What a drama therapist does is quite similar to what a traditional therapist does: assess a patient or client's mental health needs, consider approaches that would best serve those needs, and implement them in therapeutic sessions. But unlike traditional therapists, who usually use talk therapy as the basis of their approach, drama therapists use processes from the theater—among them role-playing, storytelling, and performance—to pursue their therapeutic goals. Drama therapy can have many different aims, including revealing something about a client's inner life, providing them the freedom to experiment with different social roles, allowing them to tell their own stories, and helping them confront traumatic experiences, any of which can lead to catharsis.
Drama therapy, sometimes used with individuals but more often in group settings, is an active and experiential approach to therapy, which means there's little sitting around. It's based around facilitating social and interpersonal play and experimentation, allowing participants to rehearse desired behaviors, practice certain interpersonal relationships, confront fears, and explore the roles they play in their own lives. Common activities in drama therapy include improvisation, theater games, group play, enactment, and performance. Drama therapy can help people from a wide range of backgrounds, including members of dysfunctional families, abuse survivors, developmentally disabled individuals, those with behavioral issues, and anyone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Drama Therapist at a Glance
After earning a bachelor's degree, most drama therapists start out in the theater world as actors, playwrights, directors, teaching artists, and more. From there, there are two ways to become a registered drama therapist: receive a master's or doctoral degree in drama therapy from a program accredited by the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA), or receive a master's or doctoral degree in theater or a mental health profession with additional drama therapy training through NADTA's alternative training program.
As a form of professional advancement or in order to work in a certain setting, drama therapists might also pursue licenses and certifications, which vary from state to state in procedure and requirements. Drama therapists could go on to establish their own private practices or nonprofit organizations, become engaged in research or academia, or incorporate other art forms like music or dance into their practice, becoming creative or expressive arts therapists.
Drama therapists might work part or full-time positions at mental health facilities, schools, hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, adult day-care centers, correctional facilities, community centers, after-school programs, shelters, group homes, or nursing homes. Drama therapists might also work out of a private practice. Those who work with groups such as prison inmates, ex-cons, the homeless, and at-risk youth likely do so as an employee or leader of an arts-based nonprofit organization.
- Role-play and storytelling as therapeutic techniques
- Developing a therapeutic approach
- Guided improvisation
- Verbal communication
Drama therapists are, above all else, passionate about helping others. Ideally, they are comfortable around all kinds of people and dealing with a wide range of personal issues and challenges. Patience, empathy, and great communication skills, as well as a strong interest in drama, are vital.
Drama therapists might work on a freelance basis, piecing together a schedule out of part-time jobs in a variety of settings, or be employed full-time by a large institution, such as a hospital. Work days generally fall within standard business hours, and involve a lot of standing, moving, and directing. Drama therapists likely only find themselves behind a desk while filling out paperwork, scheduling clients, or maintaining a client database.