Dana N Sayre (they/them/their) is a Registered Drama Therapist through the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). They also currently hold the title of Assistant Director of Psychodrama from Centerwood Institute. Dana has a MA in Performance Studies from Texas A&M University.
One of the most frequent questions I am asked is,
“What is drama therapy?”
This is not an easy question to answer!
What we now call drama therapy has existed in some form or another since the beginnings of human civilization. Broadly speaking, drama therapy is the intentional use of dramatic tools and frameworks for therapeutic benefit.
I like to look to etymology for a different depth of understanding. The word “drama” comes from the Ancient Greek verb for “to do, or to act.” And the word “therapy” comes from the Ancient Greek word for “healing.” So, drama therapy is healing in ACTION!
Most people in the West are probably familiar with psychotherapy, or what is often called “talk therapy” or even just “therapy.” We call psychotherapy talk therapy because speech or verbal processing is the primary vehicle for insight and change. You talk with your therapist, and that talking is what is supposed to help you feel better.
Drama therapists believe that doing things is what helps people feel better.
We are always striving towards embodiment, or increased awareness of bodily sensations and what it means and feels like to exist inside a physical body.
Drama therapy is also one of the creative arts therapies (art therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, poetry therapy). Each of the arts are their own form of language. You might have heard the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Engaging in the arts can be a faster form of processing – there is so much more depth of information and sensory input available.
Anyone who has engaged with the arts, whether in school, as a hobby, or professionally, has probably noted their therapeutic benefits. When we are struggling with strong emotions, we can create or engage with art, and it helps us feel better. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle called this process “catharsis.” Sometimes leaning into difficult emotions can help us move past them, even if it can feel scary or uncomfortable in the moment.
It’s why we often turn to a familiar TV show, movie, book, or musical artist in times of stress. Being able to connect emotionally with a character we identify with can help us process feelings about our own life situation. Or maybe we use it to escape and imagine some other reality that could exist, which informs how we think about our own agency. Our experience of different works of art can be tied to past experiences with a particular piece of art or artist, and what we were going through at the time. There are so many layers of richness to explore!
The creative arts therapies try to intentionally harness the arts’ therapeutic potential. They are process-oriented. Whereas, since we live in a capitalist system, often people are engaging with the arts in a product-oriented (or profit-oriented) way. As a drama therapist, I am interested in what positive benefits you get from creating or engaging with a piece of art. How it makes you feel. What associations you make with it. How it informs your thinking and your worldview.
It isn’t about your level of experience, skill, or artistic talent. While the people most drawn to drama therapy often have some kind of theatrical experience, or were in a drama club in school, that isn’t necessary.
Part of drama therapy is related to narratives and storytelling. This includes the narrative we tell about ourselves, our lives, who we are, and who we want to be. It can also include stories our families, communities, and cultures tell about us and people like us. Especially marginalized individuals have internal narratives that are influenced by harmful stereotypes. We can look at this life narrative as if it is a script – which means you can bust out a red pen and edit it!
I also think about the different roles we play in our lives. These can be related to our relationships with other people, our job or profession, our hobbies and interests, and even the larger culture. Most roles are social roles, which means they have shared meanings. We don’t completely “own” these roles or how other people relate to us in them, and that can create conflict. Sometimes we also feel pushed into roles that we didn’t ask for or stuck in roles that don’t feel good. Drama therapy can help you identify the kinds of roles that interest you most and which you want to prioritize. And which ones it may be time to let go of.
But all of this is still kind of theoretical. You probably want to understand what drama therapy looks like – what would we do if you committed to a session with me? And that also depends!
Part of what I am interested in are what aspects of the arts feel interesting to YOU. What are you already doing in your life that is creative? And what are you curious to try?
We might make visual art. This could be creating a self-portrait, exploring a metaphor, or just noticing what thoughts, feelings and emotions come up in the process of translating an image in your head into art. We could listen to music, or read a story, poem, or script aloud together. We could do role play, either with other people in your life, or with different aspects of yourself. We could look at how movement, gesture, and facial expressions can help you make sense of yourself and your feelings. We could even play a drama or improv game.
One of the things I like about drama therapy is how versatile and creative it can be. There’s no right or wrong, and no one way to engage with it. It is about the process of being present in your body in the moment and learning to tap into your own creativity and spontaneity.
I hope that helps! And if you want to lean more, never hesitate to contact me. I am passionate about drama therapy, and I am always happy to talk about it.
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