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Dramatherapy at Sheffield Children’s

25 April 2019

Rachel Dawson is a dramatherapist for Sheffield Children’s who works at the Becton Centre for Children and Young People, where we support children and young adults up to 18 with mental health issues and learning disabilities. Here, she explains what this therapy means for our patients.

Dramatherapy invites young people to re-engage with playfulness and creates an environment to explore emotions in a safe space. Rachel says that at the Trust, dramatherapy is “understood and celebrated” and a valuable tool in supporting the health of the children and young people.

Rachel said: “Dramatherapy breaks down a young person’s barriers and allows them to be imaginative. This type of therapy can help to find answers or seek solutions to problems. It gives the young people time to play and to use their imagination again.

“It’s great for Sheffield to have such a range of services and it’s so important to be part of that. I think that the understanding and acknowledgement from the team here at Becton, from all different disciplines, is a gift. We work together and it’s great that they all value the opportunities that dramatherapy presents. Here it’s about not giving up on a young person no matter what situation they’re in.”

Young people at Becton can choose to have dramatherapy as part of the service provided there. This is what they had to say about it:

  • “A place to express your feelings in a safe and calm way. The use of non-verbal expression helps to release your feelings.”
  • “It helps with identity and how you see yourself.”
  • “It’s a good escape to explore the hard times as well as the good.”
  • “Groups help you to become close together with others.”

Rachel says: “This therapy is indirect. For example what does that feeling look like, can it be expressed in a visual way? There’s something about not using words. We don’t always talk and use words, sometimes it’s an image or a sound.” One patient added: “The use of non-verbal expression helps to release your feelings”.

During the sessions, young people can use the props to express themselves. Rachel’s kit includes a suitcase full of props like boomwhackers, a ball of wool, puppets and straws, and a bag full of soft blankets. Some like to make figures with the playdough. Others find comfort in being wrapped in the blankets and building dens with the sheets.

Rachel says: “In therapy, we hear a lot more laughter. When you’ve not seen them laugh at all and then they have a giggle. The confidence very much changes. Dramatherapy invites them to create a story using characters where there’s a distance between themselves and the character they’re playing. We call this the aesthetic distance. The psychology says that the young person is likely to project themselves onto the character and it’s this indirect approach that makes them comfortable to reflect on what they might be feeling.

“Dramatherapy can be used to re-build confidence and resilience in those who are losing the hope and ability to express, or have just lost energy.

“The most popular activity that the young people like to do is make a den. Watching them be able to provide themselves with a safe space is so important. Especially in a group, they all build it together and all get inside. I ask them where this den would be if it wasn’t here – some want seaside, some want forest. Any activity where they share their imagination with you, they’re my favourite sessions.

Liz Murch, Associate Director of Community, Wellbeing and Mental Health at Sheffield Children’s said: “The young people are very willing to engage in dramatherapy so they feel the benefit of it. Rachel makes it easy for the young people to take part in it. It gives them a chance to escape realities and the pressures of their illness, enabling them to use drama to express how they’re feeling than verbalise it. She’s an amazing asset in supporting our young people.”

If your child is struggling or you know of a young person who may benefit from mental health guidance – please visit our Epic Friends website:

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