Shamans have used dramatic
methods of healing for millennia: there is evidence of shamanic
rituals going back over 30,000 years. Dramatherapy and psychodrama
were developed during the 20th Century. They emerged from a cultural
background that had acknowledged the therapeutic value of theatre
since Aristotle wrote about catharsis as an effect of witnessing
tragedy. Shakespeare also knew of the healing potential of drama.
In King Lear Edgar uses a guided fantasy and enactment to help his
suicidal father (Gloucester). He states:
“Why I do trifle thus with his despair
is done to cure it.” King Lear
In about 1775 Goethe wrote Lila, about the healing, through dramatic
action, of a woman suffering a psychotic grief reaction. Goethe
met J. C. Reil, who coined the term psychiatry, in 1802 and the
following year Reil published a book in which he proposed therapeutic
theatres be established in psychiatric hospitals. During the 19th
Century theatres were then built in Britain, France, Germany and
Italy for patients’ benefit.
From the start of the 20th Century people were exploring the educational
and therapeutic potential of drama in the USA and Europe. Dr. J.L.
Moreno, a psychiatrist in Vienna, began to develop psychodrama from
his observations of children playing and his spontaneity research
with actors during the first two decades of the century. By 1936
he had opened the world’s first psychodrama theatre in his
psychiatric clinic in New York state, USA.
Peter Slade, who coined the term dramatherapy, spoke at the British
Medical Association on dramatherapy in 1939. He influenced many
workers in the field including Dr. Sue Jennings, Marian Lindkvist,
Dorothy Heathcote who developed dramatherapy through the 1960s and
For more information see Casson, 2002 and www.creativepsychotherapy.info