Drama Therapy: Specialized Field With Role Playing, Storytelling, Puppetry

If you try to fix or spice up your life by creating drama, that is not drama therapy. So, what is it then? As defined by The North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA), this form of therapy is:

…the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals.

Drama therapy is active and experiential. This approach can provide the context for participants to tell their stories, set goals and solve problems, express feelings, or achieve catharsis. Through drama, the depth and breadth of inner experience can be actively explored and interpersonal relationship skills can be enhanced. Participants can expand their repertoire of dramatic roles to find that their own life roles have been strengthened.

Although credentialing involves obtaining a Master’s degree in Drama Therapy, reportedly only three universities are currently accredited by NADTA—they’re in California, New York, and Montreal. Some related educational programs and fields, though, may also use drama therapy in their programs.

A couple other organizations besides NADTA that promote and support this type of therapy are the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations (NCCATA) and The Dramatherapy Network founded by Dr. Sue Jennings and Andy Hickson.

Good Therapy explains the origins of this field of practice:

Drama therapy was born out of a realization that some life experiences and wounds are too painful to address through verbal dialogue alone. Drama provides a way to confront these issues through an alternative form of expression. In the context of a safe therapeutic relationship, drama therapy allows a client to rely on both physical and verbal expression and cues to work through difficult emotional issues.

Drama therapy is often used by clients already using other types of therapy but is also a preferred treatment modality by some who serve such populations as at-risk youth and the physically ill or disabled.

Although there are a number of books on the topic, two of the most recent are An Introduction to Dramatherapy (2006) by Dorothy Langley and The Heart and Soul of Psychotherapy: A Transpersonal Approach through Theater Arts (2013), edited by Saphira Barbara Linden.

Langley’s book serves as a sort of primer:

Illustrated throughout with vivid examples from dramatherapy sessions, the book shows how drama can be used in an intentional and directional way to achieve constructive change with individuals or groups. In particular, the book highlights the power of drama as a therapeutic medium because of its foundations in metaphor, power which can be harnessed through the use of techniques such as role play, enactment, story-telling and the use of puppets and masks.

The brief clip below shows college students being asked to do drama therapy exercises:

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