Drama Therapy

"Imagination is identity in its own form of bold. It is the courage that gets you from being there to living now”. -Lindsey Sherwin

Richard Rohr says:

Pain that is not transformed is transferred”.

It slowly depletes the body, the mind, and the spirit, if not healed. But one way to treat this problem is through a technique called therapeutic drama or drama therapy. It not only heals a person's pain but it saves through the presence of its art.

It creates mind shifts, while transforming your life.  

Through the technique we are realigning negative behaviors to impact and improve learning and skills based learning. To retain learning, and re enliven good feeling thoughts and actions stimulated back into the body. This is the physiological element of the work we do as drama therapists in separation of and in addition to the creative artistic dimension we bring to the discipline as artists ourselves.

I became interested in this approach to wellbeing because I have always been fascinated with exploring this concept of wearing a mask, interpreting the belief of what hides us as human beings, underneath a layer of something else, that could often be more fitting to our psyche and even our soul.

This question came to me through the creation of You Are the Shift, LLC, an umbrella company of the youth empowerment model I developed under it called Decoding the Mask: And Claiming Our Power, a series of workshop sessions for young people focusing on performance using therapeutic theatre techniques and the creative arts therapies within a restorative justice framework.

Through this program I examine the “function of wearing our masks”, what lies behind our emotional identity and how can we cut to its core without having to make ourselves go through the unnecessary pain and traumatic instances that often rises to stir us and trap our minds from growth and vulnerability to be our full authentic selves. I am interested in uncovering the internal and the external parts of ourselves and using role-play, forum theatre, and improvisation to achieve it.

What is it that I am looking to uncover or bring to the surface through this fitting metaphor that aligns so exponentially to life itself?

I wanted to explore how to uncover the truth behind our unexpressed emotions in an authentic and creative yet powerfully intentional way, whereby my approach was supported with evidence based techniques that affect how we behave, function, and use our brain.

What I discovered, through this process, is a unique alternative approach which includes restorative justice to develop my own method through the discipline of drama therapy. Drama therapy or therapeutic drama is considered an arts based psychotherapy that supports participants in learning ways of dealing with problematic emotions through an attitude of curiosity. Which can also be seen as the actor's greatest gift. It is a set of formed principles through the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals.

“As an active and experiential approach to well being using the concepts of role playing and enactment via diverse kinds of embodiment it provides the context for participants to tell their stories, set goals and solve problems, express feelings, and achieve catharsis. Through drama, the depth and breadth of inner experience can be actively explored and interpersonal relationship skills can be enhanced. Participants can expand their repertoire of dramatic roles to find that their own life roles have been strengthened.” -North American Drama Therapy Association

Acting as a craft can lack perspective nowadays because it is so heavily wired by controlled standards and the crafted methods and techniques that have been developed over the many decades in which they have been tested and performed.

When students are told to “apply a method to their work" by either a coach, teacher, or director, what many are missing is the concept of applying anything more than their heart, spirit, and intuition to a role.

Ultimately all of these attributes stem from consciousness. This is what the need is, and the most important one in which an actor should focus on. But that need often disappears because so many get stuck and bogged down in what’s right, the right way to approach a character or the “perfect” way to carry out an action or the ideal way to finish a line. What they need to start doing is uncovering their soul. That will always be perfect. It can be nothing less.

It is proven that theatre or performance as a whole can be somewhat damaging to the nervous system, without allowing the body to reasonably process physically and emotionally, what has transpired between self and actor. (The Me and the not Me).

Through this vessel between the Me and the Not Me, putting an undesirable load of stress where it becomes physically draining to a person over time can be psychologically difficult and even painful leading an individual towards the brink of despair and self-depletion.

This strain and drain causes the fuel to their inner creative fire to burn out rather than ignite their passion to do and to be a present member of their own work, cultivating what inspires them to keep going in an industry that can seem filled with doubts, uncertainties, and emotional instability much of the time.

Unaddressed or unmet needs can be a burden on the psyche if issues are not addressed correctly with self-care.

Despite the harsh realities that the field of acting brings, in the journey towards my own personal actor transformation as a therapeutic drama practitioner, I want to share with you a bit more about how I use therapeutic drama as a two-fold approach towards rebuilding who we think we are, and step into who we really are, who we can be, our true authentic selves. As the self is a carving of our personal individualized body of work, and an art in its own right.

Drama Therapy and even drama as therapy has taught me that emotions are functional, but this conclusion also shows that something is wrong in the field of performance. We can address and regulate ourselves through an emotional process that serves our purpose and meets our social emotional and psychological needs to become great artists and brilliant human beings.

We may have to adjust or adapt to the fluidity of different situations and circumstances as they arise both on screen, stage, and in life just as the characters we create must do. Therefore we can apply such tools as affect identification, cognitive restricting, positive psychology, and reflection processing to be able to address those concerns throughout our daily living as human and as artist.

As a therapeutic drama practitioner, I come to practicing the art of drama as a way of breaking down barriers; helping my clients to forfeit their comfort zones, so that they can grow, and, change and ultimately heal from past wounds that may be preventing them from going deeper inside their emotional work; and taking them to the next level of mastery within. We can address and regulate ourselves through an emotional process that serves our purpose and meets our social emotional and psychological needs to become great artists and brilliant human beings.

Our energy must be preserved, not saturated with false hope nor self-depletion. To practice art as therapy may appear to be an unusual combination at first, but it can create a life of difference for someone who has a desire to practice both disciplines and serve others.

However, this is enormously difficult to achieve when you speak and work from surface points. You cannot move forward when you feel stuck! My goal is to take you out of that stuck feeling place  and get you to a place of comfortability, bringing you to the vantage point of willingness for full expression in its entirety and self-actualization from its depths.

To bring someone back to their wholeness from challenging times is something that I have committed to continue exploring in this work and in my own work as an artist. I provide the young people and the artists I work with with a healthy escape- in the mental space.

We cannot always change the conditions or the dynamics of where we come from on a socio-economical plane, however we can acknowledge “the story” in a therapeutic environment and externalize it outward for other to listen and give their voice, and doing that changes everything.

I can reflect my story back to you and yours to me- this is where the power of our senses and sustainability for life lies. For example, we might start off a group by doing this through reflecting simple gestures like tossing a tennis ball back and forth.

Performance based research:

  • Performative through carefully constructed scenes and images on a specific theme

  • Roles, images, and scenes are developed in the aim of making them personal vs. strictly social or one dimensional

Outcomes: social support, whereas community building is an output of the group

Aesthetic distance: Going from a cognitive state of processing words and responses straight to the feeling and emotions of oneself and another person

Reflecting back to individual and the group- As drama therapists, we do this by communicating it through gestures. This process has worked for me for many years. And let me tell you why. Because it wholly transforms a person from the inside out.

Furthermore, it is progressively being researched by neuroscientists that have devoted their focus on evidence-based and arts-based research studies based on neuropsychology and how the brain functions in relationship to when an artist performs.

We can ask the question, what is literally lighting up inside the body when this happens, what is going on in there? How are they to perform so much better when they are trained in a therapeutic or spiritual way?

The brain literally processes information through the body, the mirror neurons that we have inside our brain become more connected and lit up.

When I practice the craft of acting through the lens of social and emotional development, attunement to my physical and emotional needs, and desire catharsis from my part, the role I am playing, a bulb goes off, that says, I can step into many more!

Those stuck or “traumatizing” feelings held in our physical form that have been holding us back for years no longer keep us from becoming our authentic selves. I am no longer emotionally crippled, because I learned to embrace my own personal power, my own freedom to choose, and simply just be me while owning it in the process.

The techniques found in this discipline of an art form have broken this vicious cycle not only for me, but for the many young people and clients I use it with in our work together.

So what are the benefits of practicing it?

For one, and this may be one of the most important elements it caters to in our acting/performative experience, is that it explores the many parts of ourselves that are strong, not what we may believe to be the weak or debilitating.

Drama therapy works to transform what is missing throughout our full being as a human first, and if applied correctly, as an artist as well, within the journey of a drama therapist, both actor/artist/guide.

This is such a powerful craft, and it has demonstrated its transformative power tremendously for me over the years both therapeutically using drama and all of the creative arts therapies shifting who I am now and how I have been showing up in my own life. Stronger. Focused. Transformed.

What have these artistic modalities taught me not only about being a more well informed, emotionally healthy and grounded person, but a stronger, more enlightened and interconnected adaptable artist who is spontaneous and attuned to her own newness?

  • Go fully into my imagination

  • Dare to be vulnerable with my story

  • Listen to my instincts

  • Be bold in my feelings

  • Attack my fears

  • Listen to classical music or write poetry

  • Explore other creative art forms to grow as a human being

These are the qualities that make create a great actor. Through combining the acts of being and doing, I have learned to innately create from a playful spirit that allows myself to create worlds just from tapping into the above. And I know you can do it too.

Play requires you to harness the innate, the joyful, person-driven, and character-building potential of what’s inside of you, which can unequivocally overcome suffering and the far-reaching effects of alienating rhetoric, isolation, anger and self-harm.

Even more specific to play, role play and improvisation encourage participants of therapeutic drama to understand their own limiting beliefs, negative behaviors, and practice new ways of reacting and of being in order to achieve catharsis, which is incredibly beneficial to the actor who may be struggling with similar issues.

When we use metaphor to behave differently that translates into the power of what is taking place through drama therapy.

We all have infinite choices at our disposal on multiple planes of consciousness. Due to this, all the elements found in this approach to acting stem from the root of what it means to feel joy and higher meaning in our lives.

To feel through joy; the reason you have access to all the things that you really want to create as an artist, and why I’m sure, you chose to be one from the beginning.

Listening, Creating, Doing it Your Way, Going for something all in. That makes all the difference.

Leave everything else outside the moment to dust.

I have merged these principles in order to deepen my own work as an an actor and a poet, which deepens the actor’s work and enriches their life outside it.