Telling Your Story Through Drama Therapy


Reaching adolescents with substance use disorders and mental health issues can be challenging. The use of drama therapycan be a powerful way to help clients build self-esteem while accessing emotions and processing their trauma and related issues. Teens can develop a new relationship with themselves and a better understanding of others, as well as heal from their relationship with substances. Adolescents can experience deep and profound change as they tell their stories through drama therapy.

What Is Drama Therapy?

According to the North American Drama Therapy Association, when drama therapy is used in conjunction with other evidence-based treatment programs, it can enhance substance abuse treatment by creating a safe space to access and explore emotions. Therapists help facilitate through the use of storytelling, role-playing, improvisation, mask making, developmental transformations, and other creative methods. Teens learn self-expression and are able to tell their stories using creative methods that allow them to feel freer and more in the moment. 

Drama therapy can also help teens safely process and heal from trauma. By using embodiment practices such as developmental transformations, clients can learn to self-regulate and reconnect with their bodies, senses, and environment to promote healing. Drama therapy can help bring teens out of the past and into the present safely and without the physical stress responses they have previously experienced.

If you are interested in expanding your scope of practice, requirements to become a registered drama therapist include a master’s or doctoral degree in drama therapy or a master’s or doctoral degree in theater or a mental health profession with additional in-depth training in drama therapy. Coursework includes psychology, drama therapy, experience in theater, supervised internship, and work experience.

Improving Self-Esteem and Self-Discipline

Teens with addiction and mental health diagnoses often suffer from self-esteem issues, both from self-image as well as stigma from society regarding addiction and mental health. Drama therapy allows them to explore roles of confidence and self-respect, as well as being valued members of society, to help them realize their own humanity and value as human beings.

By telling their stories through drama, teens are given the opportunity to see their own potential and find their strengths. They also learn to develop self-discipline as they interact with others in a theatrical setting to create a safe space for everyone to explore.

Developing Communication and Social Skills

The experiential format of drama therapy allows clients to improve both communication and social skills as they learn to express themselves creatively. Through role-playing and improvisation, they can process, heal, and mourn past relationships as well as develop new skills for future relationships.

Teens also have the opportunity to interact and create new friendships with group members who are also working to maintain wellness. For teens who struggle with social skills, drama therapy gives them the tools to learn how to interact with others. As they learn to express themselves dramatically, they learn to express themselves in real-life situations as well.

Practicing Coping Mechanisms

Drama therapy can also help clients to practice having a healing relationship with substances. Through role-playing and other methods, teens can practice saying no to substances or to those who offer them substances, acting out how they will respond to triggers or cravings, and practicing other coping skills. They can role-play healthy interactions with others regarding social experiences that do not involve substances.

Clients can also practice other healthy life skills, such as interacting with teachers or others in positive ways, practicing healthy interactions with family members, or interviewing for a job. Teens can physically rehearse what they want their life to look like both now and in the future without substances.

Gaining a Sense of Community

Another powerful side effect of drama therapy is the sense of community that teens can gain. While interacting with others, they gain a greater sense of the consequences of their actions, both positive and negative. Their interactions help them to realize that their words and actions impact those around them. They gain a better sense of community, of being part of something bigger than themselves. This is so helpful for those who have been stuck in a world such as substance use disorder that can be so self-centered.

Additionally, drama therapy can help clients to gain a sense of empowerment and understanding of their value in their family, community, and the world around them. They learn that they can affect change positively or negatively; it is their choice. Their words and actions matter and their choices matter–not just to themselves, but to those around them as well. Teens learn that their stories are powerful, that they are powerful. Through drama therapy, they learn the power of telling their story.

Teens can become empowered by telling their stories through drama therapy. Clients can improve self-esteem and self-discipline, develop communication and social skills, practice coping and other essential life skills, and gain a greater sense of community as they heal from trauma, addiction, and mental health disorders. Sustain Recovery is dedicated to helping heal and empower adolescents with substance use and mental health diagnoses. Our extended residential program located in Irvine, California is unique in that the extended length of stay offers clients the opportunity to gradually transition back home. We also help them connect with support in their community for long-term success. We teach independence and accountability in a structured environment with staff who are passionate about what they do. If you have a client who might benefit from our program, call Sustain today at (949) 407-9052 to learn more.