional wellbeing.

What is dramatherapy?

When words are not enough

If you feel like words are not enough to express what you’re going through, or may not be quite able to put your finger on what’s off -  you may want to consider more creative practices, where words are complemented by more creative, non-verbal means of communication. Dramatherapy, like art therapy, is one of these practices.

What is dramatherapy?

Dramatherapy is a unique form of psychotherapy that combines the skills of both therapists and artists. The therapy employs various creative mediums, such as drama, music, storytelling, movement, and art, to address a range of psychological and emotional issues. Clients can explore and work through issues related to mental illness, physical or sexual abuse, dementia, autism, and others in a non-direct way, which leads to personal growth, emotional and social change.

Dramatherapists typically come from backgrounds in theatre, education, or healthcare and can be found in a diverse range of settings, including schools, mental health facilities, general health and social care, prisons, and the voluntary sector. They work with diverse individuals, groups, and organizations facing significant challenges, utilizing a wide range of verbal and non-verbal dramatic techniques encompassing vocalization, storytelling, embodiment, and movement.

Types of dramatherapy

Dramatherapists are registered with and regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), having completed a master's level training from an approved university. Many are trained supervisors who offer support and guidance to community artists in arts in health and wellbeing roles. Some may also specialize in particular areas, developing unique focus areas as independent artists or researchers. Many are also members of BADth, the British Association of Drama Therapists, which maintains a list of those registered.

Dramatherapy engages images, objects and symbols, plays, stories and poems. All of these can hold something of our inner reality of experiences. Through metaphor, embodiment and role-play, participants can make significant progress in their process of self-discovery, sense-making and healing.

“Dramatherapy is a holistic, client-centred, active and engaging form of therapy. Sessions include a wide range of creative activities such as storytelling, role-play, art, music, and movement. Dramatherapy does not require acting skills or involve performance, but it is an experiential way to explore personal concerns, express emotions and solve problems. It marries the understandings of Jungian psychology and theatre and play.”  - Charity Miller, dramatherapist and founder of Agape Theatre

It’s equally a science and an art, and it has been shown to reliably improve self-esteem, regulate emotions and help with a variety of mental health conditions, from depression and anxiety to addictions and issues around sexuality and even dementia. It’s for people of all ages and abilities, with no prior stage experience required, and can be an amazing way to get better in touch with your internal self.

How does dramatherapy work?

Dramatherapy employs a broad spectrum of dramatic techniques for therapeutic purposes. A drama therapist assesses a person's unique needs and goals to devise a treatment plan, using drama and theatre techniques like improvisation, role-playing, storytelling, and acting. No previous drama experience is required, and techniques can vary hugely depending on the therapeutic goals - anything from conventional theatre or acting-type exercises to puppetry is on the table!

Dramatherapy provides a platform for individuals to express feelings, solve issues, and manage behaviours. It can be particularly beneficial in addressing depression, addiction, personality disorders, and behavioural problems. The process helps shed light on a person's feelings and behaviours, equipping them with strategies to overcome their struggles.

The benefits of dramatherapy

Dramatherapy offers numerous benefits for anyone who tries it, whether or not they have an active or diagnosed mental health issue.

The benefits of dramatherapy
  • Emotional expression: dramatherapy provides a safe and creative outlet for individuals to express their feelings and emotions. This can be especially beneficial for those who find it difficult to communicate their experiences verbally,
  • Enhanced creativity: dramatherapy can help enhance creativity as individuals indulge in various activities like role-playing, storytelling, and other theatrical techniques.
  • Improved problem-solving skills: by taking on different roles, individuals learn to approach problems from various perspectives, which can improve their problem-solving skills.
  • Increased self-awareness: dramatherapy can help individuals understand their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours better, leading to increased self-awareness.
  • Better interpersonal relationships: it can also help individuals to relate better to other people, improve their social skills, and feel less isolated.
  • Mental health recovery: Drama therapy has shown positive results in assisting with mental health recovery by promoting imagination and abstract thinking, which provides benefits to a range of conditions.

Does dramatherapy really work?

Drama therapy, as an expressive therapeutic approach, has been found to be effective in various contexts. According to the North American Drama Therapy Association, drama therapy successfully uses theatrical techniques to facilitate personal growth and promote mental health. A study published in the Arts in Psychotherapy found that drama therapy could be beneficial in reducing trauma symptoms in adults and children.

Another qualitative case study suggested that drama therapy techniques might work well in couples and relationship counselling, and there is research indicating that drama therapy can assist with mental health recovery by decreasing symptoms of social anxiety.

While individual experiences may vary, and there varying considerations as to whether dramatherapy will be right for your needs and situation, there's plenty of strong evidence to suggest that it can be an effective technique for many people.

Results of dramatherapy

If you have a question about drama or other forms of creative therapies and how they could improve your mental health, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps. Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private psychiatric assessments and reviews to broader mental health care: join us today.

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