Clinical Settings

The groundwork for inclusion of the creative art therapies into psychiatric hospitals in the U.S. was laid after World War I. Talk therapy and medical interventions were not very successful in helping veterans recover from what at the time was called “shell shock” (now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). However, the arts brought unresponsive patients back to life. In the early 20’s and 30’s inclusion of the arts in hospital programming was expanded. (Phillips, 1994).

Today drama therapists working in a psychiatric hospital or an outpatient mental health clinic might work with patients who have a wide variety of clinical diagnoses, including eating disorders, depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, addictions, or Alzheimer’s disease. Previous to our current era of short hospital stays, in-hospital drama therapy groups would often work together over long periods of time several times a week and could develop original plays or do long term in-depth work. Today with shorter stays and less coverage for psychotherapeutic services, groups tend to be short term or one-time session. Drama therapists might utilize process-oriented interventions in which the drama work is contained within one hour. Developmental transformations can be used in this fashion. Playback Theatre can be used for one-time therapeutic interventions in some hospitals, such as Belleview in New York City, where a trained troupe of playback actors re-enact stories told by the patients who comprise the audience.

Anne Curtis, RDT, and Paula Patterson, RDT, two drama therapists in Florida, work with acutely and chronically ill patients of all ages in medical hospitals. Puppets, and help guided fantasies to safe healing places, music, movement, clowning,  andfairy tales help children and adults stimulate their immune systems, get back in touch with their healthy selves, and create hope. One of Anne’s favorite parts of her visits is the Healing Parade: all the mobile patients dress up in costume and parade throughout the unit past the rooms of those who are too sick to get out of bed, spreading songs, “healing energy,” and good humor. Even staff members ask for drama therapy sessions to help them deal with their stresses, frustrations, and disappointments.

© Copyright Sally D. Bailey, Registered Drama Therapist. All Rights Reserved.