DRAMA! I have always loved it…not the teary & problematic kind, but the brightly-lit theatrical kind. To this day I clearly remember my first drama lesson at the age of five, asking my teacher ‘What is Drama?’ and she answered me only with a smile and a wink. And then she told me to be a piece of seaweed dancing with the sea’s currents, and I did! And it was such fun. I went on to do more and more drama as the years went by, acting in play after play. I loved the process: the exploration of a new part, slowly becoming a character, the games and experimentation, the group-work of rehearsals, the late nights & hard work, the ‘getting it right’, the rehearsals and costumes, the quiet theater and its big curtains, and finally The Opening Night and the magic that happened under those bright lights.
I knew from a very young age that I always wanted to do theatre. But not just do theatre. I loved it but I felt that I could do something more with what I was experiencing and that I wasn’t satisfied just with the limelight and clapping. I grew up a bit more, and life as it does, had its ups and downs. I realized more and more that anyone and everyone could benefit from theatre, for many reasons; and that theatre held a world of possibilities for understanding ourselves better.
For me, my experiences in theatre seemed to move me ever more towards psychology. One example was while at university when my best friend died. Besides for much time, many good friends and a lot of love, a particularly creative theatrical production helped me beat out some of the issues and deal with pain I had, in a creative and healthy way.
Time after time theater processes have helped me to see things I hadn’t seen before, or to look at situations from a different angle. Yes! For a long time it seemed to be the perfect couple. I studied Drama & Psychology very happily in South Africa, where I began to put the puzzle pieces together. Now I am studying Dramatherapy with a wonderful group of people and each day that passes in the world of theater and therapy, I am more and more convinced that this still this is a marriage made in heaven.
What is Dramatherapy?
Put very simply, dramatherapy is putting tools of drama towards therapeutic goals, in a creative process guided by a qualified dramatherapist. Therapy takes place in a special space ‘between’ similar to that which actors move through when they ‘become’ different roles and live all kinds of experiences, but in dramatherapy there is no silent audience staring back in the dark, nor is the goal a perfect performance.
Whilst it is seemingly a very young-faced discipline, we must trace dramatherapy’s roots (those of the inherent healing aspects of theatre itself) back thousands of years. Rituals and storytelling were used extensively and effectively by our ancestors to guide communities through changes and difficulties, helping their people with the ups and downs of life. Today dramatherapy is the child of these old traditions, and is an evolving and wonderfully creative profession, with dramatherapists each having a unique approach.
All are focused on helping to individuals aware of their own resources, their capacity to grow and change, and the possibility for them to live a creative life. And all this, using dramatic tools and exercises as the base, aims at healing and increasing our awareness of living a creative life. They themselves come from a variety of backgrounds in mental health, education and theater for example, and undergo intensive training, including how to use various assessment and evaluation techniques. Research in dramatherapy is continually increasing, reflecting the increased popularity of this type of treatment.
A Safe Space
Essential to dramatherapy is creating a trusting and respectful atmosphere, and is built usually through various games and activities which usually engage the body and allow us to slowly ‘step into’ this new space, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and prepare to work together. This work will require a commitment to be kind and respectful to oneself and everyone in the group. Very often dramatherapists make a verbal contract together with the group upon meeting, laying down rules to be respected and lines to not be crossed. In this way, we know that this is a safe and trustworthy place in which we can be ourselves.
- Dramatherapists use all kinds of tools including amongst others music, storytelling, improvisation, poetry, movement, puppets, role-play and theater games to create an involving process that we move through and that changes us, inasmuch as we would like to change.
- No one is ever forced to do anything they do not feel comfortable with, and we are each absolutely free to decline or accept any offer. We are free to make offers too. This dramatherapy journey (or process) may last a few hours, or be part of a bigger process that lasts months or even years.
- It provides us with the opportunity to see things at a distance through the use of images and metaphors and to begin realize our truly creative our lives can be. (Yes some of us have simply forgotten how to be the artists we are.) These images are created with our bodies, with words, sounds, pictures – we create stories, and in these stories we often see ourselves better or at least, differently.
- We all contribute to the stories and change them if we need to, always feeling the trust and respect of the people around us. We realize, whilst creating all kinds of things, that there are parts of us we didn’t know about. Some are angry, others peaceful, strong, some happy, lazy, resourceful or delicate. It is all part of us. We have time and space here to explore these parts of ourselves, or situations we want to consider, relationships we would like to imagine and then we have time to reflect upon them too.
As a dramatherapist-in-training, for me it is the beginning of an exciting and epic journey each time I step into the dramatherapy space: I feel like we are all travelers, off on a grand exploration using our own unique metaphors and images, in which we can consider ourselves and others differently in a safe space free of judgment or difficult expectations. We may create and recreate all kinds of situations, meetings and goodbyes, conflicts and reconciliation. By experiencing other options, we move back to our daily lives charged with new ideas. Challenging problems in life become opportunities to experiment a little. The paralyzing effects of trauma can begin to lift and let us move again too. In the therapy space we go on journeys and live through the journeys of others.
We understand that we are not alone in our feelings. We find strength in sharing stories, laughing, helping each other, and by discovering ourselves to be more than we thought, or remembered.
Dramatherapy is already well established in the US and the UK, but it is growing and being increasingly practiced all over the world. Some well-known dramatherapists include Robert Landy, Sue Jennings, Robert Grainger, Phil Jones, Salvo Pitruzzella. Take a look at their books, or watch some videos on YouTube. Get informed about the art therapies – best of all, go take part in a workshop!