Sunday, 12 June 2011

All work and no play ...

Work is a very serious thing at any time. It's how most of us support the other areas of our life.

With the job market tight and pressure on to make more with less , the workplace is a demanding environment.

We all spend a large chunk of our week at work so how can we make it a happier place to be?

This is just as important for the organisation as it is for the staff. A happy workplace is more productive, loses less time to sickness, is more likely to solve problems quickly.

A lot of unhappiness centres on communication. All of us have times when we can't say what we want. We put barriers in our own way and at times that's a very good thing. That little brake in our head that stops us saying what we are thinking at that second has probably saved lives as well as jobs and relationships.

But at work we sometimes have to say things that may not be well received no matter how diplomatic we are. We don't always distinguish clearly between the fact that lovely though we are, we are at work, paid to do a job. Not everything is personal or about us. Yet because we take ownership of our role for most of us our work is extremely personal. Any comment on what we do is a comment about us.

Organisations spend a lot of time money and effort on promoting good communication. This is a very serious matter indeed. But does the way we do this have to be so serious?

I'm always amazed that teams go away to try and build relationships. They won't be working at a resort in a room at a high level of intensity, or on an assault course.

Why not use the surroundings they will have to work in but make that more fun?

The methods taken from Drama Therapy are just as effective in the corporate and government fields

The puppets in the picture have been an amazing resource for getting people to talk. Someone who is uneasy speaking in a group turns into a lead orator with one of the puppets as his or her mouthpiece. The puppets get away with saying outrageous things and give everyone a laugh.

People who have enjoyed each others' company, not felt threatened will form much more effective working relationships. They will be more comfortable knowing that any impressions their colleagues have of them were at least partially formed in a happy, relaxed place.

No matter how this is approached, having fun is important for us all.

Watching a team that can barely talk to one another except via e mail learn to enjoy and respect each other is a great experience. Watching a new team come together having fun and building positive links is even better.

Whatever you are doing, have a think about having more fun at work. Being a professional, being a high achiever doesn't mean being a misery. So many people feel that some one is pulling their strings.

When in doubt, let a puppet do the talking for you.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Expressing Emotion – Clients with an ASD, ID, Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Expressing emotions in therapy is one of the hardest things to do for many people. We are taught from a young age to keep our emotions in check. This is certainly true in New Zealand. We have the attitude that we can fix it all ourselves (the No.8 wire mentality). Allowing clients to act out their feelings in play using characters, helps them express pent up emotions. Using the hierarchy of needs method – allowing people to express what is on top, allows them to explore what is underneath.

Often conventional therapies (like classic CBT, psycho-analysis, etc) are not suitable for our client group, as you need a certain level of cognitive ability to participate in these therapies. The clients we work with often can’t describe the feelings they have, process the information the therapist/counsellor gives them, or integrate this and form meaningful responses. Using drama therapy, people can show what they feel, experiment and adjust feelings they have, and reflect upon those feelings from a safe distance. (After all it is the police officer that is angry, not me...) It is internationally proven that drama therapeutic methods are successful when working with people having cognitive disabilities (ASD, ID, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and head injuries).

Autism, Asperger’s & ID

I found that people with an ASD or ID diagnosis are often confused by the emotions they see in others. It is difficult for them to understand what other people feel because they are confused by the emotions they feel themselves. What often happens is that they categorise feelings into good and bad ones. This might look like this:

Good feelings

Bad feelings


Feeling in love






They then respond with a planned response. These planned responses are a safety mechanism which happens automatically. A planned response for bad feelings might be putting your hands over your ears and rocking, swearing, punching someone/something, isolating yourself. A good feeling might be to hug a person.

As feeling annoyed is a negative feeling, it will have the same response as being scared. This is very confusing for the community they live in, as it is for them.

In drama therapy, I use many games to practise different emotions, and different intensities of emotion. For example, anger ranges from slightly annoyed to extremely aggressive. Practising these different levels of anger helps people understand the feeling. It also makes it a valid and useful emotion and is no longer just bad. Practising different emotions also allows the client to practice different outcomes. Having alternative responses will help people be more appropriate in their responses.

Dementia & Alzheimer’s

When Linda and I worked with people suffering dementia, we noticed that expressing emotions was difficult for many of the participants - however, it was very important for those clients to let their emotions out. By validating every emotion/action expressed by the participants in drama and giving an immediate response, people came out of their state of isolation. Once the participants allowed themselves to express emotions, it often had a very strong and profound effect. Some people expressed their fear of dying, others found closure of previous experiences. For example, one person revealed the abuse and fear he suffered. Finding peace with his past allowed him to relax more and be less anxious.

We look forward to hearing your experiences in working on emotions with clients with cognitive disabilities in your practices.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Playing has no rules

People with memory loss can rapidly become isolated from those around them. They don't communicate the way they used to.

I keep coming back to how much we all rely on talking to stay connected to each other. And how difficult that is for many of us as we get older. We place so much judgement on how someone speaks. Get a word wrong, mispronounce something or just muck up your grammar and a lot of negative judgements may come in to play. Heaven help you if you stumble a bit. If your memory is not working the way you want it to, so the right words don't come, that can be very frightening. That is even harder on family and friends who struggle with this loss of contact with the person they love and care for.

But playing has no rules. We can make them up as we go along. There is no way we can fail or feel anxious about being second rate, not up to standard. If something doesn't work, we just change it with no baggage, no regrets or worries that it wasn't right. “It's just a story” - how safe does that make whatever we do?

Using play works so well because it just takes away any anxiety. People relax , have some fun and start communicating any way they wish. They use their early memories and the rest of start get a glimpse of amazing lives and achievements. With time this could take many people so much further or at least make daily life a less unhappy and worrying thing.

That's what I have come to love about the action methods of Drama Therapy. It allows us to act out what we want, how we want. No one can query our choice of words. If we don't use words at all just gestures, we are still communicating. If we're communicating, we can be in touch.

It is wonderful for me to see how people respond and reconnect when they get the chance to rediscover memories through Drama Therapy.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Using puppets in drama therapy.

We sometimes use puppets when we work with our client groups. As the photograph shows, our
puppets are quite big, and very human-like.

Linda having a serious get together with some of the puppets...

When working with a lady who suffered from dementia, and had lost her speech, using the puppets,
allowed her to re-engage with her environment. I put the puppets on the floor, and looked away
from the lady, pretending to be busy doing something else. With her walking stick she brought
the puppet closer to her. Casually I put the puppet in her lap. She started cradling the puppet, and
when she discovered how to operate the mouth, she started singing to the puppet. Everyone was in
awe, as this lady had not spoken for quite some time, only making grunting noises. As the sessions
progressed the lady started to use her voice more and more. The puppets allowed her to re-engage
with her environment.

Autism – Aspergers
I found that people with an ASD diagnosis sometimes have difficulties understanding the world
they live in. They are often frustrated, as they miss social cues, and unwritten rules. They feel often
isolated. Using puppets they can create social situations in which they can let the puppets practice
different social reactions to problems. For example, what can a puppet do if it wants to play with
another puppet? How do you ask? How do you react when they say no, or do not want to play what
you want to? Having experienced different responses and outcomes, people with ASD diagnosis
can recall these memories when they come into similar situations. Having already practised how to
interact will help them connect with their environment.

Cognitive Impairments (e.g. intellectual disabilities, brain injuries, Cerebral Palsy)
Being able to show people what happened to them, without having to rely on oral language allows
people to look at their issues from a safe distance and express their feelings in a safe environment (it
is the puppet who is frightened...not me...). To see people finding closure to traumatic experiences
using puppets is very rewarding.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Introducing Drama Therapy

Welcome to our new weekly updated blog about drama therapy.
As drama therapy is relatively unknown in New Zealand we decided to make our blog , so drama therapists and people with an interest in using its techniques in New Zealand, and overseas can contribute and share ideas.
As a quick introduction: We are from Wellington, New Zealand, where we work as drama therapists.
We have experience in a diversity of fields, using drama therapeutic and action methods. They include the disability sector (intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, Aspergers, Autism, brain injury), elderly sector (Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Age Care), mental health sector (post traumatic stress, Depression, Psychosis and Neurosis) and we also use our skills in clinical supervision, management training and team building.
In our weekly updates we will talk about different techniques we use in the different settings/sectors. For example, projective techniques (like masks and puppets) psychodrama with people who have cognitive difficulties, slowing down the deterioration in people suffering dementia, and which techniques we found most successful.
We would also love to hear about your experiences in using drama processes when working with your client-base.

Drama Therapy and Dementia

Hi anyone reading this. Drama Therapy was something I'd used a little – and enjoyed hugely but it wasn't until I had the chance last year to work with Bas that I saw the enormous potential it has in the care of those with dementia.
We worked with a group of elderly – and not so elderly -people with varying degrees of dementia and Alzheimers. When I first met them, some were completely withdrawn or very limited in their communication. It was truly wonderful to see them respond, gain in confidence and start taking a keen interest in what was going on. Those working with them were doing a great job. They really got involved and valued the positive changes. Participants started to remember the sessions and interact more. Aggression decreased considerably.
This all happened just as a report from the Minister of Health was published. This showed the
impact of an ageing population and increased rates of dementia were going to pose an enormous
challenge to the Health sector over the next years.
There is little detailed research in NZ on using Drama Therapy but some very useful information
from the USA on the positive impact on behaviour and the potential reduced need for drugs.
We'll keep you posted as we try to introduce these methods, find some funding for research and
This is one problem we all face potentially as we live longer. I'd like to think there was some fun
ahead for me, whatever the state of my memory. How about you?