And the World Cup winner is…
July 15, 2018
‘Consider This’ continues in Catholic schools
July 15, 2018

Theatre as therapy

Karline Brathwaite says dance and drama engage emotions, feelings and sensations in the body. Photo courtesy Karline Brathwaite.

By Kaelanne Jordan,

What if one’s love for theatre could be used creatively to deal with one’s problems?

According to Karline Brathwaite, drama therapist at Wholeness and Wellness Counselling Services and mental health planner at the Ministry of Health, drama therapy has been developed for just such a purpose. Due to the unique properties of theatre, it is being used very successfully as a form of counselling as “it engages emotions, feelings and sensations in the body”.

A visit to her LinkedIn page says that she aims to contribute to the holistic development of those in her care through the clinical use of the creative and expressive arts, a co-created alliance and a trauma-informed ethos towards healing.

Using drama therapy, Brathwaite has journeyed with several client populations in treatment: refugees, veterans, domestic violence victims and their children, pre-adolescents and adolescents displaying behavioural symptoms of trauma, adults living with chronic mental illness and dual diagnoses and adolescents in drug rehabilitation programmes.

Formally trained in ballet, modern dance, Caribbean folk, Latin and contemporary dance, Brathwaite, in an interview with Catholic News said the misconception of drama therapy is that persons assume they are required to “act”.

“Absolutely not. What happens is that the therapy works with whoever is in the room. Because a lot of the clients I work with are kids, they are already up and going, [so] its easier for me to access them at that point.”

Brathwaite clarified that there is no choreographed or structured element in her sessions. Rather, drama therapists work using “authentic movement”. “It’s the rhythm of the person. So it’s not like we’re coming in the room and we start to dance… its very much spontaneous, very much authentic to the person.”

She gave the example “I might come into the room and just to get a temperature of the person I may ask to share one movement or sound that best represents you in this moment. So I just work with the rhythm of the person and whatever movement the person brings into the room. We don’t want people to get lost and perform in the clinical space,” she said.

Clinically, Brathwaite works with clients experiencing varying degrees of mood disorders including depression, anxiety, those struggling with bullying, difficulty managing emotions—anger and even those unable to access their emotions.

Increase awareness

After sharing another example of using role-playing to connect with clients, she affirmed that for drama therapists, their goals are that “simple” as they are able to access the client in different ways.

“…There is that mother that died and I did not get closure…if your mother was here in this room what did she look like….and then I might ask the client to sit in that space of your mother right now and if you feel safe ‘What do you think your mother might say to you?’” This, Braithwaite believes is the “beauty” in the work, as she gets to “play” into persons’ imaginations while also integrating the clinical aspect.

She continued, “You see the therapeutic work is in the therapeutic relationship. It’s not necessarily about the clinical things and the fancy things we do. What people really need is healing relationships because the brokenness happens in relationships. So once I’m able to connect safely …that’s healing already beginning so that’s the wonder of the therapy.”

Locally, there are only two drama therapists including Braithwaite. While she revealed that she finds it very difficult to balance her full-time job and practice after work and on weekends, she is now considering integrating her practice to be more accessible to communities and NGOs, including Church. She shared her interest in supporting and volunteering her time in initiatives, especially the Archdiocese’s Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR).

Braithwaite recognised that though drama therapy is not seen as a viable form of counselling, she, along with a group of creative arts therapists are eager to increase awareness across T&T.

“We get a lot of resistance from the local doctors because they have not come to recognise the value of these alternative therapies. Some of them are slowly coming on board but a lot of them are unfamiliar with the practice,” she said.

For now, Braithwaite continues to highlight drama therapy via the Wholeness and Wellness Centre, social media—video (blogs) and workshops. She, along with 12 creative arts therapists are currently drafting a proposal to the Ministry of Health to establish more vacancies for art therapists in the nation’s hospitals. Currently, there are only three personnel.

“And there are a lot more of us”, she says, adding, “And if we are in the public sector, then people will be able to access our services free of charge.”

To know more about drama therapy, you can visit Wholeness and Wellness Counselling Services, corner Bushe and Maloney streets, San Juan or call 347-1042.