Drama therapy for adolescents: A case and program study

Paul W. Frehner (1996)

This dissertation investigates the effectiveness of a drama therapy program for adolescents. Drama therapy is judged to be a valuable and powerful means of intervention with adolescents, but few studies have ever empirically addressed its effectiveness. The theoretical framework of the study uses a symbolic interactionist view, developmental and psychodynamic theory, and theoretical models and research of the drama therapy field. Using qualitative research methods as well as psychometric tests, a specific method of investigating the effects of the drama therapy group on the participant adolescents' development and identity formation has been developed. Ten participants of the Acting Out program in Keene, NH were individually assessed at the beginning and end of the program, using instruments assessing their personality functioning, behavioral adaptation, interpersonal relationships with significant others, intelligence and social embeddedness. Qualitative data sources used were interviews (pre and post), a Q-sort task assessing the individual importance of various therapeutic elements of the program, a sociogram, as well as periodical process reports on each member by the group leaders. These data helped clarify the ways in which each member is using the program to promote their self growth and identity formation, how it is being used to work out issues of past trauma and current maladaptive relational patterns, and how the process affects the defensive structure of each member. Two major subgroups emerged from the study, largely determined along the parameters of stress and resources. A high stress/low resources subgroup uses mostly the therapeutic aspects of the program, while a low stress/high resources subgroup uses the theater aspects and opportunities for broader social exposure provided by the program. Drama Therapy for adolescents emerged as a powerful means to address highly difficult issues with a problematic population in a successful manner. The pacing of the process and the anxiety induced by weakened defenses were found to be the crucial problem in ensuring the participation of troubled members in need of therapeutic intervention. The study showed that drama therapy does provide a variety of positive therapeutic and powerful developmental experiences to teenagers with widely differing problems.