Theatre as therapy

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

-William Shakespeare

Theatre is a unique gift to us in that it allows us to temporarily immerse ourselves in another world. While watching a play, you feel what the characters on stage are feeling and think the way they do. Their joys and sorrows also become ours for that short period of time. It stimulates all our senses in a way which is more personal and immediate than movies or music. Human emotions are the same world over and even if we experience them over different situations and people, we can all relate to someone in pain, angry, jealous, guilty, contented or happy. Theatre allows us the opportunity to experience these emotions and achieve catharsis for our own pent up emotions vicariously by watching the lives of the characters.

Theatre has always been practiced in some form or the other in India for hundreds of years. It seems to have regained popularity in the last few decades in Bangalore. More people are choosing theatre as a form of recreation, not only to watch plays but to enter theatre workshops and act in theatre productions. The number of amateur and professional theatre groups has increased accordingly. Theatre is an art which simultaneously relaxes the viewer while still capturing his/her attention completely (if the play is good!) and stimulating his/her thought and emotional process.
Consider taking this one step further. What if one’s love for theatre could be used creatively to deal with one’s problems? Drama Therapy has been developed for just such a purpose. Due to the unique properties of theatre, it is being used very successfully as a form of counseling. Generally, counseling is purely talk therapy consisting of thought-provoking conversations aimed at increasing the client’s self-awareness. However, just talking about your thoughts and emotions might not always be enough. All those emotions we experience require a physical outlet which Drama Therapy can provide. The key premise on which this therapy rests is that creative art is a force that has the power to heal. It assumes that people are intrinsically “dramatic” in their development.

Drama therapy grew out of a therapeutic technique called ‘Pyschodrama’ developed by J. L. Moreno in which the individual acts out certain roles or incidents in the presence of a therapist and, often, other persons who are part of a therapy group. Drama therapy uses the various techniques, products and associations of theatre to help people solve problems, express and experience suppressed emotions, explore and act out unhealthy interactions to gain greater understanding and achieve personal growth. It can involve role-plays, miming, puppetry, using theatre games and group games. It can be used with individuals, families or groups to help achieve their goals in therapy.

The two main processes that are used in Drama Therapy are projective identification and dramatic distancing. Projective identification is the process whereby a person identifies with a character in a story and uses hypothetical situations and fantasy to work out his/her real-life problems. Sometimes, we avoid dealing with certain feelings, desires or problems because it is too painful. Instead, we avoid them and remain in denial. By projecting such feelings, attitudes and opinions through masks, puppets, objects or art, the individual creates a distance between himself and his problems and can deal with them more easily. This is known as dramatic distancing.

Drama therapy has been found to be useful with many different problems and people and. One the main benefits of using drama therapy is the ability to adapt it to the population which needs help. There have been many instances of drama therapists working successfully through the medium of theatre to help juvenile delinquents and adult prisoners deal with their aggression and other negative emotions. It can help those of us who have social phobia or are unable to express ourselves the way we want to in the presence of others. By slipping into a role, you can leave your own inhibitions behind and try out new ways of behaving without any consequences. It has also been successfully used with children and special populations like the mentally and physically disabled, children with autism, drug addicts and so on.

If you are struggling with an issue and would like to avail of professional counselling, you can contact us at TalkItOver for individual, couple, family or group counselling.

Talk It Over

If the idea of Drama Therapy appeals to you as a potential route to healing, you can find more information on it by clicking on the links below.

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About Sarayu Chandrashekar

Sarayu Chandrashekar is a qualified Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). She has an M.S in Marriage and Family Therapy from Purdue University, USA, an M.S in Psychological Counselling from Montfort College, and a B.A in Psychology from Christ University, Bangalore. She has worked in a de-addiction centre and a family therapy clinic in the US as well as with the Association for the Mentally Challenged, Bangalore in the past. She has also completed a research study for her MFT degree on Indian couples living in the US and their marital satisfaction. She has nearly 1000 hours of counselling experience. She incorporates a combination of systemic family therapies and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) in her work. She has a passion for couple and family therapy and group work.