Friday, 8 July 2011

Creating New Behaviours

Isn’t it amazing how people behave? There are so many ways in which we respond to
different stimuli. We have varying responses depending on where we are, or who we
interact with. (Even though this is often influenced by the way we feel).

We behave differently when we purchase our bus ticket, to when we are called into our
children’s school principal’s office. Our expectations/ previous experiences program our
body to such an extent that it almost automatically takes over.

For example; most people don’t enjoy going to the dentist. Our muscles tense up, our
breathing changes and most of us experience a sense of fear. Research has shown that
dentists are the least liked people to visit. (Is it also a coincidence that dentists have
amongst the highest rates of suicide and depression?)

How we subconsciously behave has an effect on our environment. It also has an effect on
ourselves.

Sometimes, it is easy to change the way we feel. When we leave the dentist, we feel
instantly happy/ relieved. However, when we are subject to a certain feeling for a long
period of time, it is harder to shift this feeling. And we might identify with this feeling to
such an extent that it takes over our rational thinking.

Taking our dentist example again, it is possible that the dentist feels it is he or she that is
not liked, and begins to feel that he or she does not deserve to be liked – our poor dentist
(not a phrase you are likely to hear very often!) might believe he or she is a horrible person,
and then take disproportionate or inappropriate action. An otherwise cognitively intelligent
person may make a cognitively disastrous decision.

Practising different feelings, and changing feelings, is an important part of drama therapy.
The people we work with are often stuck in a feeling. People with a disability or dementia,
or those working in management, often experience feelings of isolation or feelings of
depression. When a person feels isolated for some time, they become reclusive and
withdrawn. It needs some serious intervention to break this habit.

An important part of drama therapy is the interaction between people. You do something,
you get a response:
The cowboy shoots the therapist, the therapist dies.
An aunty gives you an elephant as a birthday present, and you become the envy of the
neighbourhood.
A robber steals the Queen’s crown jewels and the robber gets chased by police.

By practising different emotional responses and behaviours in drama therapy, a person
becomes more resilient and adaptable to situations outside the therapy room. The brain
stores all experiences, and doesn’t discriminate between reality and non-reality. The body
uses all we experience to form a response.

It makes sense that a person who feels worthless needs a lot of positive experiences - where
they are in charge (the boss), being cared for, happy, funny, etc. This counter balancing
helps the brain to have a wider range of experiences to pick from.

Returning to our dentist example again, if you are (or know) a dentist, you may wish to
pass on that the happiest dentist I have ever met always wore a facemask with bunnies
on it during treatment. Creating this non-threatening character by using a prop, made
his patients feel at ease, and his great sense of humour allowed him to deal with negative
feelings head on (and consequently he felt unafraid and not marginalised).

If you are going to the dentist soon, good luck, and remember that your dentist may be
feeling ill at ease too!

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