Drama therapy is the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals. Drama therapy 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.

Goals of Drama Therapy

Unlike talk therapy, drama therapy allows participants to express themselves non-verbally and under the guise of ‘play’ and ‘pretend.’ By creating distance from real-life experiences, events, circumstances, roles, patterns, and actions, participants have the opportunity to act in new ways, experiment with alternatives, and gain new insights. In addition, role playing is described as a liberating experience, allowing one to expand their current role in life or step into another person’s shoes.

Additional benefits and goals of drama therapy include:

  • Expression of feelings
  • Telling one’s story
  • Act out/work out issues and problems
  • Symptom relief
  • Emotional and physical integration
  • Catharsis
  • Expand depth of inner experiences
  • Boost self-confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase sense of play and spontaneity
  • Develop trust
  • Work out relationship issues
  • Improve interpersonal/social skills
  • Strengthen or expand personal life roles
  • Increase flexibility

Drama Therapy Techniques

An active, experiential, hands-on approach to facilitating change, drama therapy may employ any number of techniques, including:

  • Role playing
  • Purposeful improvisation
  • Storytelling
  • Projective play
  • Mime
  • Speech
  • Movement
  • Acting out
  • Props
  • Masks

Drama Therapy for Children and Adolescents

Drama therapy is especially effective and widely employed in the treatment of children and adolescents, where the element of play helps children gain mastery over their anxieties and conflicts, broaden their range of expressiveness, process events, and more – in ways where verbal methods and traditional therapy either fail or are insufficient. Drama therapy taps into young people’s natural propensity towards imagination and action in a non-threatening environment, allowing kids and teens who normally struggle connecting with or trusting adults to open up.

Additional benefits of drama therapy for children and adolescents include:

  • Non-verbal expression of difficult feelings
  • Process emotions
  • Address problems in an indirect way
  • Communicate needs and wants
  • Develop new coping skills
  • Change patterns
  • Improve self-esteem and self-value
  • Reduce feelings of isolation
  • Work through relationship issues
  • Gain mastery over fears, events, and circumstances
  • Improve communication skills
  • Learn to trust

Drama Class versus Psychodrama versus Drama Therapy

Several key distinctions differentiate between a drama class, psychodrama, and a drama therapy session. These include:

  • Drama classes teach people to portray characters and become better actors; drama therapy sessions focus on the relationship between the participant and their own emotions
  • Psychodrama came about in the early 20th century; the field of drama therapy debuted in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Psychodrama focuses on the protagonist’s story and is aimed at individuals; drama therapy can be used with individuals or groups
  • Psychodrama deals with metaphors and the embellishment of truth; drama therapy beings with fiction and leads up to truth