What does a Drama Therapist do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A drama therapist combines techniques from the dramatic arts with psychotherapy to help clients achieve therapeutic goals. Drama therapy dates to the mid 20th century and several professional organizations which advance the cause of drama therapy were founded in the 1970s. People who are interested in pursuing careers as drama therapists can receive training at several colleges and universities, and may also have an opportunity to work with practicing drama therapists to practice their skills.

Drama therapy may involve the use of puppets.
Drama therapy may involve the use of puppets.

Many different theater arts techniques can be integrated into drama therapy sessions. These include scripted activities, improvisation, role plays, puppetry, pantomime, masks, or even work on scene design and staging. A drama therapist assesses the needs of an individual client to determine which techniques would be most appropriate, and how to apply them.

A drama therapist may help a person cope with the stress related to a traumatic experience.
A drama therapist may help a person cope with the stress related to a traumatic experience.

Sometimes, a drama therapist may work with a group. Group therapy is often a part of treatment programs at institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and mental health facilities. People who are not institutionalized can also benefit from group therapy, and may be recommended to such programs by their doctors and therapists. In group therapy, the drama therapist facilitates breakthroughs, helps people work through traumas, builds trust among group members, and encourages all members of the group to participate so that they can experience personal growth.

Drama therapist may work with groups of all sizes, including couples.
Drama therapist may work with groups of all sizes, including couples.

Drama therapists can also work with smaller groups, such as families or couples. Sometimes a drama therapist may be called into a location like a classroom or an office in the wake of a traumatic event to help people process the trauma. The drama therapist can help members of a group feel more comfortable again and provided focused, directed therapy which addresses the trauma that the members of the group experienced together.

Drama therapists often work in a group setting.
Drama therapists often work in a group setting.

It is also possible to work with a drama therapist on a one on one basis. Some patients benefit from using drama as a method of expression, and may find that they can work towards therapeutic goals more easily with the facilitation of a drama therapist. Even within drama therapy, there are many approaches to a treatment, so people who feel frustrated by the lack of progression with one therapist may want to consider approaching a different therapist to see if a new approach might be more effective. It is also important to recognize that drama therapy is not for everyone, and if a drama therapist feels that a patient might be better served by a different therapeutic approach, she or he can make recommendations for other practitioners who might be a better fit.

A drama therapist must build trust among group members and encourage all members to participate.
A drama therapist must build trust among group members and encourage all members to participate.
Some drama therapists use clowning and pantomime during sessions.
Some drama therapists use clowning and pantomime during sessions.
Drama therapy may be used in conjunction with more traditional psychotherapy.
Drama therapy may be used in conjunction with more traditional psychotherapy.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

discographer

I think that the activities of a drama therapist could also be harmful in certain cases. I don't think that individuals suffering from paranoia, delusions or hallucinations would benefit. I can't even imagine what effect role play could have on someone suffering from split personality disorder.

fBoyle

@SarahGen-- I have seen drama therapy activities at the hospital I work at and I think that this type of therapy is a great option for both groups and individuals.

There are group activities that can be done, but there are also many different activities for individuals such as role play and improvisation. I think that drama therapy helps people gain a new outlook about their situation and issues, which often is enough to solve some of these problems. I think that drama therapy is a great way for people to relieve stress and externalize their problems. It makes people more sociable and helps overcome performance related anxiety or social anxiety. It also gives people positivism and also helps them acknowledge and build upon their skills.

So I think that everyone who is capable of participating has something to gain from drama therapy. I have seen the positive impact it has had on many of the patients at our hospital. I wish drama therapy was used more frequently by mental health professionals.

SarahGen

I don't know much about drama therapy, I have never been a part of it, but it sounds like this therapy would be better for groups. I can see how a group who experienced the same trauma may benefit from group drama therapy activities. Because people overcome their fears with the help of the other group members who can understand them because they went through the same thing. But I'm not sure how individuals could benefit from this type of therapy.

Has anyone here received drama therapy before? What was it like?

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