What is Drama Therapy and What Are its Benefits?

Drama therapy is very useful to work on different situations. Among them, we find the development of social skills and expression.
What is Drama Therapy and What Are its Benefits?
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 30 December, 2022

Drama therapy, also called “dramatherapy”, is a psychological therapy modality that allows changes in behavior and aspects of the personality in order to improve the mental well-being of people. It can be applied both individually and in groups.

In particular, it allows addressing different situations through various theatrical resources, in which the body is the main expressive medium. It includes body movements, improvisations, role plays, and dance, among other things. In this way, it’s intended to reinforce self-knowledge, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

How is it performed? What other benefits does it provide? Since this type of therapy is not as well known as other forms of psychological therapy, many people have questions about it. Below, we’ll tell you all about drama therapy and how it can be implemented.

How is drama therapy performed?

Drama therapy, created by J. Levy Moreno in 1920, is a type of therapy that uses different resources to get people to express their emotional discomfort, resolve their conflicts, or get involved in a process of change.

It uses different techniques, but almost everything takes place around people who represent or act out a situation, through the guidance or guidance of the therapist. Although its application tends to be more frequent in group therapy, it can also be practiced individually.

In the first case, in addition to the director, it requires auxiliary selves (secondary characters who collaborate with the scene), a stage (a safe place where to express oneself with confidence), and the patient or main actor.

It’s usually carried out in the following stages:

  • Warm-up. At this stage, the therapist must create the right emotional climate for people to feel comfortable and then they can express themselves.
  • Dramatization. This stage would be the climax of the representation, since in this case, the person designated as the protagonist must represent the assigned role. He/she will do so by representing the situation as he/she wishes, either through gestures, oral expression, etc. If it’s a group work, the rest of the characters will collaborate in the development of the scene so that it feels very vivid.
  • Group echo or sharing. In this part, the main character shares how he/she has felt. The other participants must also express how they felt and must contribute their vision about the representation of the protagonist.
Drama therapy
Drama therapy can be applied individually or in a group. In addition, it’s implemented with various types of techniques.

The basic principles of drama therapy

As elementary principles of drama therapy, it’s possible to cite spontaneity and the philosophy of the moment or “the here and now”.

  • Moreno approaches spontaneity from a creative point of view, from the solutions that can arise from being able to express feelings, instead of leaving them trapped.
  • As for the philosophy of the moment, it refers to working in the here and now; even though elements from the past or the future may be present, we work in a specific moment and time.

Now, although drama therapy employs acting as its main resource, it’s important to point out that it’s not the same and that previous acting experience is not required. It’s differentiated by its therapeutic purposes, since it pursues more than just staging.

There are those who use drama therapy and psychodrama as synonyms since they have some aspects in common. However, they have a difference in their approach. While the former addresses a problem or situation in an indirect and not real way, psychodrama is based on concrete, real situations and refers to the protagonist of the scene.

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The benefits of drama therapy

In addition to facilitating the expression of emotions and spontaneity – part from the fact that there is a designed situation – drama therapy presents other points in its favor. In the following space, we’ll address them one by one.

1. The patient becomes an active protagonist in their healing

Like many other therapies, drama therapy considers the proactive role of the person, committed to change. In fact, in this case, it becomes more explicit, since however the patient chooses to do it, he or she is acting out his or her discomfort or concern.

2. It facilitates catharsis

Many people have difficulty expressing their emotions and feelings when they are “themselves”. However, when they feel they take distance from the problem and can embody another role, they have an easier time doing so.

3. It helps a person to acquire a new view of the facts and new skills

When it occurs in a group setting and others express their view of the facts, it’s possible to approach a situation from another angle. This allows us to broaden our view, think of creative solutions, and take into account details that we had omitted.

Along the same lines, we can also get rid of crystallized “old roles” that are impediments to adaptation and to more functional and less rigid responses.

What activities can be done in drama therapy?

In drama therapy, different techniques that favor the free expression of those involved can be put into practice. The most common are mentioned below.

1. Miming

As its name suggests, mime uses mimicry, i.e., representation through gestures or movements. Non-verbal or body language becomes important and is a very useful technique for those who find it difficult to express themselves with words.

2. Roleplaying

Here, the idea is that each person who participates embodies a specific role.

3. Dubbing

Another member of the group represents the protagonist and acts as if he/she were the protagonist. In this way, he/she expresses what he/she thinks and feels. This mirror-like technique is used to see oneself. It’s very enlightening about one’s own behavior and the way we are seen on the outside.

4. Role reversal

This technique aims at understanding the other person and putting oneself in the other person’s place. In other words, it’s a matter of putting oneself in their shoes. The indication for the development of the scene has to do with representing the other person, how he/she thinks, what he/she might be feeling, etc.

5. Soliloquy

In this case, the protagonist shares with the audience everything that is happening to him or her as well as his or her thoughts and emotions. He or she can do this by talking to the director (the therapist), as if he or she were talking to him or herself, or to an imaginary other.

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6. Masks

Many times, people are liberated when they can be what they are not. In that case, sometimes it’s enough to introduce a variant such as masks so that they can represent a situation.

a woman with a mask
Masks facilitate the expression of emotions in introverted or shy people.

Each of the above techniques can be applied starting in childhood. It’s also possible to incorporate elements such as puppets, and costumes, among other things.

There’s a type of therapy out there for everyone

Drama therapy is compatible with other theoretical lines; contributions from systemic psychotherapy, cognitive, Gestalt, etc. can be used. The key to enhancing its use is that the therapist plans what to do according to the patient’s needs and, of course, teaches him/her to master the techniques.

This form of therapy can be a very useful alternative to work on a specific topic or to develop some expressive and emotional skills, especially in very shy or introverted people.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.