Structure of Drama Therapy Sessions:

A typical drama therapy session begins with a “check-in” in which clients share how they are currently feeling. This provides important information to the drama therapist about how to lead the group that day, what issues are ready to be worked on, and what resistances will need to be worked past to get the group to function openly and smoothly. Next, the “warm-up” gets everyone focused on each other and on being in the “here and now.” A warm-up also prepares muscles that may be used in activities later in the session. It also prepares imaginations, so everyone is ready to work together creatively and safely. Each session usually has at least one major drama therapy activity that is participated in and then discussed by the group. Those who have taken on a role need to “de-role” afterwards in order to reconnect with themselves. The group ends with a closure activity, such as a game, ritual, review of the session, or song.

Common Concepts of Drama Therapy:

While drama therapy techniques may differ from therapist to therapist or from session to session, there are concepts which are common to all forms. Common concepts used among drama therapist include:

  • Active Witnessing happens when one’s inner self is seen and accepted without judgement by the therapist and others in the drama therapy group or audience in a safe and therapeutic manner. This provides validation and support for the client while often being received as a healing experience by group members and/or general audience.
  • Distancing allows the therapist to change the degree to which the role being played is like you symbolically or like you actually. Playing a role quite different from oneself often feels more comfortable than playing oneself directly. Certain drama therapy techniques tend to create more distance, and others tend to create less distance. For example, psychodrama, which deals directly with the personal, nonfiction history of the client, is less distanced. Puppets, theatre games, and improvising fictional characters are more distanced. Role play can be very close to oneself or distanced, depending on the role being portrayed.
  • Dramatic Metaphor is the term for the representation of behaviors, problems, and emotions metaphorically through action, allowing for symbolic understanding. A “role” is a form of dramatic metaphor. It is a specific set of behaviors that are undertaken together to achieve a certain set of goals. Roles can be played out in a dramatic situation to learn more about them and whether they are helpful or harmful, safe or dangerous.
  • Dramatic Projection is akin to concrete embodiment and employs dramatic metaphor. It is the ability to take an idea or an emotion that is within the client and project it outside to be shown or acted out in the drama therapy session. For example, a client’s difficulty asking for help (an internal problem) can be dramatized in a scene with other members of the group, puppets, or masks. Thus, the problem becomes external, which can be seen, played with, and shared by the therapist and/or group.
  • Embodiment allows the abstract to become concrete through the client’s body.
    This allows it to be dealt with in form rather than in the abstract, through feeling rather than thought only, in the moment rather than through past memory or future projection. Embodiment allows clients to “experience” or “re-experience” in order to learn, practice new behaviors, or experiment with how to change old behaviors.
  • Empathy involves a cognitive or emotional connection or understanding between people. Empathy focuses on acceptance of the other through understanding their perspective (cognitive empathy) or sensing what is being felt (emotional empathy). Drama therapy promotes the development of empathy in clients.
  • Transitional Space/Play is the imaginary world that is created when we play or imagine together in a safe, trusting environment. It is a timeless space in which anything we can imagine can exist. It is created jointly by the therapist and the clients playing together and believing in the possible.
  • Incorporating Additional Art Modalities. Drama therapy education requires training in other creative arts therapies. As a result, many drama therapists use additional creative art modalities, such as music, movement, song, dance, poetry, and mask making, throughout a client’s healing process.