Newly Qualified Freelance Drama Therapist Alex Ioannou speaks to Theatrefullstop about the job role.
What is great about theatre is that it serves multiple purposes: education, entertainment, inspiration, idealism, catharsis… the list is endless. Theatre is an important asset socially, not just to passively watch, but also, to actively part take in. Drama Therapy is a strand of drama coined over 100 years ago (Psychodrama) having been refined and developed in the 1970s. Newly trained freelance Drama Therapist Alex Ioannou talks more about the job role.
Hi Alex, you have recently gained an MA in Drama Therapy, what did training entail?
I trained at the University of Roehampton, in the full-time programme, which lasts for 2 years. There is also a part-time programme which lasts 3 year. The training was a rigorous and immersive experience, which enabled me to develop myself as an emerging dramatherapist in a number of different strands. The course involved weekly intensive classes for two days a week over the period of two years. The classes were predominantly experiential in nature, and I got to explore the process of working dramatherapeutically with clients, through my own experience of being part of a training group, and by reflecting on my emotional, physical and cognitive reactions with the support of trained dramatherapists-tutors. This was further grounded in a theoretical understanding of the practical activities, which drew from a variety of psychological and psychotherapeutic theories, but also from theatre practice and anthropological theories around ritual and play. Alongside this, I had the opportunity to conduct a piece of research into my practice as a dramatherapist-in-training which further strengthened my skills as a self-reflective practitioner.
To qualify as a dramatherapist and register with the Health and Care Professions Council, one also has to undertake a certain amount of placement hours. I got the chance to work with a variety of people and professionals, and experience the different roles that dramatherapy can play in a number of different settings, and work with both individuals and groups. During these two years, I worked in an educational setting with young people with autism, in a forensic mental health hospital, and in a hospice. Alongside the placements, dramatherapists in training are required to see a clinical supervisor, who supervises the work they do with clients and are also required to be in personal therapy for the duration of the training.
What is Drama Therapy?
From the website of the British Association of Dramatherapists (www.badth.org.uk):
Dramatherapy is a form of psychological therapy in which all of the performance arts are utilised within the therapeutic relationship. Dramatherapists are both artists and clinicians and draw on their trainings in theatre/drama and therapy to create methods to engage clients in effecting psychological, emotional and social changes. The therapy gives equal validity to body and mind within the dramatic context; stories, myths, playtexts, puppetry, masks and improvisation are examples of the range of artistic interventions a Dramatherapist may employ. These will enable the client to explore difficult and painful life experiences through an indirect approach.
Fundamentally, dramatherapy entails the exploration of our own life stories through creativity, and I strongly believe that with the intentional use of the healing aspects of theatre, people can connect with parts of themselves and deal with fears and anxieties that might be otherwise hard to access using conventional communication means.
You are currently developing your Drama Therapy practice. Does your previous drama training help you with this?
Yes, my theatre training is the groundwork of my practice. It provides me with an extensive toolkit of activities that can be adapted and offered to clients as structures that enable them to create meaning, but also provides a framework of self-awareness for what we call “therapeutic presence”. A coherent actor’s training that teaches actors how to be present and listen to themselves, the other actors and the audience, can greatly inform the way that a therapist can be with clients.
You are also currently using Drama Therapy to help support both vulnerable adolescents and adults, how have you and the clients found the experience so far?
The sessions can be inspiring, challenging, intimate, meaningful, exciting, fun, and emotional. I personally am often humbled, feel in awe, and am deeply moved by how the whole range of human experience can be explored through the use of creativity, and by how people often seem to find courage and hope in what seem to be incredibly adverse conditions.
Within the past few years, there has been a rise in the option to study Drama Therapy at University, why do you think this is?
I think that more and more people are recognising the healing value and potential of theatre and creativity in general, and want to contribute towards effecting change at both social and personal levels. At the same time, people might also be dissatisfied with the increasing inequality and commercialisation of the theatre industry which might not always be able to engage with and include the more marginal social groups. Overall, we all want to feel useful don’t we?
For anyone looking to train in Drama Therapy, what advice would you give them?
Research the different courses available, attend each course’s open day and ask tutors and current students questions. For me, how you personally feel in each institution on an open day or when you get invited for an interview is the most important factor. And if you get accepted, be prepared for a challenging, stimulating and fulfilling ride that can potentially change your life both professionally and personally. You will need to be willing to find new resources in yourself to deal with the intensity of therapeutic work and the training schedule. Overall, trust that all difficulties happen for a good reason, and enjoy the ride!
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
To find out more about Alex, visit here...