Dramatherapy has been a regular and popular addition to Headway Nottingham's rehabilitation timetable since summer, with groups run by Kathy Akers.  But what is the value of Dramatherapy after brain injury?  Has it been successful in rediscovering memories, building confidence and improving communication skills?  Who is Trevor Nobrain and do you really have to be a tree?


First things first... 

Kathy has been working as a Dramatherapist since 2010. She specialises in trauma-informed Dramatherapy, with a focus on using therapeutic drama to aid neurobiological development. The focus of the group at Headway Nottingham has been to build group connections and relationships, build memories and a narrative from week to week, and to look at sense of self and building confidence and communication skills.  Three volunteers from the University of Nottingham have attended the sessions, which has brought a fresh energy and perspective to the group. We work to a Group Agreement constructed together that outlines our values of mutual respect, communication, confidentiality, and giving each other time and patience.  

What is Dramatherapy?

A lot of people at Headway Nottingham have been curious about Dramatherapy and what it means, some have even asked if they are going to need to pretend to be a tree… so here’s a rundown of what it might involve.

The British Association of Dramatherapists describe it like this: 'Dramatherapy has as its main focus the intentional use of healing aspects of drama and theatre as the therapeutic process. It is a method of working and playing that uses action methods to facilitate creativity, imagination, learning, insight and growth.'

Dramatherapy in Brain Injury Rehabilitation, Headway Nottingham

Dramatherapy might use a lot of different techniques; anything from role-play, to working from a real or imagined story, movement, image-making, talking, discussing, using music, masks or film, for example. The way our group works is that the group lead the themes based on what is important to them that week, and the Dramatherapist suggests drama-based activities and structures that help explore these themes from a number of perspectives, so that everyone in the group feels that they have had a voice. The Dramatherapist will help link each session together with reminders and recaps so that we build an ongoing picture together and can look back on how far we’ve come. As we are working together in a group, the Dramatherapy focusses on the connections and relationships between the group members and uses activities that build these up. It also gives space for each group member to think individually about what is important to them.

Often in the Headway Nottingham session, we will look at ongoing story-making to identify creative skills, build confidence, and connect memories between the sessions; and improvisation activities using “embodied” work through movement and “projective” work through objects. Not only is this very fun and gets group members interacting more freely together, but it also works to build greater connection between right and left hemisphere function through connecting the instinctive, emotional “right brain” reactions with logical, language based “left brain” function.

What Have We Been Looking at this Term? 

In September, the Monday group came back together after a short break, to think about extending the Dramatherapy sessions and what they wanted from them. All of the group members who came along had been part of the summer programme. Feedback from the programme had been very positive and group members were keen to see what we might be able to achieve next. At the end of the summer, group members had remarked that,

“It was like we were seeing the sparks of ideas in our minds, and thinking in a totally new way.”

“Everyone took part and contributed. Everyone has a story to tell.”

“I liked getting to express my creations. To tell my own story.”

To embark on the next stage of our journey, it was important for the group themselves to work out what they wanted that to look like. This involved group contract-building and discussing what was important for the group from this point. The main points that came out were about trust, and patience, giving each other the time and space to be heard and understood.

Some improvised discussion around an object in the room -  a walking stick, led to talk about Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ song “Hit me with your Rhythm Stick”, which caused a lot of laughter and nostalgia amongst the group as most of us knew and enjoyed the song. Over the next few sessions, music was a key feature in our creative work. Group members named and shared songs that had an importance for them and shared these important memories with the group, from which we constructed our own Dream Playlist. The group showed themselves to have varied and interesting passions in music, from Punk, to Country and Western, to Funk and Soul, and Classical.

Discussions about music and its associations brought up some really interesting material for us, that led to very valuable discussions around identification in terms of culture, race, sexuality, gender and class. With our developing skills at discussion, managing difference and active empathetic listening, the group were able to manage these discussions, and challenge previously held assumptions. Everybody commented on ways in which the group had got to know each other better.

Kathy has been in touch with a theatre company called Graeae who have a fantastic show about the Blockheads called “Reasons to be Cheerful”. You can see their website here. We weren’t able to go and see Reasons to be Cheerful, but we are waiting on some materials they are going to release in the Spring that will help us connect to the show. Not only that, but we have written them a song! Inspired by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the group discussed what would be important to them from a protest song, and it was clear that disability discrimination was a stand-out theme.

Group members were clear about ways in which they needed to be heard and responded to differently as the result of their acquired brain injuries: in the workplace, in personal relationships and in day to day interactions and daily routines. We discussed ways in which this is affected by the political climate; funding, assumptions, perspectives in the media, for example. As the result of these discussions, the group created a story that became a song, “Trevor Nobrain”, the tale of two friends whose lives took very different turns. We proudly submitted our lyrics to the Reasons to be Cheerful songbank. We started some work on recording our song and making a “video” from images we took.

The last few weeks, we’ve been focussing on the important themes that came out of our songwriting. The group are becoming confident and skilled at improvisation work and we are using techniques such as the Theatre of the Oppressed – in which people watching a scene can step in and try to change the outcome to make it more fair; and Playback Theatre – in which group members’ stories are enacted back to them by the group. It is fantastic to see skills and confidence growing each week, and to have a weekly reminder of how putting the world to rights can also be enormous fun!