Practical Approaches to Dramatherapy: The Shield of Perseus

Practical Approaches to Dramatherapy: The Shield of Perseus

Practical Approaches to Dramatherapy: The Shield of Perseus

Practical Approaches to Dramatherapy: The Shield of Perseus

Excerpt

Traditions of healing through drama are at least as old as civilisation. Indeed, they appear to be as old as community itself. Because they are non-medical, operating principally through the human understanding, they are to be seen within the context of a philosophy of life, a corporate philosophy inspiring a corporate event. In classical and pre-classical times, dramatic healing was explicitly associated with religion, and this has been so from time to time in succeeding ages. It has taken many forms, from the Greek cult of Esklepius at Epidaurus, and other theatre-based cathartic approaches such as those practised in India and Japan, to the healing shrines of Eleusis, Delphi and Lourdes. In fact, it is as old as the Shamanistic techniques still practised in Tibet and South East Asia (Nilsson 1964; Scheff 1979).

It seems, however, that there is no fundamental reason why its underlying philosophy has to be explicitly religious. The most celebrated explanation of the therapeutic effect of drama – Aristotle’s theory of catharsis – does not mention divine personages or influences. What it depends on is human fellow-feeling. Fear for oneself and pity for another person or people are transformed into positive, healing emotions by the experience of encounter that drama contrives. It is as if the circumstances of the drama intensify our natural ability to put ourselves into somebody else’s place by demonstrating to us that it is precisely our separateness that allows us to do so. There is a good deal of literature on the subject of catharsis. Critics have wanted to know, for example, how we could possibly be ‘purged’ (Aristotle’s phrase) of our feelings by our feelings (Lucas 1946). The aim of psychotherapy, however, is to allow hidden emotions to attain full awareness. Drama helps us to share the things that disturb our peace, things that we would rather not face, and to do so in safety. S.H. Butcher (1951), writing in the mid-twentieth century . . .

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