Is Drama Therapy for Addiction Recovery Helpful?
When people think of therapy, they typically imagine sitting in an office and having a back-and-forth conversation. This may not be incredibly appealing to some, and that's okay. There are so many alternative forms of therapy that also promote healing in profound ways. One of those forms of therapy is drama therapy for addiction recovery.
Drama therapy isn't about getting on stage and performing for an audience. Rather, it's about ceasing the chaos of one’s mind and exploring feelings and experiences in a new way.
Drama therapy can be so beneficial in treating addiction and for those in recovery. Combined with psychotherapy, it can be an effective healing tool for those with trauma and addiction.
For those who are averse to traditional talk therapies, this does not have to be a block in the way of experiencing true healing. Read on to discover the many benefits of drama therapy for those in addiction and in recovery.
What is drama therapy?
Drama therapy was developed in the 1930s and was initially created as an anxiety intervention. Drama therapy is an experiential form of therapy, which means that clients learn by doing, not just by talking.
According to The North American Drama Therapy Association, drama therapy is “the intentional use of theatre techniques to achieve symptom relief, emotional growth, and mind-body integration.”
Essentially, this is an experiential form of therapy that uses drama to achieve a desired therapeutic outcome.
Drama therapy can help by:
- Connecting you to your emotions
- Boosting your confidence
- Seeing your experiences from a different perspective
- Connecting you to yourself on a deeper level
- Providing a safe outlet for tension, anger and shame
- Improve social skills
- It can be very enjoyable and rewarding
Although drama therapy evokes ideas of being on a stage, it extends beyond this. Drama therapy is conducted one-on-one or in a group. It can take place in a traditional therapy office or in a group meeting room. Only registered drama therapists, who are specifically trained in drama therapy, can conduct drama therapy sessions.
Drama therapy for addiction isn’t reserved for actors or extroverts. It can help anyone who wants to explore an alternative to traditional talk therapy.
What to expect during drama therapy
Drama therapy for addiction can be used as a sole treatment, or it can be incorporated alongside more traditional forms of therapy such as CBT or trauma-focused therapy.
In drama therapy, sessions are typically divided into three parts – the warm-up, enactment, and sharing.
Drama therapy sessions allow clients to explore their emotions through many different modalities.
Some of the methods used in a drama therapy session are :
- Mirror exercises
- Theatre games
- Drama exercises
One of the intentions of drama therapy for addiction is to explore the feelings that could have led to substance use. Through acting out scenes or reenacting painful experiences, the client is able to bring forth emotions they may have previously repressed, or were simply unaware of. Observing these emotions allows the client to understand how their difficult feelings could have led to further issues, such as addiction.
Additionally, drama therapy provides a space for clients to let go of their thoughts, and fully focus on the feelings that arise within them. Noticing and following these emotions can lead to great insight and breakthroughs.
Clients can look back on previous experiences to understand them in a different way. Gaining a new perspective offers deeper insight that can evoke clarity and healing.
Who benefits from drama therapy?
Drama therapy offers a safe space to explore one’s story and experience healing. Many people who have trouble accessing their emotions or recounting painful memories can benefit from drama therapy. Although drama therapy was initially developed for anxiety, it can help so many people with a variety of issues.
Some of the people who benefit from drama therapy include:
- Those in recovery from addiction
- Abuse survivors
- Those with developmental disabilities
- Prison inmates
- At-risk youths
- Individuals struggling with homelessness
- Dysfunctional families
- Those with behavioural issues
Now you may have a better understanding of what drama therapy is and who it benefits. However, exactly what kind of benefits can one expect when engaging in drama therapy?
The benefits of drama therapy for addiction recovery
Drama therapy is an effective form of therapy for those who want to try an alternative to more traditional therapies.
The benefits of drama therapy for those in addiction recovery include:
Drama therapy can help clients broaden their perspective around situations. For instance, if a client got into an argument with their spouse, the therapist may ask the client to act out a role-playing scene of the argument. However, they would instruct the client to play the role of the spouse. This can help the client expand their empathy and connection to others.
Explore difficult feelings
Drama therapy for addiction can help clients explore difficult feelings. For many in recovery from addiction, it can be hard to actually feel emotions, having numbed them for so long. However, the emotions are still within the body, they just need to be accessed. Drama therapy provides a channel to access these stifled emotions. Clients have a safe, nonjudgmental space to evoke feelings they’ve been repressing. Additionally, by stepping into roles, clients have an opportunity to learn how to feel again. By playing various roles, they are able to access emotions they may not have experienced in a long time, such as love, pride, or confidence.
Aid in preventing relapse
Drama therapy for addiction can aid in preventing relapse. Through drama therapy sessions, clients can act out potential triggering situations, in which they’re faced with an opportunity to engage in substance use. Clients can also act out triggering situations in which they’re faced with difficult emotions or stressors, which can also lead to substance use. One of the contributors to relapse is people feeling caught off guard when faced with an external trigger. By acting these scenarios out ahead of time, clients have an opportunity to explore how they would handle this situation. They can practise saying no, until it feels comfortable, easy, and second nature. Having this sort of practise can help make it easier when faced with temptation in the real world.
Connection with others
Drama therapy for addiction offers a great opportunity to develop connections with others. Addiction itself is an incredibly isolating disease. Even when someone with an addiction can be surrounded by others, they’re still alone mentally and emotionally. Engaging in drama therapy is a great way to build authentic, strong connections. When engaging in drama therapy in a group setting, clients access a vulnerable place when acting out scenes. To be vulnerable with others who are being just as vulnerable, and who understand what each other is going through, is invaluable to have in recovery from addiction.
Rediscover parts of oneself
When someone struggles with an addiction, it doesn't take long for their substance use to become their identity. Not only does it become their priority, but it completely blankets their world. Because of this, many in recovery from addiction lose access to the varied, colourful parts of themselves that made them who they were. Fortunately, drama therapy can help those in recovery access these parts of themselves once again. It can help people in recovery get back to who they are at their core. This helps them to separate themselves from the role of the “addict.”
Drama therapy is a great way to build self-confidence. Addiction can cause a massive blow to self-confidence. Having low self-confidence can also help contribute to addiction. In recovery, it’s so important to build self-confidence and self-worth. To be able to understand one’s own value. Drama therapy offers a creative outlet than can be incredibly empowering. Not only this, but learning more about oneself on a deeper level through drama therapy can help build self-esteem as well.
Offers an alternative to talk therapy
Drama therapy offers a great alternative to traditional talk therapy. Not everyone is able to verbalise how they feel. For some, sitting in a therapy office and having to answer questions or explore the past can be too painful. Processing the past is an important part of recovery. However, some people need alternative ways of doing this. Drama therapy, offers a different opportunity to access similar roots. Acting out scenarios rather than talking about them directly can be incredibly therapeutic for some. It can feel less overwhelming and intimidating than talk therapy.
Drama therapy for addiction is a great way to achieve therapeutic goals, but it’s also a lot of fun. This is important, as many in recovery struggle with feelings of boredom or wondering how they will have fun without the use of substances. Engaging in drama therapy can offer a fun and creative outlet for those in recovery.
Is this therapy effective in treating addiction?
A systemic review was conducted in 2019 to review the effectiveness of drama therapy interventions for supporting those in recovery from addiction. This review found that many interventions used for treating those in addiction recovery were primarily improvisation and role-play. Additionally, group reflection was used during sessions to help foster connection, and improve emotional awareness and communication skills.
The review found that drama therapy was effective in supporting those in addiction recovery. Two studies in the review found that participants were able to maintain or improve their abstinence goals. Additionally, participants reported a significantly higher quality of life after the study. After the study, participants shared they experienced significant social and occupational improvement. These improvements remained the same at a 6-week post-intervention follow-up.
Another study conducted in 2020 examined the effects of drama therapy on adults receiving intensive outpatient treatment. This study found that interventions used were able to help participants disidentify from the role of the “addict.” Interventions were also able to help participants access their inner child, and explore feelings of shame.
A separate study conducted in 2017 demonstrated that psychodrama-inspired methods had a positive impact on those in recovery from addiction, whether used alone or in conjunction with other forms of treatment.
The documented benefits of these methods of drama therapy were:
- increased emotional regulation
- an increased ability to cope with triggers
- greater interpersonal effectiveness skills
- development of an internal focus of control.
Additionally, a meta-analysis conducted in 2017 found that expressive arts therapy interventions were correlated with decreased substance use.
A final word
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction recovery, drama therapy might just be the perfect pathway towards healing. It can be far less overwhelming than traditional talk therapy. It allows you to connect with emotions you may not even know are there. Additionally, drama therapy helps you to feel connected to others again. It can help you build friendships and self-confidence all the same time.
Drama therapy is a great way to explore events that happened in the past, and prepare yourself for triggers you may face in the future.
If you're interested in drama therapy for addiction, search for registered drama therapists near you. Today, drama therapy is offered in treatment centres, rehabs, hospitals, inpatient and outpatient facilities, community mental health clinics, wellness centres, and even schools.
Author - Thurga