Group uses drama to provide therapy to community

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In the realm of psychological therapy, art exists as a powerful tool. From music to painting, the arts have been a valuable source for personal development. Within the art therapy specialty exists the growing category of theater as a tool to supplement more traditional therapies.

The National Association for Drama Therapy defines this form of art therapy as “the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals.” Established in 1979, the association has expanded its boundaries and found its way into university programs.

Several universities throughout the United States instruct students in the art of drama therapy. However, there are only three universities that report having Master of Arts graduate programs for that specific interest. They are New York University, the California Institute of Integral Studies and K-State.

K-State’s drama therapy program was started in the 1980s by Norman Fedder. Since then, it has used the art of theater performance to help people improve their lives through physical, emotional and even spiritual exercises. With improvisational exercises and colorful imaginations, people use such methods simply to have fun in their daily lives.

The drama therapy program has seen steady growth in influence and membership since its establishment. After Fedder’s retirement in 1999, Sally Bailey, associate professor of speech communication, theater and dance, was hired as head of the department. Bailey also sponsors the Creative Arts Therapy Students, which is a group that specializes in drama therapy. Established seven years ago, the group works with the Manhattan Arts Center and the Manhattan Parks and Recreation Department.

“It helps students learn more about their careers,” Bailey said of the program. “It is especially helpful for those trying to make a living with acting careers.”

Renee Saltzman, a member of CATS, said it has been beneficial to her.

“It gives me opportunities to find good internships,” said Saltzman, graduate student in drama therapy. “It also gives me a chance to work with other people with the same interest in a career.”

Acting or not, participation plays a large part in the program. The group organizes events each year that require individual personal creativity. The program follows a schedule that offers benefits to those involved.

In the parks and recreation department, the special populations department works to organize events for those with special needs. One of these events is the Barrier Free Theater.

Located at the arts center, it is this form of theater that allows individuals with special needs to use drama in their lives for self improvement and recreation. In the fall, CATS works in the arts center to develop a play through improvisation and other dramatic activities. The group then oversees the production and introduction of the play by late December. The following semester involves rehearsing the project for three months before performing in April. Next semester’s performance will be April 4-5 at the Manhattan Arts Center.

The drama therapy program interacts with a wide variety of groups and people. In the past, CATS has worked with those in need of a self-esteem boost or with those in search of conflict resolution. At an assisted living center in Manhattan, CATS works with senior citizens, including individuals with Alzheimer’s. After completing improvisational activities, individuals diagnosed with the disease experience improvements in both mental and spiritual aspects of their lives.

“We are also working on ideas of advocacy of the arts for individuals,” said CATS president Hailey Gillespie, graduate student in drama therapy. “Drama therapy can even facilitate art into the environment you work in. Basically, we’re trying to facilitate the therapeutic value of arts for daily life.”

In addition to performances, much of the group’s work involves sponsoring workshops, donating literature and getting the community involved in the program. Students who are interested in the program can enroll in drama therapy classes, like Creative Dramatics or Drama Therapy with Special Populations.

Membership in the program does not require a certain major. Students with a wide variety of interests, from psychology to speech pathology, have participated in the program.

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