Last month included the first ever International Dramatherapy Week #dtweek2019 arranged by The World Alliance of Dramatherapy who bring together dramatherapists from every continent (almost – not yet Antarctica). There are many things that we share with our international community and also many unique approaches.
In some countries dramatherapy is a legally protected, professional title, while in others it is a looser term used by lay people wishing to use drama to help with well-being. Exactly what a dramatherapist does may depend on the therapist training, cultural context, and needs of the client group.
Here in the UK, to be a dramatherapist you need to complete one of the approved training courses and register with HCPC.
In the UK there are currently four Masters Level university degree courses in dramatherapy, two in London, one in Cambridge and one in Derby. Hopefully there will soon be a fifth course in Edinburgh. Each one has its own unique flavour so for this blog I invited some of my colleagues to give their personal opinions as recent graduates of each of the four courses.
Obviously everyone will have their own highlights and struggles with any course and, although I have invited recent graduates there are changes every year, so while I hope this is a useful introduction it is not a replacement to doing your own research: reading the course prospectus, going to the open days and talking to others who know about the course.
Roehampton University – The Ritual Theatre Model
By Amy Willshire:
As I studied at Roehampton I am writing this bit. I qualified in the summer of 2018 and since graduating I have had four dramatherapy jobs; running a therapeutic retreat with young adults, working for an agency in primary schools, working with adults with learning needs and working with a dramatherapy charity who run therapeutic projects in secondary schools, PRU’s and prisons. I have also volunteered as a dramatherapist working with families affected by addiction as I wanted to gain experience in this area.
I completed Roehampton’s full time course in 2018 and I loved it.
There are two dramatherapy courses running at Roehampton, both cover the same syllabus but the timings are different:
- Part Time Course: One weekend a month for three years plus an intensive week every Easter.
- Full Time Course: Every Thursday and Friday for two years plus one intensive week at Easter.
During the course you complete three placements, one in the first year, and then either one a year in part time, or two in the final year of full time. In addition you need to be in weekly therapy and supervision, to read around the subject and there are several written assignments, including reflective essays, placement reports and a research dissertation into an area of your interest, so the hours do add up.
Roehampton encourage you to do one placement with children, one with adults and one related to mental health, so that you have a range of experience with different clients when you graduate, but there is a lot of scope within this guidance to find placements which interest you, particularly if you are willing to travel. There is a placement manager to help find suitable placements or you can arrange your own.
The course was created by Steve Mitchell and follows the Ritual Theatre model of dramatherapy, which builds on Sue Jenning‘s research into the use of ritual in the earliest roots of theatre and how it is still used within many indigenous communities worldwide. The course begins with a focus on the use of therapeutic stories and human relationships using the lens of Embodiment Projection Role (Jennings) and attachment theory (Bowlby) to understand personal development and group dynamics.
The ritual theatre model is then introduced: someone sets up a scene with two character and then either, casts someone to hold those roles, or personally steps in and out of the different roles. This structure is deepened and expanded in further modules on myth, individual therapy and theatre of the psyche (more on that soon).
During the first year there is a retreat to Dartmoor which incorporates the paratheatre approach of theatre director Grotowski; this is an approach which uses yoga like movements, music and nature to explore inner experiences and seeks to discover what it is to be authentically human.
The current course leaders have kept much of Steve’s foundations but have layered their own experiences in shaping the course. Professor Anna Seymour brings her love of the theatre to teach about commedia dell’arte (very physical characters) and therapeutic theatre, skills which are build upon for the final autobiographical performance. Gill Lyon brings her expertise in Internal Families Systems therapy (Schwartz) and Subpersonalities (Rowan) to the module on theatre of the psyche – an approach which is being internationally highlighted as effective for people who have experienced trauma. Pete Holloway introduces an approach to explore death which he created for working with suicide survivors. Dom McHale introduces a diverse array of drama games for use with all client groups. Alongside the practical models is a richness of theory on human development and mental health including a particularly memorable seminar by Nicole Proia on sexual transference within therapy.
One of my favourite modules was The Art of Structure which was facilitated by the current course leader Henri Seebohm; this unit follows The Hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell, Paul Rebillot), it sits within a module titled The Ritual of Transformation and for me it was definitely transforming, framing our lives as a heroic quest, with us as the integrated hero setting out to find the grail, to beat the monster, to discover the truth and then return home with the treasure. This whole course was a hero’s journey for me – life changing.
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama – Drama and Movement Therapy – The Sesame Approach
By Francesca de Magistris
I come from an acting background and have been working in that field in my home town Rome since 2012. I moved to London in 2016 to study Dramatherapy at the RCSSD from where I graduated in 2018. I now live in Bristol where I am part of the Dramatherapy South West Committee as a secretary and am working with children with additional needs in different education settings and holiday play schemes. I am currently setting up my own business to run individual and group dramatherapy sessions as a freelance. I am also volunteering to work with adults who had brain injuries with Bristol After Stroke, with refugees with Bristol Hospitality Network and with children of primary schools at Place2Be.
I completed the MA course in Drama and Movement Therapy, the Sesame approach, at the RCSSD in 2018. This was the last year before the full-time course was extended from 18 months to two years. Due to the relatively short time, the training sometimes felt too condensed which is something I suspect will be much better on the new longer course.
In the first year of the course we attended classes every day, while in the second year, we had classes, group and individual supervision and independent study once a week and three days of the week we had clinical placements, in three different settings. Over the duration of the course, we attended classes, lectures and workshops, we lead individual and collaborative facilitations, we completed written assignments, art journals, critical reflective essays, reports, a shared research unit with other students of the course and research for the final dissertation and preparation of the Viva Voce.
The Sesame Approach, the MA in Drama and Movement Therapy at RCSSD was founded by Marian Billy Lindkvist. The Sesame training is rooted in the theory of the unconscious and the work of Carl G. Jung, Peter Slade’s idea of play, Rudolf Laban’s art of movements and Marian Billy Lindkvist’s non-verbal language of Movement with Touch and Sound (MTS).
The main differentiator of this course is its specificity to the Sesame Approach and the teaching of all of its strands and in particular MTS.
The Sesame Approach takes the name from the magic phrase ‘open sesame’ from the Ali Baba story which opens the cave door revealing the treasure inside it. Within the ritualistic sesame structure, the sessions aim to resolve difficulties indirectly through the use of myths, voice, stories enactments, drama, improvisations, movements and touch. These, in the metaphorical sense are used as the key to unlock inner doors and resources to facilitate change and growth.
In order to be able to examine and critique the practice of dramatherapy and the Sesame Approach, the course also covers theoretical framework of analytical psychology, the core concepts of Jung’s psychology and of developmental psychology, such as developmental theory, Bowlby’s attachment theory and the work of Winnicott and Stern.
The first part of the course is mainly experiential; there are weekly sessions in the subjects of Drama, Myth, Laban and Movement with Touch and Sound. In the second part of the year, we were assessed in facilitating each of these subjects, the Performing Research unit and the first two Clinical Placements started as well.
Moreover, we attended Analytical and Developmental Psychology lectures, Preparation for Clinical Practice and Sesame in Context and weekly session of Group Process in order to explore interpersonal dynamics within a group. We also had voice workshops with Frankie Armstrong and Eran Nathan.
Along the course, we were required to attend group dramatherapy sessions and Jungian individual therapy once a week. At the end of the first year, RCSSD organizes a retreat to Devon, which is a beautiful place immersed in nature.
In the second year, the work became more independent as the focus here was on the three clinical placements, on individual supervision and on research for the final dissertation.
Besides the group supervision sessions, classes and workshops we had once a week, there was Preparation for Professional Practice.
We were encouraged to find at least one of the clinical placements ourselves, however, Central was also able to provide help if needed and offered a wide range of clinical placements in different settings such as: adults with mental health problems, elderly clients with dementia, people with learning disabilities, children with challenging behaviours or on the autistic spectrum.
During the training you were encouraged to expand your knowledge to different psychological theories and dramatherapy approaches such as Jennings’ EPR Model, Phil Jones’s Five Core Processes, David Read Johnson’s Developmental Transformations (DvT), Robert Landy’s Role Theory, Mooli Lahad’s 6-Part Story, Joseph Campbell. However, especially for the final piece of work we were recommended to stay within the Sesame framework.
The training has been an intense but inspiring and revealing journey.
The modules of the sesame training invited you to develop a relationship with the unconscious self in order to deeply discover yourself, your personal myth, archetypal images and complexes through embodying characters, telling and enacting stories and exploring images and symbols in physical movements. I found it revealing to learn about our responsibility as therapists to do this in order to be more aware of and observe more closely the interaction of the unconscious of both sides in the therapeutic relationship.
Although it sometimes has been difficult to speak about such personal things, especially when you were assessed on this, it was also a unique opportunity to become more compassionate with myself and with others and to become more open to listen and deal with challenging situations. I found this to be essential to be able to hold the clients in the therapeutic space and to be with them with whatever they will bring into the space.
By Stephanie Wallace
I began the Dramatherapy course in September 2017 and graduated in the summer of 2019. I am now based in the outskirts of Bristol, near South Gloucestershire. I have recently gained some freelance dramatherapy work with the Owl Therapy Centre and set up a dramatherapy company – Lighthouse Creative Therapy. I am excited about the future but would like to spend some time reflecting on my experience at Anglia Ruskin University to share with you for Dramatherapy Week!
Contact Stephanie at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The course past & present
The course was set up by Dramatherapy Pioneers Dr Ditty Dokter and Mandy Carr. Both lecturers began at Roehampton before setting up the course in Cambridge alongside the Music Therapy trainee course which was already in place. Training alongside Music Therapists was a special part of the training, and a unique aspect of training at Anglia Ruskin University. Both Ditty and Mandy have moved on from teaching at Anglia Ruskin, but come back as guest lecturers, and are available to take on student supervisees. The teaching team now consists of Sophia Condaris and Roulla Demetriou who are both experienced practitioners. The course values intercultural practice and diversity – both of which Sophia and Roulla are very passionate about. The teaching team are research-active, meaning that the students have access to latest information about the most effective approaches to dramatherapy. Roulla is the editor of the BADth Journal making for a very well-informed link between our university and the British Association of Dramatherapy. Both of our teachers are very interested in story-making and telling. Sophia is particularly interested in how these techniques can be applied to improve attachment relationships in families. Roulla is interested in the Hero’s Journey and teaches with a Sesame informed approach – focusing on the body. Both teachers’ interests and the ‘core’ learning which I will explain make for a varied and rich journey on the course.
The course is two years full time. In the first year, you have contact time for three days for the first term. This then reduces to two full days at University, and two days at placement. In the first year you are encouraged to work with children, with placements being predominately in schools.
You are also required to be in personal therapy which helps you to develop yourself and gives you insight into the vulnerability of being in therapy. In the first term you also carry out baby observations which is an interesting task when studying development and playful attachment theories.
Assessments consist of two critical essays – one on child development and one on psychoanalytic theory. You are also assessed on a case study from your clinical work on placement, a play back theatre performance and finally a piece of autobiographic theatre. I really enjoyed the autobiographical theatre aspect – it was great to apply the theories you had learnt into a piece of your own therapeutic theatre. However, it must be highlighted how difficult performing your own story was, although hard to receive a grade on this I feel it is an important aspect of developing compassion for our clients.
In the second year you are in university one day a week, and on placement for two days. I completed two placements in the second year, both in the NHS with Adults in Mental Health and a Dementia Setting.
The main assessment in the second year consists of writing your Major Project! This is a thesis on an area of dramatherapy which you have clinical experience of. This was a real challenge, but allowed us to pave the way for new research and deeper understanding of evidence-based research for the ongoing success of dramatherapy. You are also required to deliver a viva on a case study from your clinical work which is presented to assess your capability as a practitioner. To end you do another piece of autobiographical theatre which reflects your experience on the course.
Course Content: The modules are:
- Clinical Placements and Experiential Development 1
- Dramatherapy Practice and Clinical Skills
- Year two, core modules
- Clinical Placements and Experiential Development 2
- MA Therapies Major Project
The course focuses on the ‘core’ aspects of dramatherapy including (among others): Phil Jones’s core processes, Jennings’ EPR, Landy’s Role Theory, Mooli Lahad’s 6 Piece Story and attachment theory. We also had special interest lectures on psychodrama, dance movement therapy and art therapy among others. Additionally, we were taught more general aspects of health and social care careers including introductory sessions on psychiatry, psychology and other therapeutic models such as CAT Therapy. We were encouraged to think about how the arts therapies interact with these in a multi-disciplinary setting. I believe this to have been useful preparation for the ‘outside world’!
The delivery of the course was a mixture between lecturers and experiential workshops. The practical sessions on performance skills, clinical skills and story telling were invaluable. The clinical skills sessions helped us to develop as practitioners by ‘experiencing’ a dramatherapy session with our peers. By practising in this safe environment and helping to critique each other’s skills I feel we were able to best prepare our clinical work.
My personal highlight is participating in the “Play Back Theatre” module. We learnt the methods of playback theatre and put on a performance. We learnt the art of improvising as a company to stories given by the audience. I believe that this experience honed our abilities to respond in the moment to clients, and encouraged us to open our minds up to using metaphors in the moment. By learning to listen deeply, and to creating metaphors quickly I believe that I have developed a deeper understanding of the importance that the distance a metaphor gives when dealing with personal stories.
By Deberah Davies
I am currently working three jobs as a dramatherapist. I work with asylum seekers and refugees, some who have survived torture, trafficking or detainment, many who have witnessed death of a loved one, but all are demonstrating the effects of PTSD. Although challenging, this work is extremely rewarding.
I also work in a trauma informed Pupil Referral Unit with young people 11-14 who have been excluded from mainstream schools. Most have experienced trauma, and many have adverse childhood experiences this is similar to my third job in inner city primary schools with children 5-11. My toolbox includes objects, puppets, fabrics, cards, sand, balloons, clay, musical instruments, drawing and painting items and… myself.
Although it came later in life my training as a dramatherapist has finally led me to a profession that feels right for me. I will keep striving to be a ‘good enough therapist’ for my clients.
I completed Derby’s full course in July of 2018, but I now believe that the course has changed somewhat in format and content.
Derby only run the full-time course over two years at their Britannia Mill Campus and attendance at the University was one day each week. In addition to this there were two intensive weeks, one in each academic year.
The course was non-directive in approach and exposed the students to an eclectic mix of methodologies and key theories including (but not exhaustive), attachment theory, ritual theatre, Jennings’ EPR, Jones’s Core Process, Landy’s Role theory, Lahad’s 6-Part Story, Campbell’s hero’s journey… allowing us to do more personal research in the areas that resonated for us. Although we were only given a taster, I now believe that Developmental Transformations is now taught as a part of the course.
A placement needed to be successfully completed each academic year and we were encouraged to work with both adults and children over the two years. Finding a placement was predominantly left to the students, but some help was provided if a student was not able to secure their own placement. I personally found that having to secure my own placement offered me the opportunity to work closer to home, gave me an awareness of the job market and allowed me to make connections which would serve me well in the future when looking for paid work. Living close to a big city offered me a lot of scope to search for the type of work that interested me but was much more difficult for students who lived in more rural areas.
During both placements we were required to undertake a case study of a client who we had worked with. The first was in the form of a presentation and the second a written study. This allowed us to fully understand the ethics of working with clients and in particular the ability to fully research the types of approaches we were using and any presenting medical conditions and how the client responded to dramatherapy.
The course was led by Kate Smith and her experience and knowledge of working in forensics helped me during my second placement spent in a women’s prison. Clive Holmwood offered knowledge and experience of working with children and in an educational setting. It was Clive’s close working relationship with Sue Jennings that made it possible for us to have workshops in both years that were led by Sue.
For much of the first year we participated in a studio session which were led by Drew Bird and looked at the format of a therapeutic group session. We brought and exchanged many drama games to incorporate into our work. At the end of the module we had to facilitate a 50-minute group session including feedback and a plenary with the participants.
Ongoing academic research and writing was encouraged during the course and modules which incorporated reviewing existing articles and writing our own on assessment and evaluation of a chosen area of study. This work was carefully laddered to enable a final piece of work alongside trainee Art Therapists, where we prepared a proposal of work for presentation. This gave me the confidence to know that if required, I will be able to prepare a proposal for presentation to potential future employers.
An experiential group ran throughout the two years of the course, and this I found to be the most difficult and complex element of the whole experience. Having to work with your peers to understand the complexity of group dynamics can be extremely challenging but definitely insightful. This culminated in a final essay exploring the experience of group process and what I learnt from it.
Derby differs from other courses as it concludes with the students completing an Independent Scholarship which includes a 30-minute performance that is about the self. This is accompanied by an evidenced critique and a viva and is a large part of the final mark. This aspect of the course encouraged us to research different theatre practitioners and dramatherapy theorists, in relation to both our performance and the critique.
This part of the course was extremely challenging for me because it involved a large amount of solo work as the performance was about ‘the self’ and looking inwards. However, I also found it to be extremely humbling and rewarding to share and witness not only the vulnerability of my peers but also my own. This gave me a real insight into the vulnerability of our clients. Although my love of performance was an element of the course that attracted me to Derby, whilst I enjoyed exploring elements of the self in performance, I personally found it very difficult being marked subjectively on a performance that is intrinsically about the self. However, a learning that emerged from this experience is my understanding of the need to be extremely compassionate and non-judgemental with my clients and what they bring to therapy.
So those are the four universities where you can currently learn about dramatherapy in the UK.
No course is static so all will have made some changes since the four authors graduated but I hope this gives a flavour to encourage you to find out more.
Is one better than another? Well yes, but how you rate “better” is very personal; while there is lots that the courses share, the uniqueness of each will start you out on your own path as a dramatherapist, a path which does not end when you graduate as further CPD training, books, conferences and your own creativity will lead each dramatherapist to their own style. So choose the one which inspires you in their approach, their schedule and their style as the beginning of a very personal, sometimes challenging, inspiring journey.
UK universities usually start teaching after the summer in September or October and continue until around June. You can usually begin to apply for the next year from September although in some cases you can apply earlier and ask to defer for a year. Applications stay open until the Spring or until places are filled, it is best to apply early.