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Drama Games: Techniques for Self-Development

Drama Games: Techniques for Self-Development

by Tian Dayton, Ph.D. Tian

Experiential therapy is used to locate repressed feelings and re-experience them. Once we feel them in the present, we can come to terms with them and put them in their proper perspective. We can use our energies to truly enter into the moment with all our awareness. The quality of our happiness lies in our ability to experience what is around us. Feelings are


Experiential therapy is used to locate repressed feelings and re-experience them. Once we feel them in the present, we can come to terms with them and put them in their proper perspective. We can use our energies to truly enter into the moment with all our awareness. The quality of our happiness lies in our ability to experience what is around us. Feelings are often attached to roles. When we experiment with different roles we gain information about our personal history and play with new possibilities for change. Games help us to increase concentration, develop thinking skills and to coordinate thought, emotion and action. They are a way to allow humor and fun to enter into the therapeutic process.

This book is designed to help participants get in touch with and express buried feelings in a safe and structured way and to offer training in the ability to be creative and spontaneous.

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Health Communications, Incorporated
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Since the cultural revolution and growth potential movement of the '60s and 7()s, games have increasingly come into use in group settings. They are a natural way of bonding a group and creating trust. They provide an opportunity to experiment with ourselves and others while still in a safe environment.

In our work-oriented culture we leave little time for nongoal-oriented activity such as play and celebration. We have put ourselves in a bind. We have created the most affluent and privileged lifestyle in the world but we lack the time and ability to relax and enjoy it.

Games not only help us explore ourselves, they are a re-training in spontaneity, deepening our ability to experience and enjoy life.

The Games

There are two types of games in this book. First there are group games that are led by a facilitator and done by the group as a whole.

Second there are individual pieces either done during group by each group member and then shared with the group, or taken home and then shared with a therapist or brought back to the group.

Use this book as you would a cookbook. Cull from it what you like and vary it wherever you feel like doing so. It should give you the basic information you need and provide a point of departure.


Experiential games can be very useful in moving a group gently into action. They enable a group to break down initial inhibitions quickly and begin to feel comfortable. A therapist also has a chance to watch how group members behave in the large group games and in the individual pieces that are shared with the group. Thus the games provide a structure for the therapist to get to know group members and the group members to know one another in a non-threatening way.

Role Of The Group Leader

The therapist's job is to create a supportive, safe situation in which self-discovery through experimentation can happen. As J. L. Moreno, the father of psychodrama says, "The stage is enough.ö The therapist acts as a catalyst between the player and the environment, helping the player help themself by offering the stage as a mirror where the player can experience himself.

Simply speaking out and being heard or seen, without comment or judgment, is part of the work and healing in these games. The opportunity to experiment with different roles, to "try them for size,ö moving in and out of them in a game-like way is important here. The re-education of spontaneity, allowing the "inner child" to become a part of the life of the adult, happens naturally in a playful atmosphere.

The role of the group leader is to be supportive and give each player the feeling that what they present to the group will not be judged harshly. It is also necessary for the leader to create respect for the ground rules and enforce them.

Creating The Atmosphere

The most successful approach to any creative effort lies in drawing on the talent and ideas of the individual. As the leader you will want the environment to be very affirmative. Encourage the players to make mistakes and take risks. We want to create a safe space in which the players will feel free to experiment.

Remember, this manual can be used in either a group setting or with an individual. It can be used:

  1. To sharpen communication skills and enhance self-esteem — According to current research citing reasons for drug abuse among young people, the most consistent characteristic is low self-esteem. Games help people learn to be in touch with their feelings and give them safe ways to express those feelings, understand and accept them, and build self-esteem. Communication happens on all levels, through body language, voice and attitude. Drama games teach people to communicate more fully and accurately by expanding their repertoire of ideas. It helps them put thought into action through a conscious process that is within their control.
  2. As a stress-reducing activity — Stress among adults and children is an increasing concern in our society. Adults and children, particularly beginning in pre-adolescence, need activities that help them relax, unwind and enter into that life-giving activity — play. Often our work and school structure systematically removes play from our lives until, as adults, we lose the art entirely and later make awkward attempts to reintroduce it into our lives. Drama games keep play alive.
  3. As therapy for adults — The play and spontaneity that has been lost in adulthood can be recaptured through drama games. Part of the therapy process is reawakening the "inner child" that has become lost to the adult. We were all children once and we carry that child within us always. If we negate that part of ourselves, we lose our feeling and spontaneity. People who have had great emotional stress or problems often need to validate and recover that part of themselves on their journey to wellness. Drama games offer a safe and structured environment in which to experiment with mood and physical variation.
  4. In the classroom — Basically this is designed for the classroom teacher who does not have formal drama training. It is used as a new approach to the curriculum being offered and to provide "drama breaks.ö A "drama breakö can provide (a) a change of mood, (b) relaxation and rejuvenation, (c) a safe arena in which to share ideas or feeling, and (d) an introduction to creative work. Probably the most important ingredient in the teaching of drama or its use in the classroom is the attitude of the teacher. Too much freedom can make the work soggy and directionless, too little can make it lifeless and strained. The position of the teacher should be a bit like a spotter in gymnastics. The teacher stands ready to support if necessary. She supervises the situations, provides guidelines and ground rules; but she knows the real impetus will have to come from the children. She can play a very important role in encouraging the children. It also is important that the teacher constantly scan the group, moving in and out of the roles of both quiet guide and active leader. Activities should come one after the other without a break in pattern that will destroy continuity and concentration.
  5. As a "take home" or "learning center" activity — Some of the material in this manual does not need to be done with a leader. The guided imageries, for example, can be made into a "learning center" activity. Either the leader or the student can record the "guided imagery" onto a cassette tape: Sound effects or music can be used to make the tape more fun. Then the leader can make the booklet to go with the tape using the examples in the back of the manual. The booklet can include any questions the leader feels are relevant. It is an opportunity for the leader to be creative and to tailor the material to the needs of the group. The book can be photocopied so that each participant will have his or her own. In individual or group therapy the tapes and booklets can be given out by the therapist. I recommend having the cassette and booklets in a flat basket on a shelf along with some colored markers that the players can use for the pictures. The students can remove it from the shelf whenever they desire (along with a cassette recorder) and go off into a private corner to do their own work. They may wish to do this with a friend or in a small group.
  6. As a personal performance piece — The more comfortable people become thinking on their feet and delivering before others, the more self-esteem they will build. Personal drama pieces give them great control over what they present and how they present it than in a more structured play and it serves the additional purpose of getting them involved on a deeper level with the material they are presenting. Use the examples for mounting a "Personal Piece"; it will be challenging and stimulating to children and grownups alike.
  7. Games with variations — The variations at the bottom of each game are one of the most important parts. This is the section that allows the leader to expand in any direction that seems useful or appropriate. The creativity and sensitivity of the leader is always the most important part of any material used. Allow yourself to shine through and have fun with it — the players will be sure to follow you deep into the work.

Ground Rules For The Classroom

Respect for everyoneÆs ideas: This is important in providing a safe space. Children's ideas and feelings are very closely connected and if we laugh at or discount their ideas they will feel laughed at and discounted personally. To create an atmosphere in which they will feel free to open up we need to show them respect even if a means being a little extra patient.

A think tank atmosphere: This means we try to say our idea in just a few sentences and that no one will respond to it as being good or bad; it is simply an idea put out and listened to with no comment or discussion. This will free up the children.

No cross-talk or analyzing anotherÆs work: After the initial sharing, cross-talk is any comment made about the shared material. If we get involved with cross-talk we will change the sharing format to a discussion group which is quite a different atmosphere.

Focus on the subject at hand. The subject here is creative work and communication. If the subject veers into other areas gently bring it back. Handle this carefully because an atmosphere that is too authoritarian will be stifling.

No dominating of the group by more aggressive children: Frequently one or two children will not know what to do with themselves in a quiet centered atmosphere and will act out. Try to keep them in touch with the group; they may need a little extra reassurance that it is all right to do this sort of thing. If you absolutely must you can remove them for a few minutes then welcome them back as soon as possible.

Take a different approach to the subject matter being taught: Teachers, like all of us, get stuck. This will often result in the children getting stuck as well. Children tend to prefer the subjects that teachers love. So use this material to develop new ways of seeing and approaching any subject that you feel it can be applied to.

Close with group sharing: Wherever you feel it is appropriate after group work, finish by asking people to share what they experienced from the work. Sharing is not a time to give advice or criticism. Rather begin by saying "What came up for me ..ö or "How this operates in my life ..ö or share in a letter form saying Dear (the main participant) and at the end of the share sign off giving the name of the sharer. Group members who may have played a role other than themselves may use this time to de-role saying "Hi (name of main participant), I'm not (name of role), I'm (sharer's own name).ö

(c)1990. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Drama Games by Tian Dayton. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

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