Theatre therapy: therapy on the stage
Today there are many surprising treatments that serve to improve aspects of the psyche that we might not have studied so much. From relaxation sessions, new sports formulas that combine different disciplines, studies on the effects of music on patients, etc. It should not surprise us that, within these alternative options, the theatre is one of those most used. Its use as a treatment is called theatre therapy and it has many benefits.
What is theatre therapy?
Theatre therapy is the use of the theatre and the techniques and formulas of performance in an intentional and specialised way for a psychological treatment, always with a therapeutic goal. It is an experimental and active formula that forces patients to be active protagonists of their own treatment.
Theatre therapy uses dramatic art as a healing element, always accompanied by therapeutic counselling. This seeks to help patients tell their own story to reach the inner conflict or main problem, deepen it and improve it. It is a therapy born of professionals and actors when it has been observed that traditional verbal therapies, such as the one-to-one with a psychiatrist, could be too rigid and uncomfortable for some patients.
Patients treated with theatre therapy are expected to take part in an active space, in which they must recognise, explore and transform their harmful or negative behaviours. This therapy therefore moves away from more traditional ones in which the treated person follows the orders of the consultant. Now they must participate and get involved in their condition to improve it.
The three keys to theatre therapy
One of the greatest advantages of theatre therapy is that it requires the patient to participate fully in the process, involving body, mind and their emotions. In this way, the person dives in 100% and the result is a much more effective therapy.
Body: the body to gesture and transmit everything to be expressed as far as possible.
Mind: to process the actions and make quick decisions in a field of improvisation and mental agility.
Emotion: ability to translate their emotions and channel them into the show and their own performance.
The benefits of theatre therapy
Although at first sight it might seem more a motivational workshop to relate and lose one’s inhibitions, the truth is that this treatment has many benefits to improve the quality of life of patients.
Autonomy: it enhances skills and promotes greater independence in patients with some type of mental disability. It also improves their behaviours and their emotional and cognitive functioning. Ultimately, it leads to the improvement of self-confidence and security.
Expressive ability: it increases their creativity and their ways of expressing themselves, which translates into greater personal development and better relationships with the people around them.
Changing environment: it takes patients out of their comfort zone, offering them new scenarios every day in which they have to learn to get around. This entails a strengthening of their quality of life, learning and developing.
Support for syndromes of lack of attention: in this type of therapy, especially with children, the possibility of being "present" in a situation is being worked on, favouring their attention and controlling the situation without the patient feeling anxiety or the obligation to be there.
Other psychological illnesses: it has been proven that this theatre therapy achieves good results with psychological illnesses such as Asperger syndrome, intellectual disability, dementias, bipolar disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders.
Physical illnesses: not only does the mind benefit from this treatment. The physical exercises and the gesticulation that performance supposes help patients with fibromyalgia or progressive aphasia, helping them to keep the body active, regulating movements and reducing stress and depression.
What is a session like?
The sessions of theatre therapy are always established depending on the objectives involved. This base, added to the versatility of its nature, makes it important to adapt each session to the patient, to their problem and to the goal pursued.
Individual theatre therapy: these sessions are personalised according to the specific needs of the patient in question. The objective is always to improve the person’s situation, bringing them well-being and a better quality of life. Among the exercises to be tried are improvisation, scene elaboration, monologues, mimicry, etc. The use of verbal, emotional and corporal abilities in the same context is always sought.
Group theatre therapy: in this case the sessions are organised for groups that need to improve their ability to relate and social skills, but without serious psychological illnesses. In this type of exercises, we seek to create safe spaces in which patients interrelate and do interdisciplinary work, seeking to improve their functioning in a social context.
The professional’s training
Theatre studies, psychology and psychotherapy are essential to be able to give this type of sessions. In Spain there are many centres that already specialise in it, such as the Centre for Creative Therapies, Doing Theatre, the Theatre of Living and Gestalt Therapy or the Gestalt School. However, there are more and more psychological centres including it in their offer, and especially health spaces, educational centres, places for the elderly and even workshops for companies in which to improve a department’s communication skills.
In short, theatre therapy is a perfect complement for those people with psychic difficulties who need extra support in a fun, creative and very positive environment. However, it can also be used as an activity with patients who only seek to improve their well-being, to feel better with themselves and to reinforce their independence and self-confidence. Participating in a theatrical fiction allows us to enter situations that we would normally avoid without fear of risks, as an alternative reality that allows contained feelings to be expressed, thus releasing them and overcoming them.