Therapeutic Theatre: Setting the Stage for Change

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A group of people dancing, lying on the floor with their right leg up. Lighting is magenta and blue.

We have all had moments in our lives that affect us in a profound way.

For some it may be the death of someone close to you, an unexpected illness, a traumatic event or a life changing transition such as parenthood or divorce. These situations have the power to impact us for the rest of our lives. They live in our bodies and become embedded in who we view ourselves to be.

But what if we could embody our story for a moment?

What if we had the ability to embody our experiences and share it with witnesses who may have had a similar experience? When others witness our stories, there is potential for healing for them as well. What if we could see someone else enact our story and have the power to change the narrative for ourselves?

What would that look like?

Therapeutic Theatre presents an opportunity to explore our stories from a less scary place. Creating a distanced experience, utilizing characters that may be part of ourselves or those we are in relationship with allows the individual or group an opportunity to be the author of their own story. It creates empowerment for the creator and the people who witness – whether it is with an audience or simply the drama therapist supporting the life script of the individual.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, a trauma expert and author of The Body Keeps Score, addresses the use of theatre to assist in the recovery of trauma stating,

“Traumatized people are afraid of conflict. The fear of losing control and ending up on the losing side once again. Conflict is central to theatre – inner conflicts, interpersonal conflicts, family conflicts, social conflicts and their consequences. Trauma is trying to forget, hiding how scared, enraged or helpless you are. Theatre is about ways of telling the truth and conveying deep truths to your audience.”

Each time I have engaged in a solo performance, it has had a profound effect on me. I have created three pieces at different points of my life, each addressing a different issue ranging from divorce to death to internal fear and anxiety. Each piece allowed me a space to create characters that impacted my story, releasing the power the story had over me and allowing peace to emerge. I didn’t know my projects were drama therapy as I was doing them, but I certainly felt a therapeutic shift. In development of a fourth piece, I look forward to addressing the stigma and myths around maternal mental health and early motherhood.

Therapeutic theatre can take on many forms.

It might be theatre as therapy or it may be a deep exploration that is therapeutic in nature. We also see this in communities such as drum circles and yoga classes. It may be a solo performance or an ensemble piece. It may be improvised or scripted. There is no right or wrong, no perfect and no acting experience necessary.

The beauty of theatre is that it belongs to everyone.

I saw an amazing evening of performance last year, sponsored by Maternal Mental Health NOW, where courageous women shared their personal stories of survival from postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum psychosis, early infant loss and hospitalization. Some were actors and others were not. It was healing, it was brave, it was therapeutic and it was full of hope.

We all need hope. We all deserve to live our best lives. Theatre can allow us the opportunity to live in our truth from a variety of perspectives.

Are you interested in creating a performance piece as part of your healing process? Please contact me for a free consultation.

Please note that this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or mental health professional.