Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Participatory Theatre and Mental Health Recovery: A Narrative Inquiry

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Participatory Theatre and Mental Health Recovery: A Narrative Inquiry

Article excerpt

Introduction

This is a narrative inquiry focusing upon the stories told by participants of Teater Vildenvei, a theatre company that has been part of the rehabilitation programme for mental health service users for over 20 years in Oslo, Norway. As a methodology, narrative inquiry has been increasingly employed in health sector research,1 although the potential for narrative research in Public Health is still being explored.2 Furthermore, in Norway, there has thus far been little attention given to exploring health narratives in the context of public health, let alone those of personal experience related to the participation in culture and health initiatives. The perspective of service users is therefore often lost in the discussions about the value of arts and health initiatives for the promotion of public health. Despite the fact that user involvement is a statutory right in Norway, research shows that users’ voices are not sufficiently listened to.3 Narrative inquiry is therefore one way of enabling people’s voices to be heard.

Teater Vildenvei can best be described as a community mental health theatre company working to promote mental health among participants with various mental health problems. The company does not work within an overtly therapeutic paradigm, and the emphasis is not on working through personal issues to achieve psychological change, as it is in many forms of dramatherapy.4 Instead, the company is resource oriented and focuses on the health-promoting properties of collaborative theatre-making to produce positive change in people’s lives. As such, Teater Vildenvei belongs to a long tradition of using theatre performance to enhance wellbeing and health.4–6 This tradition of theatre-making in the service of health and wellbeing is at least as old as the ancient Greek rituals performed in the Ascleipions and Aristotle’s theory of dramatic catharsis,7 which acknowledged the therapeutic dimensions of drama/theatre and made links between the art of medicine and the art of theatre. With Aristotle, the idea that drama and theatre can enable emotional release, increase our sensitivity to others, bring people together and produce change in people’s lives was firmly established.8 This belief has been repeated throughout the history of theatre studies.

In the past 100 years, experimental theatre practitioners such as Artaud, Grotowski, Boal and Brooks have contributed greatly to our understanding of the healing aspects of dramatic and theatrical activities.9 In different ways, all these practitioners have highlighted that the processes of creativity, playing and acting are necessary for the maintenance of wellbeing both for individuals and societies.4 The early pioneers in drama and therapy as we now understand it, also shared this view. Being influenced by the experimental theatre of the day, the Russian theatre director Nikolai Evreinov (1879–1953), the Russian psychiatrist Vladimir Iljine (dates unknown), and the creator of psychodrama, Jacob Moreno (1889–1974), all started experiments where they used theatre in attempts to cure illness and promote health. They all strongly believed in the curative and transformative power of the theatre and that acting could help people to expand their role potential, enabling people to play old, familiar roles in new and more healthy ways.4 Both Evreinov and Moreno believed that the actor’s ailments could be overcome by the transformative power of the roles he/she enacted. Both also perceived spontaneity and creativity to be an important part of the maintenance of well-being and the return to health.4,10 These principles became key elements of Moreno’s development of psychodrama as an alternative to psychotherapy in the 1920s and 1930s. According to Moreno, spontaneity and creativity were innate human qualities. In his view, the loss of these qualities could produce illness and mental distress. …

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