Dramatherapy for People Who Turn Away from Life’s Dramas

Whenever I tell people about being a Dramatherapist, I am often met with curiosity.

Here are some amusing questions I get asked about Dramatherapy:

“Is it therapy for actors?”

“Do you act out your problems and perform it to an audience?”

“Can it help you escape from your everyday reality?”

Dramatherapy is a form of psychological therapy rooted in traditional psychotherapy.

The British Association of Dramatherapists (BADth) defines it as:

…”a form of psychological therapy in which all of the performance arts are utilised within the therapeutic relationship. Dramatherapists are both artists and clinicians and draw on their trainings in theatre/drama and therapy to create methods to engage clients in effecting psychological, emotional and social changes. The therapy gives equal validity to body and mind within the dramatic context; stories, myths, playtexts, puppetry, masks and improvisation are examples of the range of artistic interventions a Dramatherapist may employ. These will enable the client to explore difficult and painful life experiences through an indirect approach.”

All exercises and activities have a psychological function. A Dramatherapist (which is a protected title) has the training and skills to make clinical decisions using words and other creative and expressive art forms.

Dramatherapy takes place in a private and confidential space, not on a stage. It’s not a public show, it’s private therapy.

My clients are not usually actors nor do most of them have a background in the arts.

I work with people who tend to identify as an introvert, who don’t like being pressured to perform, who avoid being in the spotlight, who recoil if they feel exposed, who push back if they feel made to do something, who say they are fed up with life’s dramas.

So, how can Dramatherapy work with this group of people?

Dramatherapy is for people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences.

I have used Dramatherapy with various vulnerable client groups. For example, I work 1-to-1 with adults who are still psychologically impacted by historical childhood abuse. In Dramatherapy, people are always empowered to make choices in what they share and how they share.

Each activity and exercise has its own process of negotiation – where rules and expectations can be talked about, and trust and boundaries can be experienced.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Miss Complexities and Paddy on their Complexities Podcast at the beginning of 2019.

Complexities Podcast is a podcast based on Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).

Miss Complexities’ shares her own lived experience of trauma and lifelong recovery. Together with the support of her partner, they open a dialogue with people around the world about the impact of childhood and relational trauma. Their podcast is engaging as it educates by shining a light these harder-to-discuss topics. I’m glad to have been part of this conversation.

I recounted my experience of working with people with complex needs in prisons and psychiatric institutions where I have often found that their histories will also tell the story of a distressing past – growing up in a household witnessing and experiencing domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse or abandonment. Those who have endured ongoing trauma and abuse from a young age are likely to develop a very particular way of thinking, feeling and relating to others.

We spoke about the importance of having safe therapy options that can work this type of complex trauma: one that can work with your mind, body and address the way you relate to others. Trauma-informed approaches, those who can work long-term, those with adaptable and multiple approaches, those who can work with the unconscious, those who can work with relationships (hold importance to the therapeutic relationship), look at the body language and work with body approach and those who can have more creative and playfulness and work to heal the inner child – are all approaches that can help.

Below I have summarized some main learning points highlighted from my interview and further thoughts:

Credibility and Reliability of Dramatherapy

Dramatherapy is a specific modality rooted in psychoanalytic theories and research in attachment, human development and neuroscience.

Gaining a New Perspective

A Dramatherapist can support you to see things in a new way. By working visually and experientially, this action-based approach can help you gain clarity of old patterns, what might be hidden, new solutions.

Mind and Body

Trauma often gets trapped in the body. A Dramatherapist can work with you non-verbally and is trained to help you see how your mind and body are connected. A session may also include using movement and embodiment exercises where you can experience greater release of tensions and catharsis from the body.

Roles and Relationships

I spoke about the importance of the Dramatherapist’s role being able to change according to the client’s needs. There are times when it’s important for the client to have their therapist as a silent witness, someone neutral. There are times when it is also important to engage in role play where both the client and therapist can experience different ways of relating – a real rehearsal for life. For me, it’s a real insight into my clients when I can see them relate to me in other ways.

Your Inner Child

The earlier your experiences of trauma, the longer you have had to experience trauma, the more impact this will have had on yourself as a child.

You are invited to experience the change in your thoughts, emotions and body (all this happens live in the room)

Safe Self Expression

You can feel less exposed because it can give you some distance to work safely with traumatizing thoughts and feelings. This feels integral to work in CPTSD to have an approach that is sensitive to not re-traumatize you. It may not be helpful or safe to recount every detail of your trauma history. That’s why the creative part of the therapy, the art-form itself, offers protection from having to only use words to share – there are other less direct ways to process your trauma.

There’s great power in hearing the peer voice (someone with lived experience), an advocate of mental health and supporting those with CPTSD. This podcast episode was put together to help open people to the possibilities out there of different types of treatment not as widely known which may be more accessible than you think!

People with lots of trauma, CPTSD, do not want any more life’s dramas – but Dramatherapy is not about creating more stress, re-traumatizing them (re: myths about Dramatherapy) but it’s a real tool to help process.

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