By Rebecca Coates-Finke, JFS Teen and Young Adult Mental Health Counselor
People frequently ask me, “What is drama therapy?” I usually respond the same way, “It’s similar to music, or art, or dance therapy. It utilizes theater and drama to support therapeutic change.” While this answer suffices for many, a certain enigma remains: What truly unfolds within the therapy room?
From my perspective, there are three central pillars to drama therapy:
- Creativity and play. The first pillar is the importance of creativity and play in therapeutic change. Challenging experiences can cause us to see the world in extremes and limits. Individuals grappling with depression, anxiety, and trauma frequently feel restricted to a few choices in any given situation, intensifying their fear and distress. Infusing playfulness and creativity into therapeutic work enables us to discover additional possibilities, imagine outside the box, and give our bodies a chance to regulate beyond fear responses. There are many ways I try to bring playfulness and creativity into the therapy space with clients. I try to model it through my approach to our conversations and the ways I create a supportive atmosphere in the room; with an openness to laugh when moments are funny, and through not shying away from lightness. Metaphors and storytelling help us explore problems from fresh perspectives.
- Embodiment. Embodiment refers to accessing information through our bodies and establishing a connection between our therapeutic endeavors and our physical selves. This can be done in a variety of ways. Sometimes, we get in touch with our bodies through a simple meditative moment of mindful attention. Sometimes, I’ll have clients identify where certain feelings manifest within their bodies. Other times, we’ll employ our bodies to express emerging feelings, creating sculptures that embody anxiety, or joy, or curiosity. By “body” I mean any part of the body; at times, we may use our hands as expressive tools, almost as puppets, to explore an idea. We do this together, identifying what feels possible and what will help us ease into difficult subjects.
- Projection. Projection occurs when we assign a part of ourselves and to someone or something else. Consciously or unconsciously, we all engage in projection. When we consciously use projection in therapy work, it enables us to gain perspective, promoting clarity. Some of the techniques described earlier use projection as well. When I use metaphors in a session, I encourage clients to project their experience onto the metaphorical construct. When the client and I use our hands as puppets, we are projecting aspects of the client’s experience onto the characters we bring to life with our hands.
Whether or not we’re doing these exercises in therapy, these concepts are always on my mind when I’m in session, and they provide the foundation from which I work with clients. They complement principles shared by all therapy modalities: the significance of the therapist-client relationship, the therapeutic space serving as a container for our work, and a shared understanding of the client’s goals and aspirations. That means we’ll figure out together what strategies are most effective for you. Drama therapy is a powerful and fun way to engage in the therapeutic process, and it can be an excellent option for people who are doing therapy for the first time.
If you are a teen or young adult or have one in your life who you think would benefit from this approach, please reach out to our compassionate counseling team to schedule an appointment.