What is Drama Therapy?

“All the world is not, of course, a stage,
but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify.”
–Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
Drama therapy is an effective means of making sense of and/or finding meaning in life. I believe creative self-expression is inherently healing and life enhancing. Through the process of self-expression, drama therapy can help people organize their inner reactions to events in their lives. Performance, embodiment and reflection enables them to understand and express their feelings more clearly. By encouraging creativity, imagination and role playing, persons reexamine or redefine their self descriptions (Garcia & Buchanan 112). The organizing function served by drama therapy enables clients to find meaning in their experience. This in turn may aid them in defining goals and desired outcomes.
Embodying the role/counter-role/guide in the classroom setting has allowed me to understand its functionality in a therapeutic encounter. Reading about drama therapy followed by embodying the technique has provided a well rounded experience. I better understand the therapeutic goal of helping a client move towards a balanced state where problematic roles are integrated with appropriate counterroles by means of the transitional guide figure. The healing happens when the process allows clients to relate to the conflict caused by living in a paradoxical reality. This allows them to live a balanced life by accepting imbalance. Using performance as a tool to enact the roles and stories in their life gives them the healing benefit to acknowledge said roles and experience imaginary situations in a safe contained environment. Practitioners of developmental transformations believe the healing occurs fully through the play and drama and the reflection process is not necessary to affect change (Landy 113).
As Landy explained, when a protagonist is able to reflect on feelings experienced in the drama and relate it back to the group process and everyday life, catharsis of integration occurs (Landy 160).
Performance is healing through the use of psychodrama when a client experiences catharsis by revisiting a painful experience and discharges anger through dramatic action. Dramatizing alternative stories offers a client new input and expands their repertory of roles. By dramatizing through performance a client begins to experience a shift which will eventually help to heal (Garcia & Buchanan 117).
Performance provides catharsis for the protagonist, but it is also healing from the spectator’s perspective. While watching the autobiographical performances I experienced several moments of catharsis; as described by Moreno when explaining Aristotle’s concept of catharsis. During various points of my classmate’s performances I was able to identify with the dilemma of the actor on the stage. As Moreno explained, the novelty and surprise of dramatic action fueled the release of feelings (Landy 136).
Through all of the various techniques explored in class I have come to discover many roles within myself. Many of these roles I was aware of and some of them came as a surprise. Through drama therapy I have learned that performance offers a whole new role and a new way of viewing life. Situations and roles that were introduced in class were carried over into “real life”. The most exciting aspect of my newfound perspective towards drama therapy is learning how my passion for drama and the theater can be applied towards meaningful, respectful work that can help to empower people to change their life in a very personal way.

1) Landy, Robert. The Couch and the Stage. United Kingdom: Jason Aronson, 2008.
2) Garcia, Antonina and Buchanan, Dale Richard. Psychodrama: Chapter 9.
Current Approaches in Drama Therapy. Charles C. Thomas:Springfield, IL. 2000.
3) R. Landy. Essays in Drama Therapy: The Double Life, Jessica Kingsley Press, 1996

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