Drama Therapy

10 October 2016

Before choosing the one I wanted to explore, I had to literally revisit my old theories of personality’s book and after hours and hours of thinking and analyzing I decided that I should walk this path with Erik Erikson and his Developmental Theory. According to Alloy et al. (1999), “To Erikson, the major drama of development is the formation of the ego identity, an integrated, unique, and autonomous sense of self” (p. 102). Unlike Freud, Erikson’s theory proposes that the personality is a process which extends from birth to death and it doesn’t take place just in a specific stage of life but on the contrary, is a formative process.

According to Erikson, psychosocial development involves changes in our interactions and mutual understanding as well as in our knowledge and understanding of us as members of society. Erikson’s idea of personality is based in the social influence, not in the individual psyche as Freud proposes. As Alloy et al. (1999) states, “ Erikson saw personality development as deeply affected not only by the family but also by teachers, friends, spouses, and many other social agents” (p. 103).

Drama Therapy Essay Example

To understand Erikson’s theory it is always helpful to make a contrast between his theory and Freud’s. For Freud, it wasn’t the ego but the challenges to the id that would determine the personality. However, for Erikson the role of the ego is central in the developmental progression and it takes place on different stages. As Johnson and Emunah (2009) state, “…with each stage of life there are specific themes that manifest and individual’s way of viewing and interacting in the world, requiring defined roles for that person and significant others to enact” (p. 52). Erikson proposes eight different stages with different needs in each one of them; in fact four of these stages take place during childhood. Also his theory explains that in each of these stages there is a crisis or conflict that needs to be resolve. ( Feldman, 2006, p. 359) It is important to mention that for Erikson the failure in one of these stages does not necessarily represents that the person is going to fail in the following stages. The stages that Erikson describes through the psychosocial development theory are: Trust vs.

Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Role Confusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Stagnation and Ego Integrity vs. Despair. According to Erikson and as cited in Johnson and Emunah (2009), “Dysfunction and pathology emerge when these theme-based stages have been unsuccessfully integrated due to role deviation or dysfunctional environment” (p. 252). This is why it is important to resolve the “conflicts” that each stage presents in order to be prepared for the demands of the next one.

However, when one of these stages is not nurtured and accomplished, the mental health of that individual is jeopardize and it is very probable that this person is going to be held in that specific stage. (Johnson & Emunah, 2009) This is where drama therapy appears to help the individual overcome these crises. According to the National Association of Drama Therapist (NADT), drama therapy is “An active, experiential approach to facilitating change.

Through storytelling, projective play, purposeful improvisation, and performance, participants are invited to rehearse desired behaviors….. [as they] perform the change they wish to be and see in the world” This definition provides very specific utilities and goals of drama therapy while it mentions different tools to achieve them. For the purpose of this paper we are going work with “purposeful improvisation” as it is presented how the concept of self and the stages’ crises are intrinsically connected with what is done though improvisation.

When thinking about improvisation words such as spontaneity, unconscious, discovery of self, play, creativity, emotions, accepting first thoughts, and narrative, immediately come to mind ( Johnstone, 1992). Though, words like healing or therapy aren’t commonly associated with this theatrical technique. However, according to Chaplin and Gray (2010), There are compelling parallels between the creative and spontaneous moments that occur in the therapeutic encounter and in a two-person dramatic improvisation found in theater training.

Both involve the imaginative and creative collaboration of the participants and both involve the mutual responsiveness of storyteller and listener. (p. 254)  Using this quote as reference, it would be suitable to say that improvisation, in fact, is a tool that can be used for therapeutic purposes. Specifically addressing developmental crisis, as presented in Erikson’s theory, improvisational exercise can be really useful, because of the unconscious areas of the brain that this theatrical technique can access.

It is important to remember that individuals that experience traumatic events in one of these developmental stages respond to life challenges through the lenses of the stage they got stuck in. For example, if a client had a really traumatic experience in the first stage, where the development of trust is crucial, it is expected that this person is going to have trouble with trusting. The interesting thing about this is that it is very possible that the client is not going to be aware of this since this is product of unconscious processes. (Johnson & Emunah. , 2009, p. 54) However, according to Johnson and Emunah (2009),“The threads of the themes and roles are gradually revealed to the client through etiologically based exploratory role playing” (p. 254). Role playing theory is huge by itself, and it is not going to be discussed on this paper, but it is important to mention that this technique is a big part of improvisation. In fact, through role playing the client is able to go back to that specific stage and be that “child” or that “adolescent”, while on the other hand “ The role of the therapist is paramount in healing early stages of development” (Johnson & Emunah, 2009, p. 54). This is being anything the client need the therapist to be in order to recreate the intended scene. The dynamic that takes place in a therapy session and in a theater scenario is practically the same. In words of Chaplin and Gray (2010), For both scenarios, “…the sense of not knowing what is going to happen ceases to be a threat and becomes instead an opportunity for spontaneous creative involvement. The improvisational skills that are essential to effective acting are teachable and relevant indeed, invaluable to psychoanalytic practice”(p. 65). What these authors are saying is the core of this paper; on one hand theatrical improvisation trains actors to perform effectively in a scenario, and on the other therapeutic improvisation trains people to perform well and with mental health in the scenario of life. This improvisation, works as a therapeutic tool as it opens channels of communication with the disruptive self of the client. The situation with developmental crisis is that the notion of self that is build through the years is conditioned by the trauma the client has experience. In his case the work of the drama therapist is to provide non-threatening spaces of play and creativity where the client can be free to explore and discover that, through dramatic enactments he or she is able to learn how to live in the moment and responding to life challenges with spontaneity and openness rather than fixed to the role in which they got stuck. The problems that can be access through this improvisation are extensive. As Johnson and Emunah (2009) state, “Because the approach is by definition developmental, all ages from infancy to aging and dying are appropriate” (p. 55). In fact this improvisation through the developmental approach can serve people diagnosed with PTSD, autism, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, eating disorders and addictions among others. Drama therapists can work with this developmental approach based on Erikson’s theory, in different ways. For example, Ritual Drama, using transformational theater, helps the client moving on to the next developmental stage, but not without valuing and recognizing the experience of that transition.

In other words, this technique will provide a safe place for a person with an anxiety disorder that is fixed and stuck in the second stage of autonomy, where issues of control and power are very present, and where letting go is major step. Another drama therapy technique that can be very useful is the Developmental Theme Based- Improvisational Drama where the therapist suggests different scenarios or situations to be improvised but in an imaginary place, where the client can work with adaptation and re-adaptation.

This could be potentially useful with children with autism, since for these kids adaptation is really difficult. (Johnson & Emunah, 2009) Improvisation is like this unique world in which everything is possible and where the unconscious meets the conscious as they dialogue looking for answers. As Chaplin and Gray state, Improvisation consists of moment-to-moment, affective engagement [and free expression] in which patient and analyst [therapist] co- create ways of being with each other.

For both, the sense of not knowing what is going to happen ceases to be a threat and becomes instead an opportunity for spontaneous creative involvement. The drama therapy space and the therapeutic relationship becomes a place to review, resurface and rearrange: new relationships are developed. As stated in this paper, Erikson’s psychosocial and developmental theory of personality provides a space to approach and explain the rigidity of roles and life’s crisis through the lenses of the unconscious and the traumas that in some point disrupted one of the stages.

As explained through these pages, drama therapy and its techniques seem to be appropriate and useful to help clients overcoming developmental crisis. In words of Johnson and Emunah (2009), “ A clients recovery into wholeness means that s/he can fully experience the uniqueness of each moment… and that s/he has the potential to be in relationship to the archetypal Self to that which can continuously provide the stage for involvement in developmentally stimulated life themes” (p. 280) Amen!!! References: Alloy, L. , Jacobson, N. S. , & Acocella, J. R. 1999). Abnormal Psychology: Current Perspectives (8th ed. ) McGraw-Hill College. Chaplin, R. & Gray, A. (2010). Theater and Therapy: How Improvisation Informs the Analytic Hour. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30(3), 254-266. Feldman. R. S. (2006). Psicologia con aplicaciones en paises de habla hispana. (6ta ed. ) Mexico: McGraw-Hill. Johnson, D. R. , & Emunah, R. (Eds. ) (2009). Current approaches in drama therapy. (2nd Ed. ) Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. Johnstone, K. (1992). IMPRO: Improvisation and the theatre. New York, NY : Routledge.

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