It seems like as time moves on, our society struggles more and more with the art of communication. For many, it is easier and much more comfortable to engage in our phones than with another human being, and this filters into our day to day interactions with loved ones and friends. Drama therapy is another holistic approach to addiction treatment.
Drama therapy isn’t the first step to relearning communication that many would think of, however, it has been shown to be a valuable therapeutic tool for the recovery of people with substance abuse and mental disorders.
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What is Drama Therapy?
Drama therapy has been evolving since the 1930’s when the technique was first developed. The purpose of this modality is through the therapeutic and intentional use of dramatic processes, such as storytelling, role-play, and improvisation, in order to:
- Nurture personal growth
- Enhance self-worth and confidence
- Compare past behavioral choices with healthy new ones
- Improve functioning and creativity
- Reinforce proactive choices in a safe and flexible environment
Used as a way for people to get active and involved, drama therapy is a tool for people to gain a new perspective on their own lives. It involves working with a licensed drama therapist, to allow the individuals to tell their stories, express feelings, work through emotional traumas, and even achieving catharsis.
According to Renee Emunah, Ph.D. and Director of Drama Therapy at the California Institute of Integral Studies, “...We can – for once – act in new ways. The bit of distance from real life afforded by drama enables us to gain perspective on our real-life roles and patterns and actions, and to experiment actively with alternatives.”
Why is Drama Therapy so Helpful in Recovery?
Similar to the way that improvisational comedy is fast-paced and fluid, drama therapy allows emotions and instincts to be brought to the forefront. It can feel pretty uncomfortable for many people at first, as it can amplify fears of judgment and approval, but when an individual is willing to push through that initial fear and get engaged, it can get to the heart of emotional states very quickly.
Many people who are in the early stages of their recovery often come in with feelings of isolation and a distrust of humanity. Not to mention, there are often huge emotional walls put into place, that talk therapy sometimes cannot get through. This is why drama therapy is an integral part of the holistic approach to recovery, as it opens up a safe space for people to get creative, get vulnerable, and gain confidence.
The National Association of Drama Therapy states that the benefits of this modality for people with substance use disorders and mental disorders are:
- Openly expressing emotions
- Making personal connections
- Develop communication skills
- Work creatively with a team
- Practice honesty
- Analyzing specific behavior patterns
- Practice patience, empathy, and acceptance
- Learning how to have fun and be creative without the use of drugs or alcohol
As Robert Landy, Founding Director of the Drama Therapy Program at New York University, puts it, “Unlike talk therapy, drama therapy gets there really fast. Role-playing, acting out issues and problems – is more effective than talking.”
What Kind of Education do Drama Therapists Have?
Drama therapist professional undergoes much of the same therapy education courses as any other licensed therapist. A Registered Drama Therapist holds a Masters level credential which consists of courses in psychology, drama therapy, theatre arts, and will have completed an internship and work experience.
Drama therapists are trained to be diverse in a wide variety of different areas of drama therapy, to help each individual find the right fit for their needs. Again, many people find some difficulty in the possible vulnerability that comes with drama therapy, so it is important that each therapist creates not only a safe space for each person but also a place where they can find an aspect of it intriguing and engaging.
Drama Therapy as a Coping Tool
One of the primary reasons why addiction and mental disorders need such a diverse treatment plan is that many of these individuals have to re-learn an entirely new set of coping tools. Many people who suffer from addiction found that it happened by accident, as a result of the inability to cope with day to day life.
Drama therapy offers an active and refreshing approach to learning these new coping mechanisms. Many people who struggle with addiction have lost the ability to set goals, determine right from wrong, and manage their emotions in a healthy manner. While the benefits of individual talk therapy have been shown to have extreme benefits in this arena, many people learn through a more “hands-on” approach.
This is why through acting out specific metaphors and storylines, especially through improvisation, individuals can get a unique glance into their behaviors, live action.
- If the storyline is acting out a past trauma in someone’s life, that individual, along with the therapist, can analyze how the person reacts in the role play experience, and be able to identify if the person has projected any blame onto themselves, if they have created any self-identification patterns from this event, or if there can be any healing or lessons that can come from it.
- From this, the therapist can work with the individual to create coping tools around creating new self-identification and self-talk patterns and begin to develop a new perspective on the event and themselves.
- In another example, a person can role-play as a parent or loved one that they have affected by their addiction. By taking on the role of another, this person has the unique ability to be able to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”.
- This type of role-playing can enhance a person’s compassion and awareness for how their actions affect other people in their life.
Drama Therapy is definitely not one of the most well-known treatment modalities, but that does not diminish the merit that it brings to those who utilize it. Through vulnerability, trust, and creativity, drama therapy allows for people to develop new perspectives and new tools to live a more compassionate future.
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