Some Drama Therapy Basics

Drama therapy is the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals.
— North American Drama Therapy Association

Drama therapy is an umbrella term which includes a wide variety of theater-inspired tools, processes, and interventions used by trained clinicians to help their clients address and heal psychological issues. It has been used in settings varying from the very young to very old to address a host of clinical issues from mild to severe. Drama therapy is a creative, adaptive approach in which clinicians utilize and employ different tools and strategies as dictated by the clinical needs of the individual or group.

Drama therapy is a way of working, not a "treatment," meaning it can be effective with depression, anxiety, grief, addiction, or whatever a client may be bringing into the session, and it rarely looks the same way twice. It is a way of looking at and exploring things which complements verbal engagement and can include sound, movement, role play, imagination, and so much more. It is also an approach that generally heightens client engagement by offering embodied and creative ways of engaging with an issue.

As we see with Somatic therapy and Dance or Movement therapy, engaging the body in psychological work has benefits and can open access to deeper emotion and healing. Ask a friend who teaches yoga or is a massage therapist, and they can provide anecdotes about the emotions that can be released via the opening of the body. Or ask an actor how their character's walk or posture helps them access and express a character's emotion on stage night after night.

Drama Therapy also offers the client the opportunity to engage their creative brain in session. Including the creative and abstract-thinking (right) part of our brain in addition to that dominant, verbal, logical (left) side in therapy can enhance our insight, emotional connection and processing, and healing capacity. Dr. Tian Dayton, PhD is one of the many highly regarded members of the Drama Therapy field who writes about this healing aspect of the work. In a way, the physiologically-based and more commonly known treatment EMDR employs a similar notion, as it also works to re-engage the brain in a new way in relationship to troubling material. The dynamic experience Drama Therapy provides can also accelerate the therapy process for some clients.

I will continue to pepper this blog with various descriptions of and information about Drama Therapy, as I know it is new to most and I'd like to help you become familiar with it. I also believe it is an effective and enjoyable way to work with clients, and I hope to make it more interesting and accessible to more folks here in Nashville. A little humor, playfulness, and risk-taking can go a long way in the process of exploring, confronting, and healing whatever may be in your way.

For examples of what Drama Therapy looks like in some different settings, with different populations, different treatment goals and different diagnoses, there are some excellent examples in this article here.

For more information on the field, education, credentialing, and more, check out the North American Drama Therapy Association.

For more on the work of Dr. Dayton, click here.