Academic journal article Ife Psychologia

Issues in the Practice of Dramatherapy in Nigeria

Academic journal article Ife Psychologia

Issues in the Practice of Dramatherapy in Nigeria

Article excerpt


Drama is one of the technologies for promoting human development Beyond its entertaining forms, its elements can equally be applied as a major aid in teaching, as psychotherapy, to promote group functioning, explore interpersonal and group problems, re-consider sociocultural and ethical dilemmas, and to cultivate a group of component skills in body vitality, through improvisation, spontaneity, imagination, empathy, playfulness, intuitiveness, emotional sensitivity, role play and several others that combine to help people to be optimally effective in marshaling the creativity needed for individual and collective adaptation in a changing world. This realisation is borne out of concern for individual advancement and societal progress.

The truism that theatre/drama perform so many entertaining, communicating, educative and a therapeutic value is not in doubt These values most especially the therapeutic aspect is. Ithas been relegated to the background due to ignorance and enlightenment. This paper shall attempt to bring to the fore these therapeutic values embedded in drama and its necessity in a country like Nigeria. Using the role theory as propounded by Jacob Levi Moreno, a psycho dramatist and Robert Landy a dramatherapist as a springboard, it shall explore the challenges faced in the practical engagement with the patients of Neuropsychiatric hospital, Aro, Abeokuta.


Before the Westernization or the introduction of formalized religion, the tribes of the world dealt with problems through the performance and manifestation of ritual ceremony and dance. The therapist or healer in the community was the babalawo, dibia, shaman, (among other names) who it is believed, gained his insight through an experience of personal selfenlightenment. The study of tribal rituals reinforces the significance of symbolism and the dramatic act. It also implies an understanding of human processes by the shaman/ therapist who through the use of dramatic performance ensures the well-being of the tribe and individuals within it.

Ancient physicians recognized the value of drama as a therapeutic tool. Soranus, a second centuiy Roman, believed that the way to cure mentally ill patients was to put them into peaceful surroundings and have them read, discuss, and participate in the production of plays in order to create order in their thinking and offset their depression (Cockerham, 1991). In the fifth centuiy, another Roman, Caelius Aurelius took this a step farther. He states in his treatise "On Acute Diseases and on Chronic Diseases" that in order to achieve emotional balance, patients should go to the theatre and watch a performance that expresses the emotion opposite to their condition. For depression, he recommends a comedy; and for mania or hysteria, a tragedy (Jones, 1996).

In most cases, however, people with mental illness were not treated by taking trips to the theatre or by engaging them in reading and performing plays; they were locked away in horrible prisons and asylums where they were either forgotten or attempts were made to cure them through exorcisms and treatments which could only be described as torture. It was not until the late 18th century, with the beginning of the "Moral Treatment" movement, did some mental institutions provide occupational, horticultural, and artistic activities as part of their treatment regiment(Cockerham, 1991; Whitaker, 2001). This approach to treatment continued in enlightened institutions in Europe and America into the 20th century and this opened the door to the practice of drama therapy.

Subsequently, Occupational therapists at many psychiatric hospitals began involving patients in the rehearsal and performance of plays, pageants, and puppet shows. Interestingly, as observed by Phillips (1994:107), the genre of plays performed was limited to comedy, so as not to upset the patients. T. D. Noble, a psychiatrist, noticed that patients in his psychotherapy sessions who had acted in the hospital plays were able to understand and identify emotions better than other patients. …

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