We feature an expert in the mental health and substance use disorder field to answer questions. This issue we talk to Nadya Trytan about Drama Therapy and how it can assist those in recovery and those with mental health issues.
Q: What is Drama Therapy?
I am frequently asked this question, and there is so much richness and depth to the practice of Drama Therapy, that it’s difficult to answer briefly. I like to say that Drama Therapy is a profession and a practice for healing and change. The North American Drama Therapy Association utilizes the following definitions: (www.nadta.org)
“Drama Therapy is an active, experiential approach to facilitating change. Through storytelling, projective play, purposeful improvisation, and performance, participants are invited to rehearse desired behaviors, practice being in relationship, expand and find flexibility between life roles, and perform the change they wish to be and see in the world.”
“Drama Therapy is an embodied practice that is active and experiential. This approach can provide the context for participants to tell their stories, set goals and solve problems, express feelings, or achieve catharsis. Through drama, the depth and breadth of inner experience can be actively explored, and interpersonal relationship skills can be enhanced.”
Q: What types of needs and challenges can be addressed through Drama Therapy?
Drama Therapy can put into words, movement and images any questions, concerns or challenges that a person or community may be facing. In specifically looking at addiction and mental health, we know that pain and trauma are stored in the body, and because Drama Therapy includes using the body, it provides a wonderful opportunity to heal, express and release emotional distress, trauma, attachment concerns and relationship difficulties. Drama Therapy allows integration of mind, body and community, providing opportunity for healing and change on multi-levels. It also allows us to practice and learn new ways of being in the world and experiment with new ways of relating to ourselves and others.
Q: What might a typical session of Drama Therapy look like for an individual?
The Drama Therapist co-creates a healing space for the journey with the client.A session will be as unique as the individuals in the room, so I don’t think that there is any typical way a session would unfold. However, what any session would have in common would be some type of check-in – How are things going? – which may be verbal, or it may utilize some type of expression with the body, sound or art. From there a drama therapist might invite a client into what we might refer to as the “liminal space.” Some forms of Drama Therapy use the term “play space” or “rehearsal space” or other words in place of liminal space. It’s often delineated with some type of physical structure — like a rug or a circle of fabric. This liminal space allows us to be in the world of “not real” — where we can open into creativity, spontaneity, new ways of being or seeing. From here, there are a variety of forms that a drama therapist might use —from psychodrama, developmental transformations, role method, narradrama, etc. — to begin exploring the particular area of concern and the underlying pieces. Most forms of Drama Therapy see the therapist as holding space and walking with a client on the client’s journey. The session would end with some sort of exiting of this liminal space and closure. Sometimes the closure is verbal processing, sometimes it may be a movement, gesture, writing or art expression.
Q: Can families benefit from Drama Therapy?
Yes — absolutely! There are so many different approaches for families. Drama Therapy lends itself well to groups. There are many drama therapists doing beautiful work combining models like Internal Family Systems with the embodied forms of Drama Therapy. By bringing the interactions into the liminal space, we can look together at a situation from different perspectives, try out new ways to interact with each other, practice playing together, work out a problem using a common metaphor or story, and so much more!
Q: How can Drama Therapy benefit someone’s recovery?
Recovery is an interesting word. When I look up the definition, I see the words “regain” and “return.” It implies that the strength, health and happiness that we are seeking is, or once was, within us. I believe this is true, but that when humans encounter toxic stress, trauma or addiction, we lose connection. I have seen people who hide the best parts of themselves away as children, to keep them safe. And they hide them so well, they forget they have them. I have had clients tell me that they have never felt happy or never had wisdom, and then one day, they find that they do, and they just couldn’t see it. Other clients see that they had it once but believe that it is now irretrievable. And yet all humans yearn for this connection with self and with others. They yearn for their own inner strength and wisdom.
Drama Therapy provides structure and tools for the journey of recovering and reconnecting. This can be a painful journey, as it touches the places of loss. But it can also be very rewarding because there is strength, healing and connection in walking through that loss. The therapist can help one to see the treasures found along the way. The Drama Therapist co-creates a healing space for the journey with the client. And the Drama Therapist holds that space open, so the client is not alone in the journey.
Q: Is Drama Therapy the same thing as becoming an actor, and acting for an audience?
There are forms of Drama Therapy that are either performed for an audience or with audience participation. But there are a couple of differences between acting and these Drama Therapy approaches:
- The goal of acting is to give a quality performance. The goal of Drama Therapy is the insight or change gained through the process or performance. In Drama Therapy we may be utilizing acting or improv techniques, but our focus is not to teach people to be good actors or performers, the focus is on the therapeutic goals. Sometimes this is helping people practice life skills, sometimes it is about going into a deeper psychological exploration through the body, sometimes it is supporting a community in solving problems or addressing community trauma. These are just a few examples of the many, many types of therapeutic goals one may have.
- The Drama Therapist is bound by a code of ethics and the charge to do no harm. Whereas a performer or teaching artist does not have this as a foundational piece in their work.
There are performance-based forms of Drama Therapy that are being used in many spaces. These forms, facilitated by trained Drama Therapists, help communities combine the potential for insight and therapeutic goals with quality performance skills. Some examples of a few are: NYU Arts in Health Lab, Barrier-Free Theaters, CoActive Therapeutic Theater, and Theatre for Change at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS).
There are also Drama Therapists who utilize forms that were developed in non-therapeutic contexts, but that take on more depth when facilitated through the Drama Therapy lens. This includes forms like playback theater and theater of the oppressed.
Q: What are some resources that are available to people who are seeking Drama Therapy?
For people seeking Drama Therapy services, I recommend looking for an RDT (Registered Drama Therapist) or a P-RDT (Professional Registered Drama Therapist), as people with these credentials will have completed the Drama Therapy training. There is a listing here.
For people interested in becoming a Drama Therapist, I recommend perusing the website of the North American Drama Therapy Association (www.nadta.org) and attending a Drama Therapy conference if possible.
Nadya Trytan, RDT-BCT has been a practicing clinician in the Twin Cities for over 20 years, working with children, adolescent, adult and elder clients in schools, hospitals and mental health clinics providing individual and group therapy. She has a private practice through Drama Therapy Center in the Twin Cities, and she is on the faculty at Midwest Drama Therapy Training Institute. Nadya is a Past President of the North American Drama Therapy Association, Past Chair of the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Association and Co-Founder of the Minnesota Creative Arts Therapy Association. Nadya holds a Drama Therapy Master’s Degree from Kansas State University and is credentialed as a Registered Drama Therapist and Board Certified Trainer through the North American Drama Therapy Association. She can be contacted at: nadya(at)dramatherapycenter.com or www.dramatherapycenter.com.
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Last Updated on July 14, 2021