Drama Therapy and Your Child

Drama therapy is a form of treatment that uses playacting to explore feelings in a safe environment. In drama therapy, participants may use storytelling, improvisation, and performance to solve problems, vent feelings, or work toward emotional goals. Drama therapy can succeed where other forms of therapy fail, because first of all, it’s fun. Second of all, drama therapy helps participants experiment with different behaviors and responses to events without any risk, because it’s all play, with none of it real.

Another reason drama therapy works so well is that it touches more of the senses than simply sitting and talking with a therapist: it’s multisensory. Getting up and acting something out makes it more real, than talking about what you did and what you might have done instead. In drama therapy, too, the goals are modest. You’re not looking for some incredible breakthrough. You just want the party to get comfortable with his or her feelings.

Drama therapy is a great way for kids to work out how they feel about things, or to vent feelings they’ve been too afraid to share. Kids already use drama therapy every day, without being aware that they do so. When they play “house” or play with their dolls, they are role-playing and exploring their feelings about parenting and family dynamics.

drama therapy
Playing the Clown

A child may not know how to tell a grownup that she experienced abuse. But in drama therapy, she may be able to play act the whole thing with dolls. A child who experiences terror, and suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may need to let out pent up scary feelings in order to face them and move on. Telling her story in drama therapy, as if it happened to someone else, may feel safer than just talking about what happened.

Sometimes children have a hard time making friends. They feel awkward talking to their peers and might not know how to break the ice. At other times, a child may be so afraid of rejection that she becomes a loner by default: she (let’s call her “Jane”) is too afraid that Miranda won’t want to jump rope with her, so Jane doesn’t bother to ask. She just sits in a corner by herself.

In drama therapy, Jane can practice asking Miranda to jump rope and imagine the different responses Miranda might offer. She can practice having Miranda say yes, and she can role-play Miranda saying no. She can role-play her own part as well as role-playing Miranda’s part, too. Jane can play-act every possibility of this interaction and see how she feels in each case. In this way, Jane has a chance to see how she feels in the worst case scenario of rejection, and get used to how that feels.

drama therapy
In drama therapy, the child is the star of his own drama.

But there are still more possibilities. Jane can then go back and see why Miranda said no. Was it because of the way Jane phrased the request? Did her fear of rejection come through and color Miranda’s negative response? In exploring every facet of this pretend interaction, Jane might find a more effective way to behave in social situations. In so doing, she gains a measure of control over what looks like a hopeless situation in which she is helpless: Jane can learn how to make friends.

Role playing is the most common tool used in drama therapy. Another common tool in drama therapy is mask making. When a child creates a mask, he is expressing emotion with paint and paper. Making a mask can be a relief for a child who has trouble talking about his feelings. Wearing a mask is like putting on a new mood or personality. A child who has been forbidden by his abuser to speak about the abuse, may find masks a safe way to show what happened and how he feels about that.

Drama Therapy Methods

Drama therapy is more than acting. Here are some common methods and tools used in a drama therapy session:

  • Scripts and script-writing
  • Role-playing
  • Making and using puppets
  • Games
  • Improvisation
  • Creating and performing rituals

One reason drama therapy has become so popular in recent years is that it doesn’t have the same stigma as just plain therapy. A school child or teenager would be embarrassed for friends to know she’s seeing a “shrink.” But going to drama therapy doesn’t have that same kind of negative connotation. It sounds more like an extra-curricular activity, a fun thing to do, than a way of getting in touch with feelings or dealing with emotional problems.

drama therapy
Mask making is a tool that is commonly used in drama therapy.

Drama Therapy Uses

Drama therapy can be helpful for these conditions, as well as others:

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Behavioral problems related to Autism
  • Peer and Family Relationship issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief
  • Learning disorders

Drama Therapy Goals

Some of the goals of drama therapy are to:

  • Encourage positive changes in behavior
  • Improve social skills
  • Increase self-awareness, self-esteem, and personal growth
  • Improve quality of life

In short, drama therapy offers a safe, fun, and effective way to explore issues. If you feel as though your child is getting nowhere in her therapy, you may want to look for a qualified drama therapist. The North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) website, has a search page for finding drama therapists in the United States and Canada.

Has your child had a success with drama therapy? We’d like to know about it. Write to Varda at Kars4Kids dot org with your child’s success story.


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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.