Robert, a man in his late forties, was a persistent gambler and his desire to change his life had led him to a 12 week rehabilitation programme which included a weekly dramatherapy session.
Robert had spent his life in manual work and had never done drama before, nor did he wish to. Although apprehensive, his need to recover had made him determined to get the most from the programme. He was already confident in talking to the group, but acting and improvisation were outside his ‘safety zone’.
Robert had an adult son who had a drug problem and he found it difficult to be on the programme when he felt his son needed him. By chance, the group Robert attended contained a number of young men and it was identified that there was a potential risk of him becoming a father figure, and perhaps focusing on the younger ones in the group rather than dealing with his own issues.
The dramatherapy sessions always started with warm up games which focused on the group working together. One such game involved most of the group members sitting on chairs with one empty chair, then a single group member has to try to sit on the empty chair with the rest of the group aiming to prevent him by moving and swapping chairs. For the game to work the group has to tune into each other and work together to make sure the empty chair is never in reach of the opponent. This form of play really breaks down the barriers of what our perceived roles are, and the physical connection and chaos that ensues helps to create a sense of being ‘in it together’ and feeling equal with peers. Another warm-up game was a trust exercise where the group safely take care of one blindfolded individual, supporting them to cross the space. This exercise helped Robert to let go of his caring for others role and to accept the support and help of the rest of the men on his programme.
As the sessions progressed, Robert became more confident in improvisations and found himself taking on various roles. By stepping away from his usual safe persona, he experienced other perspectives and he seemed liberated by this new way of being. This was perhaps best illustrated when, in an exercise to modernise familiar stories and fairytales, he and another group member chose to begin their enactment by going outside the workspace and skipping across the garden and into the “cottage in the woods”.
The group worked with the story of “Theseus and the Minotaur”, and Robert was fascinated by the monster who he named as ‘created by others’, then punished for who he was. In a hot-seating exercise, where individuals sit in front of the group and answer questions as their character, Robert answered questions in the role of the Minotaur. It was a very heart-felt and moving process and he said afterwards he had been very touched by the experience. It had reflected on his own start in life and some of the difficulties he had experienced in childhood.
Robert completed the programme successfully and said that he had arrived at the house as an empty shell, and that dramatherapy had really enabled him to discover who he was, and who he wanted to be.
* All names have been changed to protect the identity of our clients.
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