Theatre (Drama)

What is Drama Therapy?

Drama therapy is the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals.

Creative expression as a form of healing is a process that has been wildly accepted by many cultures throughout history. One of way to help patients in expressing themselves can be through drama therapy.

The roots of drama therapy go back as far as the ancient Greeks where theatre was a part of life, a festival for the gods and an opportunity to express social impacts of life and change. Aspects of the theatre have routinely come into play in therapy including role play, an exercise in which two people express themselves by pretending to be, for example, a mother and daughter discussing the day. Drama therapy goes a step further and allows the patient to express their emotions by not just pretending to be the characters, but actually “being” the characters and separating themselves from the actions using their emotions to drive the action.

At a glance, drama therapy is similar to the Stanislavski method of acting (a method still used by actors today) wherein actors draw believable performances by focusing on an emotional memory which they then focus internally to portray a character’s emotions on stage. This method was founded by Constantin Stanislavski, a russian actor, director and administrator of The Moscow Art Theater in the early 1900s.

Drama therapy is an embodied practice that is active and experiential. This approach can provide the context for participants to tell their stories, set goals and solve problems, express feelings, or achieve catharsis. Through drama, the depth and breadth of inner experience can be actively explored and interpersonal relationship skills can be enhanced. 

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, practice being in relationship, expand and find flexibility between life roles, and perform the change they wish to be and see in the world.

How Does Drama Therapy Work?

Drama therapy uses play, embodiment, projection, role, story, metaphor, empathy, distancing, witnessing, performance, and improvisation to help people make meaningful change. 

A drama therapist first assesses a client’s needs and then considers approaches that might best meet those needs. Drama therapy can take many forms depending on individual and group needs, skill and ability levels, interests, and therapeutic goals. Processes and techniques may include improvisations, theater games, storytelling, and enactment. Many drama therapists make use of text, performance, or ritual to enrich the therapeutic and creative process. The theoretical foundation of drama therapy lies in drama, theater, psychology, psychotherapy, anthropology, play, and interactive and creative processes.

Who Can Benefit from Drama Therapy?

Drama therapy is for everyone across the lifespan. You do not have to be “good” at acting to benefit from drama therapy!

Client populations may include persons recovering from addiction, dysfunctional families, developmentally disabled persons, abuse survivors, prison inmates, homeless persons, people with AIDS, older adults, behavioral health consumers, at-risk youth, and the general public.

Depending on the therapeutic goals, drama therapy can take on many forms and include a range of techniques, including:

Drama exercises




Role play


Theater games

Allowing yourself to fall into a role through drama therapy as an actor can help you leave your inhibitions behind. By giving yourself “permission,” to feel your emotions, you find new ways of approaching problems, coming up with solutions, and sharing with the group without fear of consequences.

The most important thing in drama therapy is to remember to never give up. Put yourself out there and learn from your experiences.

For more information on drama therapy and how it may benefit you, a simple search for drama therapy programs in your area will set you in the right direction. *Remember to consult your physician before attempting any form of therapy on your own.

In the meantime, see more theater! Allow yourself to get lost in the stories and the actions taking place on the stage. Bring a friend and follow up your experience with a discussion with what you just saw. And as always, be sure to support your local arts organizations.