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Many different drama therapy activities have been developed in order to teach certain people interpersonal skills and even help them increase their self-confidence. Through these activities, people can solve certain problems, learn to better express their feelings, and even achieve therapeutic goals. They can also help people adapt and learn certain skills, change certain behaviors, and improve their emotional states.

The Basics of Drama Therapy

Much as with art, dance, and music, using drama therapy to help with certain emotional disorders is nothing new. These techniques have been used for decades and there is even an association that formally recognizes drama therapy as an excellent method of improving certain conditions. Drama therapy tools usually center around the following activities:

  • Role-playing
  • Rituals
  • Improvisation
  • Story-telling
  • Puppetry
  • Games (including a variety of board games)
  • Scripts
  • Dramatic projection of issues or problems
  • Impersonation
  • Personification
  • Life-drama connection

As with other methods designed to improve interpersonal skills and other emotional problems, the use of drama therapy always comes with certain goals and objectives. This type of treatment usually has goals that include:

  • Improve interpersonal skills
  • Achieve self-awareness and personal growth
  • Promote positive changes when it comes to behavior
  • Make sure that you are both physically and emotionally healthy
  • Improve the overall quality of life

Through role-playing and dramatic interactions, a multitude of emotional problems can be improved and drama therapy tools have been used for problems related to PTSD, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, learning difficulties, and even conditions such as substance abuse and dementia.

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Specific Activities Related to Drama Therapy

There are also specific activities that use drama therapy as a way to handle different problems. These include the following:

  • The hat game. In a group of 6-12 people, have them pick a hat out of a bag one at a time. The first person invents a story about the hat and creates a character for himself or herself, then the second person does the same, and so on. A creative imagination and better mental cognition will result.
  • Transformation. Each person receives an item that he or she has to transform into an everyday item. The original items can include a piece of cloth, a toilet bowl brush, or similar. The activity encourages coping and creative thinking skills.
  • Audio book club. Have the group listen to a few chapters of an audio book and give them details about the plot. Have each participant describe what he or she would do if he or she were the main character. It is great for improving coping skills and works best with funny or humorous books.
  • Acting out. Get props and have each participant act out a certain situation. For instance, you can announce that they are the doctor and must remove something stuck in a patient’s nose. They have to act out how they would do this. This activity promotes socialization and creative thinking skills.
  • Angry person. If a child is dealing with anger as an issue, you can tell them that Mr. Angry Man is trying to sneak through and you can have the child draw how he or she thinks this man looks. After he or she draws the man, you can begin a dialogue that can help him or her work on that anger.
  • The islands. When a child is dealing with a major change in life, have him or her draw two islands that represent the present and the future. Have him or her talk about each of these islands and discuss the good and bad feelings that he or she has about each of them.
  • The card game. The therapist writes down role-playing scenarios on each of a set of index or postcards. Each participant gets two cards placed face-down but gets to look at the cards and decide whether to keep them or trade with someone else. When all have decided, they have to act out the scenarios on their cards.

These and many other drama therapy activities work wonders when it comes to recognizing and dealing with various emotional issues. The good news is that all of them are designed specifically for certain age groups, which goes a long way if you are working with the young and the very old as patients.

Is Drama Therapy the Same as Drama Classes?

Drama classes are different from drama therapy not only in the specific activities involved but also in the reasons for those activities in the first place. With a drama class, the main focus is to improve the skills of the actors involved. In drama therapy, the focus is on the relationship between the participant and his or her emotions.

There is also psychodrama, which is when patients act out something that happened in the past. Once again, this is different than drama therapy because psychodrama is always aimed at an individual whereas drama therapy can be utilized in both individual and group settings.

When people participate in drama classes, they are doing so because they want to become actors. Drama therapy doesn’t rely on the participant’s acting skills for effectiveness because that isn’t the point of the exercise. The point is only one thing and that is to help the participant deal with all types of emotional and/or behavioral issues.

Drama Therapy and Autistic Children

Drama therapy has been used to improve certain skills in children with autism as well as those with ADHD and other conditions that may affect their behavior. According to many studies, there are specific areas that may show an improvement when autistic children participate in various drama therapy activities. These areas include:

Drama Therapy and Autistic Children
  • More self-esteem and pride
  • A better ability to identify their emotions
  • Better awareness of different volume levels
  • Ability to follow directions
  • More overall confidence
  • Better ability to recognize emotions in other people
  • Learning a new activity that can be just for fun
  • A better ability to function in a group
  • Better interaction with other people

Activities that center around drama therapy and are devised specifically for autistic individuals build on the strengths that these people have. In many cases, they are verbal but unable to speak and interact socially. They can even be great at imitating others’ verbal and physical actions and these drama therapy exercises use those strengths to improve other areas of their lives.

Drama therapy sessions for autistic individuals are very structured yet are personalized to the individual’s needs and talents. This usually results in the individual having a sense of self-empowerment and control, which also contributes to the activity’s success.

Common activities for autistic individuals include music, singing, play, and rhythm activities. They center around movement and allow the patients to get a better sense of themselves, their space, and their relationship to the therapist. Best of all, there have been no known negative effects of using drama therapy for autistic patients.

Why Is Drama Therapy So Effective?

Drama therapy has been proven effective for a variety of disorders and it is especially beneficial to young people and teenagers. It is more than just a therapist talking to a client; rather, it is a way for the client to participate in a variety of activities and feel a certain amount of control over the situation. Why is drama therapy so good for teenagers and other young people? Below are a few reasons:

  • They can tell their personal story to an audience.
  • Acting things out is a great learning tool.
  • Drama therapy is real therapy but to them it just feels as if it is play.
  • They can experience new ways of acting or being.
  • They are able to change the details and even the ending of a story.
  • It gives them a different way to look at their problems.

Drama therapy exercises are simple and fun to young people but they provide a wealth of information to the therapist that goes a long way in helping these young people heal and improve their lives.

Activities that are specifically designed for teenagers include:

  • In a group setting, have each teen act out who he or she thinks he or she is in the group, such as a scapegoat, a natural leader, or similar.
  • In situations involving conflict with a sibling or other family member, have the teen act out a scene as if he or she were the sibling and say and do what he or she thinks that his or her sibling would in that situation.

Since drama therapy is so effective yet so simple, many people are curious about its benefits. The many advantages of utilizing drama therapy activities for patients of all ages include:

Providing the Benefits You Need and Deserve

  • They are able to set goals for themselves.
  • It helps them relate to other individuals.
  • They can apply what they’ve learned once you get back home, to school, or elsewhere.
  • It is a great way to escape from life for a while.
  • They can express how they really feel about things.
  • They can interact with others in a calming, very relaxed atmosphere.
  • It provides a better understanding of why they do certain things.
  • They learn how to best react to difficult situations.
  • They learn how to solve problems rather quickly and without conflict.
Providing the Benefits You Need and Deserve

When trauma affects a young person, it can make that person shut down or become closed off emotionally. Drama therapy can help open up that part of a person and it does this in a non-threatening and very relaxed manner. It doesn’t even feel as if it is a type of therapy even though it is a very important type of therapy. In addition, it can also bring out emotions that the participant wasn’t even aware were there, which in turn goes a long way in helping resolve a number of issues.

Lots of Reasons for its Success

Just why are drama therapy activities so successful? They are successful because they:

  • Work in the present. Drama therapy exercises are structured but the therapists can still deal with spur-of-the-moment challenges that could arise during the activities.
  • Allow clients to project their feelings and emotions onto something or someone else so that they can distance themselves a bit from the real problem and look at it objectively.
  • Allow clients to verbalize difficult situations through role-playing and other physical activities, enabling them to deal with the issue a lot easier.
  • Allow for a catharsis, which is sometimes all that is needed for a person with emotional problems to move forward.

Some Are More Personalized Than Others

Many drama therapy techniques are specifically designed for certain members of society, such as people with dementia, teenagers, school children, or people in prison. Because autism is so common nowadays, many schools are incorporating these exercises into their educational programs, most with tremendous success. Below are some of the reasons why these individualized programs work so well.

  • They do not feel “preachy” or, in most cases, as if they are an educational experience.
  • They make all participants feel as if they are an important part of the activities.
  • They allow participants to make additional friends because they feel that they have things in common with the other participants.
  • They enable participants to learn new social skills quickly and easily.
  • They do not have to feel anxious because the programs are not similar to regular therapy sessions.
  • They help participants better understand other people’s point of view.
  • They can improve relationships with their peers and even authority figures.
  • They have fewer discipline problems even after the exercises are complete.

Even prisoners have shown marked improvement in almost every area of their lives after participating in drama therapy exercises so it appears that everyone can actually benefit from this activity.

Some Final Thoughts

It is obvious that drama therapy exercises benefit people greatly and help ease certain emotional or behavioral problems. Perhaps the biggest advantage of taking part in these exercises is the fact that they are easy and non-confrontational. In fact, they don’t feel as if they are therapy at all, which is one of the main reasons why they work so well.

From miming to projective play and even the use of masks for certain exercises, you’ll find a lot of options when it comes to drama therapy activities, especially if you do your due diligence so that you can find the one that best suits your needs. The activities themselves are extremely effective and finding one that will work in your situation is easier than you think.

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