How dramatherapy helped me

While training as a music therapist I was required to attend personal therapy for the duration of the training course. I spent about one year with a talking counsellor. I decided it was not for me as I could not clearly identify its benefits and I was even beginning to resent attending. Looking back I realise it was an important learning curve for me. Not all therapy is destined to succeed. I think it is important when looking for a personal therapist to keep in mind that you need to find the right kind of therapy and therapist for you. Do your research and trust your instinct to determine if it is the right fit for you.

Due to my background I had a loose awareness of alternative psychotherapy, particularly those with a creative edge; music therapy, dance psychotherapy, art psychotherapy and dramatherapy. I was particularly drawn to the idea of dramatherapy as I thought of acting and props: the word drama had positive associations for me. I think most people come to these types of therapies for the same kind of reason even if what they entail is nothing like you imagined. Typically these therapies are a little more expensive than CBT or other counselling so what do you exactly get for your money?

Speaking from the dramatherapy perspective, it is just like seeing any other counsellor except as well as being able to verbally share things, there are creative tools at your disposal as well as the choice to explore things with movement if that is your wish. In dramatherapy you might find tools such as props, puppets, costumes, recorded music, art supplies, musical instruments etc. There is no generic approach to dramatherapy. It rather depends on the training of the therapist and their own style and background as a therapist. Typically, as in counselling sessions, you may have something very specific you want to address or you may want to see what emerges. In my opinion it is a great type of therapy where you want to look after your mental health but perhaps aren’t sure where to start. 

What I loved most about dramatherapy was the way in which things could emerge from use of the drama tools. This means doing a lot of work with unconscious processes. This can be very mind boggling at times because you may have no clue what is going on but it can also be a really freeing process.  

An early favourite of mine was “the box”. My therapist brought this every session: it resembled a vintage jewellery box, verging on a small treasure chest. It was full of all manner of little items. I might take something out of that which caught my eye and explore this aspect. Other times some of the objects would have associations which would prompt discussion. My therapist might also encourage me to feel around and go with an instinct of what I wanted to take out. She would regularly rotate and/or add new items.

For another creative example, in my early sessions I created a “storyboard” with my therapists guidance. It is as it sounds; the tool in which you might craft out an idea. It had all manner of symbols and “characters” on it which I had devised from scenarios given to me by my therapist. We explored each of these through movement, either embodying or aided by recorded music. I often hadn’t a clue what was going on. I’d go home very upset sometimes not understanding why, wondering if the therapy was having a negative impact. What I began to realise is I had actually acknowledged different aspects of myself subconsciously. I really began to understand my own mind and my reactions to different scenarios in life I had been finding difficult.

It is not all doom and gloom though. I have had some hilarious sessions like where my therapist and I embodied and enacted a vicious snake accompanied by the Taylor Swift song ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. The point? To explore the polar opposites of how we act to criticism/blame. Hate vs strength.

I have explored many issues with dramatherapy: sex, bereavement, trauma, sexuality and self esteem just to name a few.

As with any therapy the success relies on the relationship you have with your therapist: the therapeutic relationship. If you go in understanding this relationship will need to develop, you begin to expect less from your therapist and realise they are merely a guide to help you make more informed and better choices when you are struggling. The quicker you lose the expectation of being “cured” the quicker the real healing can commence. A good therapist will make you feel safe and you will learn to dance like nobody is watching and share the most ridiculous things on your mind without feeling judged. 

My sessions changed dramatically in 2 years. In the beginning I was often unsure what to do, waiting for suggestions from my therapist. By the end I was better at utilising the space and I took specific ideas in with me. I became particularly interested in the psychological aspects of our song choices so moved away from props into elements of dance psychotherapy utilising my own favourite songs. Dramatherapy allowed me to explore things I didn’t like talking about or acknowledging through its creative processes. Yet, at the same time the option is always there if you would rather just talk. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I have done for my own wellbeing.

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