Dramatherapy: Transformation through Imagination
a brief history
From humanities inception, dramatic rituals of gathering, storytelling and performance played a vital role in how we learn about ourselves, connect to each other, and pass down the stories which shape how we perceive our lives.
The first account of linking drama to therapeutic implications is in Greek theatre. Aristotle, in his Poetics, says that the function of theatre is to induce catharsis- an emotional purging of deep feelings, including fear and anger. Catharsis, according to Greek theatre, results from the audience's empathy with the onstage characters' experiences. This becomes a relational experience where together actors and audience can release negative emotions and work towards healing within the community.
The term "Dramatherapy" was only coined in the 1930's by Peter Slade, actor and educator, who spent most of his life exploring how drama can be used to heal and transform the lives of children.
Once the term was given, pathways for research in this area opened up and by the 1970's Dramatherapy was formed and recognised as a treatment modality in the US and UK. In its early years, Dramatherapy was used mainly in school and hospital settings, using both improvisation and play-making techniques to bring healing to individuals and communities. Its main research areas were around how the taking on and rehearsing of various roles can allow individuals to grow and heal their emotional wounding.
The training for Dramatherapy relies on a strong foundation in psychology and clinical studies as well as a thorough understanding of, and experience in, the field of theatre and dramatic arts.
Today, Dramatherapy is a registered therapeutic model in many countries throughout the world. Since its inception, it has grown in scope and reputation alongside allied creative arts therapy models including Music Therapy, Art Therapy, and Movement/Dance Therapy, and is practised in settings from hospitals and schools to prisons and addiction centres, to name a few.
Perhaps if you asked my mother she would tell you that I have always had my head in the clouds, a dreamer since the start. My childhood memories are framed around my daydreams inspired by The Folk of The Faraway Tree, The Secret Garden, The Little Prince, and many many other delightful fairy-tales. Stories, I believe, shape a world where anything is possible, where there is far more to this life than meets the eye. Stories allow us to be anyone, anywhere, simply through the activation of the mind. Stories are magic.
My movement towards theatre was a natural evolution. At a young age, drama classes transformed me from a shy, somewhat tentative, child into someone who was able to stand on stage and perform a monologue in front of hundreds of strangers. My drama classes introduced me to the world of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Brecht, Beckett- genius minds who showed me a new perspective of the world, not through didactic theories but through intriguing characters, imaginative sets, and wholly unpredictable plots. Each year's highlight was a trip to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (South Africa) with my mother. There we spent five glorious winter days and nights in classrooms and town halls which were converted into unheated theatres, bundled together, sipping hot chocolate whilst laughing, crying, interacting with, and being awe-inspired by, the magic of loosing oneself to the world of theatre.
My first degree was in journalism, at that point Dramatherapy was not yet a Masters programme in South Africa and journalism seemed to be the most obvious avenue to be able to hear and tell the stories of others: Stories which are important, from individuals whose lived experiences can impact the world. I so enjoyed meeting interesting people and documenting their experiences, but I always felt that something was missing. As a journalist my impact was through the words I wrote, I wanted more, I wanted to meet this human being in my own humanity, I wanted to experience this person's life, not merely observe and document it.
I still remember the day when it was announced that Drama for Life, a division of the University of Witwatersrand, which was founded in order to use the arts for activism and healing on the African continent, announced that they had finally opened up a Masters in Dramatherapy. This spoke to me, this felt like me: An opportunity to meet people not only through their story, but to actually create and transform together, to allow their story to be shared, to allow new stories to manifest.
I was part of the first graduating class of Dramatherapy in South Africa and what a learning and growing experience it was! As students we were more than passive recipients of an education, but co-builders of this pioneering profession. We actively formed our training alongside our lecturers and professors and the testament of that task's payoff is that we have all gone on to do important work in the field: Some studying for their PHD's, some lecturing and heading up departments, and others doing inspiring work in communities in South Africa, as well as throughout the world.
My perspective on how I work and why was impacted by many critical moments in my training and practical experience. I met and worked with people from difficult worlds, worlds so different to mine: Refugees who live in church halls sharing a square meter space with ten other people, children with severe autism and mental disabilities who came from families with no resources for treatment. I spent time in rural Southern Africa and in elderly homes and addiction centres. Through these experiences my heart broke many times, and each time it re-grew it did so with some more space. Ultimately, I learned that I am not made to live this life alone, I am made to live with all the faces, all the stories, all the joy and pain which I have met within my heart so that my heart can widen, can take in all of life.
I have learned that each of us come from such different backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic norms, and yet despite that I have never met a person that seems wholly unfamiliar. For, when my heart is open, the heart of the other can share theirs. This humanity crosses all the divides, it gives us a place called home in the other. Perhaps, beyond the skills and knowledge and experiences which my training, practical work and extensive travels have given me, the lesson in heart-expansion is the biggest one of all.
I worked and lived most of my life in Johannesburg, South Africa with two years spent serving communities, learning and working in Israel. In March 2020 I responded to an inner need and an invitation to work in the UK. I have been here since and have learned unprecedented lessons during this uniquely challenging time of Covid-19. I so look forward to meeting new stories on this next chapter of my lessons of the heart.
Bachelor of Arts with Distinction (Journalism & Politics), University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Bachelor of Arts with Distinction (Psychology), University of South Africa (Distant Learning)
Masters of Arts in Drama Therapy, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa (Post-graduate Research Award)
Licentiate of Speech & Drama Teaching with Distinction, Trinity College of London
Professional Training and Further Qualifications:
200 RYT (Yoga Alliance), Registered Yoga & Meditation Teacher Training, Sampoorna Yoga, India
Psychotherapy Group Practice: Race in a South African Content (SA Psychoanalytic Association)
Tanzfabrik :Movement and Embodied Practice Training
Professional Experience includes:
Post-graduate lecturer Dramatherapy, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Clinical Supervisor for MA Dramatherapy, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Course Coordinator and supervisor, Dramatherapy Internship Programme, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Dramatherapist on multi-disciplinary team at Eden Schools, Johannesburg, South Africa
Dramatherapist At Wedge Gardens Addiction Treatment Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa
Dramatherapist at Johannesburg Hospital School
Theatre writer and director at Torah Academy High School
Public Speaking Coach & Adjudicator, South African Speech & Drama College
Speech and Drama teacher and Licentiate teacher-trainer (first at the Ros Jaff School of Speech, Drama & Oral Communication and later independently)
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A DRAMATHERAPY SESSION
Imagining Yourself Different
The belief in the inherent health and wellbeing of the client is integral to my approach as a therapist. Dramatherapy is used not simply to heal a fractured mind, but to guide a client back towards themselves. Through this process the client is able to re-meet their inherent creativity which allows them to see their life from varying perspectives, open up to new possibilities, and remember the playfulness and discovery of their youth. This process hopes to allow them to re-visit their life in a more dynamic and enlivened relationship.
fear has been learned, which means it can be unlearned
Fear, which is perhaps a core underlining theme, both covertly and overtly, with those who seek therapy, can cause a flight/fight/freeze response. This central-nervous-system shutdown disallows the client from moving forward, or facing life's challenges with confidence and readiness. In order to guide clients towards living and making life decisions from a place of empowerment, ownership, and joy, fear can be replaced by love.
In my approach to Dramatherapy the aim is to facilitate the client's return to love: For their self, their life story, and the people with whom they share life.
The 3-part model which I base my approach on is titled:
In my approach to Dramatherapy we practise taking creative risks using the therapeutic space as a rehearsal room for life. Elements of rehearsal vary and are dependent on the client's needs, but some examples of effective rehearsal which we use are:
1. A Narrative Approach to Storytelling
Allowing the client to tell their story from various perspectives
2. Role Playing
Practising being a different version of oneself, and seeing oneself from another perspective
3. Projective Objects
A non-invasive technique for engaging the active imagination and meeting the unconscious thoughts behind behaviours and patterns
In various ways, and dependent on the client's abilities, the body and movement are incorporated in sessions to invite physical mobility which allows the "stuckness" of fear to be released on a cellular level. Dance and movement are forms of self-expression which allow a client to discover and express that which is non-linear and can allow deep-rooted emotions to be felt and released in a relatively efficient process
What differentiates Dramatherapy from drama or dance as a purely creative activity is that in Dramatherapy a healthcare practitioner who is qualified to work with the psyche, unconscious mind, and mental health of a client guides the process from expression to integration. Therefore, description, in the form of verbal processing and making connections between drama and real life, is what allows the work of Dramatherapy to impact the client's lived experience.
I use a client-centered approach, where the client and his/her unique framework and context is the source through which a new way of thinking and talking can develop
See FAQ page for more information about how this may look in your therapy sessions.
IN THEIR WORDS
Thank you for training us in life lessons we didn't know existed
Elana Suttner, Johannesburg, South Africa
All the good that you are has forever made me into someone new
Shelley Brown, Johannesburg, South Africa
You have changed my life and brought a new dimension to it that I love, the world is a better place for your light
Chani Finger, Johannesburg, South Africa
My daughter (referred for selective mutism) enjoyed her session so much that she could not stop speaking about it all the way home
Zandile Zwana, Johannesburg, South Africa
Yaela is highly experienced, attentive to the needs of all individuals in the group, authentic, lives the lifestyle that she preaches and is highly inspiring
Ally Samakosky, Johannesburg, South Africa
I always leave our sessions feeling both revitilised and relaxed
Ariella Odes, Jerusalem, Israel
I am so grateful for what Yaela has introduced into my life
Eugenia Gomez, Johannesburg, South Africa
Yaela was able to understand my background, my body and my mind and allow me to connect with myself in a deeper way. With her I always felt comfortable yet extremely challenged. She is simply amazing.
Ruchi Ribeiro, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Thank you Yaela for bringing such calm into our weeks: Your humour, patience and belief in us- you are a true gem!
Siobhan Wilson, Johannesburg, South Africa
Yaela's energy and attitude has spread love through our entire group, giving us all a special anchor point in our week of positivity and peace. Anyone privileged enough to spend time in her innovative sessions will reap the rewards
Sian Cohen, Dublin, Ireland