Therapy in theatre

Updated: Aug 25, 2019, 07:50 IST | ekta mohta |

One of the nine drama therapists in India, and the only one in Mumbai, Anupriya Banerjee on learning self-care from the stage

Drama therapist Anupriya Banerjee with her toolkit. Pic/ Rane Ashish
Drama therapist Anupriya Banerjee with her toolkit. Pic/ Rane Ashish

With kohl in her eyes, a drop of gold on her nose and smoke in her voice, Anupriya Banerjee voice-acts with two hand puppets: an Angry Bird and a mouse that looks like Jerry. Once the light exchange is over, she dips into her bag of tricks to remove animal masks, party masks and commedia dell'arte masks. As a drama therapist, Banerjee, 27, uses stage props to treat people. Using masks, she says, work because they "give you a sense of anonymity."

A bachelor's in psychology from Delhi University and a master's in drama therapy from New York University, Banerjee knew as a first-year student that there were strong links between therapy and theatre. "I would study these psychological concepts [during the day], and I'd go for rehearsals in the evening and feel that it had this therapeutic charm. So, what if we optimised that potential to further the work of psychology and what mental health care practitioners are trying to do? At that point, I was oblivious about drama therapy." One Google search told her it wasn't a new idea. "It was a very humbling Google search. The word 'psychodrama' was actually coined by one of the founding fathers [Jacob Levy Moreno] of the drama therapy movement. It's this semi-structured way of blending elements of theatre like role-play, scene-setting and space into being able to empathise and find resilience and catharsis in your conversation. It's a beautiful technique."

According to her, the difference between a traditional, couch-loving therapist and an expressive arts therapist is the use of body and space in conversations. "The body speaks volumes and conventional therapy is restricted to the realm of words and verbal exchange. Trauma decapitates the ability to express emotion, and how it's sitting in your body. There's enough empirical, scientific research on how much trauma and information the body is carrying around. And, there isn't enough attention being paid, because of many reasons, one of them being that we are under-resourced."

As a drama therapist, she can borrow from other forms of therapy such as music, art and dance, as theatre borrows from them as well. "We play on the strengths of the client. If you are someone who is naturally inclined to music, I will not stray away from that. There's this example that another therapist, Parasuram Ramamurthy, used. In autism, one common feature is this hand flopping [on the forehead]. He said, 'Imagine this hand flopping as a rhythmic movement. What else requires repetitive rhythmic movement? Playing a drum.' He has seen three autistic people become percussionists because of that. So, it's a matter of perspective."

Having said that, drama therapy isn't a rehearsal. The two differ in intention and process. "Drama therapy is more about the role, the narrative, the improvised self, the authentic self in that moment, and looking at that from other perspectives. A session could involve a little bit of embodiment or role-play or character development, but could also not have one element of what you'd find in a clichéd theatre rehearsal space. It could just have a piece of paper and a pencil or nothing. Just the body of the client and you unpack from there." Alongside private sessions, Banerjee also uses it to address self-care in group workshops. "Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. It needs to be given a certain level of gravitas in this conversation, especially with the increasing prevalence of mental illnesses. And, drama therapy equips you to have a more mindful understanding of yourself and your needs."

Under the stage name of Doctor Drama, Banerjee uses Instagram posts and animated videos on YouTube to make drama therapy more accessible and comprehensible. "We offer do-it-yourself self-care activities. I see how busy life is, and the reasons why it's hard for people to maintain self-care. Drama in itself is a very immersive process. So, drama therapy uses elements of theatre to allow you to feel dis-inhibition, spontaneity and creativity." She's clear on what she wants to achieve. "[The goal of therapy] is to go on to leading a life independent of therapists."

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