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05-31 Drama therapy for mental health

Drama therapy for mental health

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” So writes Shakespeare in “As You Like It.” The bard’s words have never been more true than today, as clinicians have begun using drama to help patients overcome many difficulties in their lives, including behavioral health disorders.

How drama therapy works

The North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) lists its mission as to “expand and find flexibility between life roles, and perform the change [participants] wish to be and see in the world.” NADTA works with children, seniors and individuals dealing with addiction. With respect to the latter, the key to success is creating an environment of trust.

An actor’s body and voice is her or his instrument. According to NADTA, for an addict, finding this instrument is all about finding the ability to express emotions. In the sessions, individuals play characters who refuse drugs. They must muster, in a convincing manner, the ability to act in a way that is counterintuitive for them.

Drama therapists must overcome many obstacles to reach this stage in the addict’s acting development. One such hurdle is emotional immaturity. It is well documented that addicts and alcoholics stagnate emotionally at the age they began to use in earnest. This presents problems for a therapist. An emotionally immature person is disinclined to step outside of her or his safe zone. They also have trouble using their memories and personal experiences to provide substance to the lines they deliver.

One workaround therapists employ is improvisation. Improvising a scenario that involves the addict and family members provides a fresh perspective on the impact and toll addiction takes on the family.

Benefits of drama therapy

One benefit of drama therapy is the cathartic relief it affords the performer. Tapping into long-suppressed emotions is therapeutic. It improves self-esteem, builds confidence and creates a sense of belonging. According to Sally Bailey of Kansas State University, acting, particularly role-playing, provides insight into the negative behaviors associated with addiction. Bailey, who has worked with addicts, says, “Role-playing, rather than just following scripts, is the key to drama therapy. The first time we do anything, it feels foreign. But with practice, you can tweak it and learn to feel comfortable adapting. Through role-playing, we try out different roles.”

Sovereign Health Group’s Adolescent Program in Rancho San Diego specializes in treating young people with mental health, substance abuse and co-occurring conditions. Our patients share in groups what they are feeling. They learn to trust and rely on each other. For more information about the treatment we offer and our programs, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author:

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at news@sovhealth.com

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