How Acting “As If” Can Make a Dramatic Difference

Kelly Tan, I have a dream. Variety-Stock from DeviantArt, FreeImages, and personal stock.

Editorial, Drama Therapy Review – Issue 2.2

By Nisha Sajnani, PhD, RDT-BCT- Principal Editor

Drama Therapy Review is the peer-reviewed journal for the North American Drama Therapy Association. Dramascope will publish the editorial for each new issue to keep our readers abreast of research in the field. We hope this inspires you to read the full journal which you can access for free as a member of the NADTA. For more information on how to subscribe, please click here. Please note that references for this editorial may be found in the issue.

Dramatic reality is the sine qua non of drama therapy. It is, as Susana Pendzik (2006) reminds us, the ‘essential category of experience’ in every approach that involves dramatic means to therapeutic ends. She explains,

Dramatic reality is imagination manifested. It is an as if made real, an island of imagination that becomes apparent in the midst of actual life. Dramatic reality involves a departure from ordinary life into a world that is both actual and hypothetical: It is the establishment of a world within the world… Dramatic reality exists between reality and fantasy: it partakes of both and belongs to neither.
(2006: 5, original emphasis)

Acting as if, derived from the ideas of pioneering psychologist William James (1890) and actor and theatre director Konstantin Stanislavski (1936), has been demonstrated to invite complexity, shift perception, and change behaviour (Ackerman et al. 2010; Carney et al. 2010, 2015; Hung and Labroo 2011; Langer 2009; Laird 2007). While they each use different terms (e.g. surplus reality, aesthetic space, fantastic reality, playspace, etc.), contributors to this issue extend this research and add to our body of knowledge in that they assess and affirm the value of dramatic reality across the lifespan.

We begin with Renée Pitre, Christine Mayor and David Read Johnson who propose that participation in brief sessions of Developmental Transformations (DvT), a highly interactive form of improvisational pretend play, can reduce stress amongst school aged children. They discuss short form DvT in relation to popular stress reduction techniques and provide a case study illustrating this method with one child seen within the context of the ALIVE program in New Haven.

Dan Wiener introduces Proxy scenes that are designed by therapists for adults and which involve the client participating in a close simulation of their real-life situation as a means of removing constraints to desired behaviours. Here, an immersion in dramatic reality offers participants a chance ‘to try out non-habitual and unfamiliar role choices (for individuals) as well as unfamiliar patterns of interaction between clients (for both individuals and client relationship systems)’ (2016: 185). He offers an instructive case example that elucidates the variables that therapists may calibrate in order to achieve successful Proxy scenes.

Myriam Savage follows with a narrative study in which she asked four adopted adolescent women to create masks and make a 30-second personal public service announcement. She combined elements of Pam Dunne’s Narradrama (2009) with an i-Pad application to create a digital space in which these youth could participate in pretend play and speak about their experiences. Savage’s work creates bridges between physical, virtual and dramatic reality, and offers us an example of how current technologies may be used to create new platforms for drama therapy.

Inspired by the research of Thalia Goldstein (2011), Barrett Scroggs, Sally Bailey and Bronwyn Fees present a study in which they examine the relationship between a creative drama course and empathy among emerging adults. They found that participation in a fifteen week creative drama course increased perspective taking amongst 30 undergraduate participants.

Rebecca Versaci follows with a theoretical article in which she uses the language of drama as a framing device for the psychological process of attachment between caregiver and child. She argues that viewing this critical initial relationship as a ‘theatre of attachment’ brings into focus the importance of aesthetic distance, role and intersubjective exchange which, in turn, offers dramatherapists and participants avenues for exploration.

Alisha Henson and Marilyn Fitzpatrick also elevate the importance of attuning to clients’ attachment styles in therapy and, like Wiener and Versaci, offer a rationale for titrating the level of distance created through the use of drama therapy techniques. In their study, they assessed the attachment styles of five mothers with children diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and observed their preferences in a drama therapy support group. Consistent with the findings of drama therapist Judith Glass (2006), they found that those with insecure attachment styles were more likely to prefer over-distanced techniques.

Rachel Lee Soon offers a postcolonial reading of drama therapy while also situating drama therapy within an Indigenous Hawaiian context. She calls attention to place, embodiment and relationship as complementary spaces between Indigenous ways of knowing and drama therapy practice. Her work is an excellent example of a critical aesthetic paradigm present in our field (Sajnani 2016).

Drew Bird and Katie Tozer inhabit dramatic reality as an approach to discovery. They draw on a/r/tography as an arts-based methodological approach to ‘explore the researchers teaching practice on a UK-based M.A. drama therapy program in order to clarify, understand, and develop a teaching pedagogy to enhance and improve teaching and learning’ (2016: 274). As Bird and Tozer explain, a/r/tography is suitable approach because it invites an investigation of the tensions between roles such as the role of drama therapist and drama therapy educator. Their findings, presented as seven renderings (themes) arising from dramatic improvisation, re-connected them with hidden values and reinforce artistic practice in research and teaching.

We conclude this issue with Patrick Tomczyk’s review of Clive Holmwood’s Drama Education and Dramatherapy: Exploring the Space between Disciplines published by Routledge (2014). Like Bird and Tozer, Holmwood explores the relationships between the role of drama therapist and educator across contexts.

Finally, this issue is special because the abstracts for each article have been translated into Spanish and French. Thank you to Marie-Emilie Louis from Belgium/Montreal and Fabiola Valdivia from Chile/Cambridge for their assistance with this effort. We hope that this expands access to a growing body of research into the health benefits of dramatic reality.

Nisha Sajnani, PhD, RDT-BCT is an Associate Professor; Interim Director, Global Interdisciplinary Studies; Coordinator, Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Drama Therapy MA program; Advisor, Expressive Therapies PhD program, and fellow of the Institute of Arts and Health at Lesley University. Dr. Sajnani is also on faculty with the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma where she provides leadership on the role of the arts in global mental health and at New York University where she teaches an introductory course on arts based research. Nisha is the editor of Drama Therapy Review. 

Call for Dramascope Blog Submissions

The Dramascope is looking for voices from all over the Drama Therapy community!  If you have an idea for a blog post – fully formed, half baked, or somewhere in between – please reach out to us at All perspectives and points of entry are welcome. Final posts range between 1,000 and 1,500 words. Hope to hear from you, and in the mean time, we encourage you to comment on/respond to the bi-weekly posts when they come up.  Find blog announcements here at the NADTA’s Facebook page or follow us on twitter @theDramascope.

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THE DRAMA THERAPY REVIEW PREMIERS THIS WEEK! Check out this interview with the editorial leadership!

The following interview was conducted with the editorial leadership of the Drama Therapy Review. The first issue which will be free open access debuts this week on 10/24/14.

  1. Can you tell me who has been working on Drama Therapy Review and what sort of process you have gone through to bring this into being?

Drama Therapy Review is an international, peer-reviewed journal published by Intellect in partnership with the North American Drama Therapy Association. The editorial leadership consists of Nisha Sajnani (Editor), Christine Mayor and Meredith Dean (Associate Editors), and Elizabeth McAdam (Reviews Editor). DTR has an active editorial and advisory board comprised of international leaders in the field.

The realization of this journal took many years, many people, and many conversations. I remember conversations with Stephen Snow in 2007 about the need for a journal in our field and remember Jason Butler presenting options for the creation of a journal when he was Communications Chair on the Board in 2008. Our Association did have a publication in Dramascope, a quarterly newsletter that was printed and mailed to members between 1981-2008. However, costs associated with this publication along with our increasing use of social media presented an opportunity to rethink the Association’s overall communication strategy.

In 2011, Christine Mayor and Meredith Dean who were, at the time, editors of Dramascope, renewed efforts to create a journal for the Association. We consulted with leaders in our field and the directors of drama therapy programs as well as Anna Seymour, editor of our sister journal, Dramatherapy: Journal of the British Association of Dramatherapists. We surveyed the NADTA membership to assess their willingness to support a professional journal and they came back with a resounding “yes”! In addition, Christine and Meredith recruited Ligia Batista, Michelle Buckle, Jason Butler, ElyssaKilman, Lucy McLellan, Sarah Harkness, Colleen Gallagher, Tara Van Ness, Daniela Bustamante, Jason Frydman and Lizzie McAdam as a working committee to research the feasibility of developing our own publication. This initial research informed the Board’s decision to approve moving forward with the formal creation of the journal.

As the President of the NADTA Board at the time, I formed a relationship with Intellect, our publisher, to ensure that this journal had a solid, professional platform that we could be proud of. This involved completing a substantial journal proposal form which Intellect used to assess the viability of this journal. In December 2013, we entered into a contract with Intellect and the future of Drama Therapy Review was secured. I agreed to assume the role of editor-in-chief with Christine and Meredith as invaluable associate editors. Together with our editorial board and community of reviewers, we have spent the last year moving the idea of journal into a reality.

  1. Can you tell us why this journal is so important to our field and what impact you hope it will have?

As I wrote in the editorial for our first issue, Drama Therapy Review is a venue for an open conversation in the field. It is a journal for drama therapy which means that each article published in DTR must grapple with current theoretical frameworks and previously published research in the field. This deepens the dialogue we have with each other’s work and allows us to advance our understanding of why, how, when, where, and with whom drama therapy is useful.

The journal is also important because the editorial team acknowledges the varied ways in which drama therapists produce knowledge. This journal will provide a platform for quantitative, qualitative, and qualitative arts-based practitioner research as well as interviews and clinical commentaries. We are excited to have a forum where veteran authors and emerging writers can present new research. In fact, we have developed a mentorship program to encourage those who are newer to the publication process.

Perhaps most importantly, published peer-reviewed research about drama therapy increases our ability to advocate for the provision of drama therapy services in our communities, within our institutions, and with our government representatives. It also gives us the leverage we need when we join with the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations to lobby for the inclusion of arts therapy services for diverse groups in need of creative, effective care. DTR is a crucial expression of our Body of Knowledge.

  1. Can you tell us what you have planned for the conference as far as the unveiling of Drama Therapy Review?

The journal editorial team along with the research committee for the NADTA will be hosting the Body of Knowledge where we will unveil the print version of  Issue 1.1, get into conversations about collaborative research opportunities, and answer questions about the publication process.

If you’d like to sneak a peek at Issue 1.1, click here . This inaugural issue is open-access, which means it is available to the general public. We hope this will generate interest in the journal and in the field.

  1. Have any of you been to this location before and if so can you describe what you are most looking forward to?

Nisha: I haven’t been to Yosemite before. The pictures of the park are breathtaking and promise inspiration. I’m looking forward to enjoying the conference as a participant because I know, firsthand, that it takes an immense collaborative effort to make it a reality each year.

Christine: I also have never been to Yosemite, and actually have never been to any national parks in the US, due to me being born and raised in Bermuda. I am looking forward to being in the mountains, enjoying the community, and celebrating this historic moment of DTR 1.1.

Meredith: Yosemite has been on my list of places to go for a long time. Attending this conference not only means I can check this wish off my list, it also provides the opportunity to celebrate DTR’s inaugural issue – in itself a beautiful thing – in a beautiful place with our community.

  1. Is there anything else you would like to add?

The Call for Papers for upcoming issues are available online.  Issue 1.2 is a general issue (due Feb. 1, 2015) and Issue 2.1 is a special issue on Diversity and Social Justice in Drama Therapy (due Aug.1, 2015). If you are interested in submitting a paper, interview, or clinical comment for consideration, please be in