Understanding Drama Therapy

What Is Drama Therapy and How Does It Work?

Drama therapy can be considered akin to art or music therapy. All three therapies require individuals to work through their trauma or condition through artistic expression. Drama therapy itself relies heavily on theatrical exercises. These exercises are practiced in conjunction with self-reflection and examination in order to for individuals to achieve their goals. Drama therapy exercises allow individuals to distance themselves from certain situations and act as someone other than themselves. These exercises provide a safe space for individuals to explore their feelings honestly and without repercussions.

Drama therapy can be practiced individually or in groups, which can engage in simple role-playing exercises. Drama therapists can tailor programs for individual, couples or family therapy.

What Types of People or Conditions is Can Drama Therapy Help?

According to drama therapy provider Julianne Mullen-Williams, drama therapy can help a wide variety of individuals, including:

  • Children and adults with mental health problems, autism or developmental delays,
  • Adolescents with social and emotional difficulties
  • People with learning disabilities
  • People who find using words difficult
  • Older adults with dementia and depression
  • Children with life-limiting illnesses
  • People with physical disabilities or neurological impairments of all ages and physically disabled and neurologically impaired people of all ages

What Activities Are Involved in Drama Therapy?

Individuals participating in drama therapy frequently act out scenes from situations they have experienced or those they will experience in the future. The distance that drama therapy offers allows patients individuals to more easily to explore unhealthy patterns or behaviors in both themselves and others. It also encourages self-awareness in regards to oneself and their relation to others. Formulated situations for drama therapy encourages spontaneous exploration and  can allow patients to learn new skills and experiment with new behaviors or ways of thinking without life-altering repercussions. Some individuals benefit from non-verbal communication methods or exercises that make extensive use of props and puppets or that stimulate the senses.

Where Can I Find a Drama Therapist?

Drama therapist can practice in almost all the same places as a therapist that offers “talk therapy.” They can be found at mental health facilities, schools, hospitals, private practices, adult day care centers, correctional facilities, nursing homes and more. They can also be found in theaters. Of course, the location will depend largely on an individual’s needs and goals for therapy.

How Does One Become a Drama Therapist?

The process of becoming a therapist that specializes in drama therapy can differ depending on where you practice or receive training or certification. However, no matter where you practice, you will need to be licensed and earn a master’s degree or Ph.D. Individuals who are already behavioral health provider or whose who work in theater often pursue drama therapy as a second career.

What else does it take to become a drama therapist? According to Madeline Andersen-Warren, the former Chair of the British Association of Drama Therapists, “As well as a strong interest in drama, you need patience, empathy and good communication skills.” She recommends that individuals interested in becoming drama therapists take a short course in drama therapy, theater or acting before applying to drama therapy programs. Improvisation experience is also useful, she says.

The North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) has a list of accredited higher-learning schools with courses in drama therapy. This list only includes schools that would help you register with the NADTA; however, registration is not a requirement to becoming a drama therapist.  A quick Google search for schools with art therapy programs will reveal even more school options.

If you are considering drama therapy for yourself or someone you love, you can find more information on the North American Drama Therapy Association website or consult with a behavioral health provider.

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