Amy Willshire/ January 22, 2019/ All posts, Dramatherapy or Dramatherapist, Therapy Group/ 2 comments

In yesterday’s new episode of Cold Feet on ITV (Season 8 Episode 2), Adam is searching for a therapist.

(SPOILER ALERT for this episode – If you have not seen it and are going to then come back and read this after).

The episode opens with a montage as Adam tries out lots of different therapists, all of which only want to talk about his relationship with his bisexual father. Adam does not want this. He wants to talk about his search for love.

We know our upbringing is important but it does not define everything about us, even during our child hood we know that friends, teachers and siblings can have as much (sometimes more) influence on parts of our lives as our parents do.

Actually I think this assumption that all therapists want to talk about your parents is slightly outdated (although still true in some sectors). Many therapists now only want to talk about mental and cognitive processes and how you can re-programme your brain. But the underlying issues remains that it can be tricky to find a therapist whose approach suits yours.

In Cold Feet, Karen recommends another therapist with an innovative approach and Adam finds himself joining a Drama Therapy group (in the UK, that should actually be Dramatherapy, it is 2 words in the USA but only 1 word in most of the rest of the world).

The episode’s portrayal of dramatherapy is quite good and is definitely useful for Adam.

This blog will look at a few things which might be different if you joined a dramatherapy group.

1) Introduction to the group

Adam meets the dramatherapist in the hall way and is surprised to learn there will be other people in his therapy. The door opens and the therapist introduces Adam as the new member to the group.

There are a few things about this which are unlikely.

Firstly, most dramatherapists would usually arrange a one to one meeting with each client before they joined a group. Some would start with maybe five sessions to help prepare the client to join the group. At very least the client would have to be fully aware that it was a group before being invited in.

Secondly, it is not usual for someone to suddenly join a group. Some groups are closed, meaning that once the members have joined they stay as a group until the group end. This is because it is important for the group to understand each other, trust each other and support each other through the therapy journey, it can be quite disruptive if there are always people joining and leaving. Other dramatherapy groups are open but then may not to deal with very deep or personal material, and they tend not to have such consistent members.

In Adam’s group, the same members attended each session and they explored quite personal areas together. This indicates a closed group rather than an open one. This editing decision makes sense for the TV show where they want to get straight into the issues rather than show long scenes of getting to know you or making a group contract.

2) The Approach

In the Cold Feet dramatherapy group, Adam asks the other group members to stand in as his friends and he observes the group dynamic. In a later scene he takes on the role of himself while two other members play his son and his friend Karen.

So this approach to dramatherapy is somewhere between Playback Theatre and Psychodrama.

In Playback Theatre, you describe an incident in your life and then watch as that is reenacted in front of you. At the end you are asked if that was an accurate reenactment and have a chance to comment.

In Psychodrama, you can talk to people who are not in the room as a way to perhaps rehearse conversations you want to have in real life, or perhaps to say things which you know you will never be able to say in real life. One possible psychodrama development which they could have used was to have Adam speak to his deceased wife Rachel and say all the things he was never able to say before her sudden death all those years ago, or all the things he has longed to say to her as he raised their son without her.

What was enacted was shown quite well in the show. Adam casts the group members as his friends, describes the roles to the group members, he gives some direction on staging and characterisation and sets up the scene. When something about the enactment is not quite right, Adam is able to clarify and watch the scene again with his change. All of these are important parts of directing your own scenes.

Renée Emunah has often written about clients directing scenes in dramatherapy and how this can progress the therapy:

‘An exciting aspect to the directing of scenes is that the theatrical and therapeutic needs usually go inside. That is, directions from an aesthetic perspective will often elicit deeper psychological content, or lead the scene towards deeper expression or resolution.’

Emunah, R., 1994. Acting for real: drama therapy process, technique, and performance. New York: Routledge Ltd. (Page 111)

‘The more authentically these roles are played, the more believable and potentially therapeutic the scene will be. But more important than acting skills is empathy. The emphatic and intuitive therapist will be able to enter the world of the client, playing in and witnessing the client’s dramas with sensitivity. Whether the therapist is in the position of audience, director,or coacher in a client’s dramas, he or she must be able to tolerate and support deep expressions of feeling, including pain and rage, that may be more palpable within this action-oriented therapeutic mode as clients relive evocative and, at times, traumatic scenes from their lives.’

Emunah, R., 1999. Drama therapy in action. In: D. J. Wiener, Beyond talk therapy: using movement and expressive techniques in clinical practice. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, pp. 99-123. (Page 118)

The show portrays how real the enactment is to Adam by suddenly replacing the group members with the friends they are representing.

These are just some of the approaches you may find in dramatherapy.

Other approaches might use stories as a metaphor for your story (e.g. Adam might have explored his friendship group dynamics by comparing it to the relationships in the TV show Friends, or the story of the three little pigs, or the myth of Jason and the Argonauts or The Hero’s Journey or he might have invented a story of his own).

Or he could have used a body based approach which used movement with touch and sound (The sesame approach) or improvisation (such as the Developmental Transformations approach) to explore spontaneous reactions or our relationship with the space and other people around us. Sometimes we don’t need to talk about people outside of the room, we can explore relationships happening in the room right now. What could Adam have learnt if he had focused on why he kept calling another group member sexy, or if he had explored how he judged another member by their weight. If he had explored those underlying assumptions in the room he may have been able to transfer his new reflections outside.

Or they might have just talked during the session. Although dramatherapy is action orientated, there are still times when it will look like a talking therapy session. Or there are other times when the only hint of the creative arts is in a carefully chosen picture or object to represent something or in a sculpture crafted out of tin foil.

If you are joining a dramatherapy group or seeing a dramatherapist for individual sessions, you will find they have a few different approaches they use, if one does not work for you then don’t be afraid to say so and they may be able to suggest an alternative. It is important to find a way of working which helps you to explore your relationship to your story.

The closure

Just as the beginning was rushed so too was the ending. As soon as Adam has a moment of inspiration he leaves the session and goes to talk to his son.

In dramatherapy there would usually be some form of grounding, particularly if the content had been quite emotional. A chance to reflect on what has been seen, to absorb any insights, to share feedback on what we have witnessed for other group members and to get ready to leave.

There may be some type of closing ritual such as blowing out a candle or passing a pulse or making eye contact with the other group members.

Because the group relationships are a key part of the therapy. Sometimes when acting in someone else’s scene, you will be reminded of part of your own story. Sometimes in witnessing someone else’s work you will be moved. Sometimes in hearing other peoples reflections you will have a new perspective on part of your own story.

The group in the show were a extras, there to support the main characters self exploration. In a dramatherapy group, your fellow group members are the ones there with you in moments of sadness, stuckness, anger and joy.

Overall

While there were some things in this weeks episode which were different, overall this was a very sensitive portrayal of what dramatherapy sessions could include and the impact that can have on our actions and relationships.

Dramatherapy Group

I will be running a dramatherapy group for young people during February half term. If you are in year 7 to 9 (or your child is in year 7 to 9) and would like to know more, please contact me on amy@play-it-through.co.uk

If you want to find a dramatherapist you can search for one using the British Association of Dramatherapists website: https://badth.org.uk/therapist-search

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2 Comments

  1. Hi, I wrote this episode based on my own experience some years ago (about 30, actually!) of psychodrama. Although we try to be faithful to real life situations with the issues we highlight in the show (cancer, abortion, depression etc), we are making TV entertainment and so I have to look for opportunities for both comedy and drama. So, for example, I was conscious that Adam would never be introduced to a group ‘cold’ like he was in this episode, but I felt that was a minor departure from the truth that I could justify on the grounds of dramatic licence. I hope we never stray too far from reality, though, nor that we ever make light of what can be confronting situations for people. Best, Mike

    1. Hi Mike, thank you for your reply. Overall I thought the episode was very sensitive it it’s portrayal and I understand why the differences were shown like that as you could not have devoted the screen time to “taster sessions”, “group contracts” or “trust building” without negatively impacting on the other important stories you were telling in the episode.
      It is great to see the creative arts therapies showcased in such a high profile programme and to see Adam’s journey through the therapy and the impact this had on him. It can be very powerful and transformative as it sounds like you and I have personally experienced.
      Amy

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