Can you act our your mother’s behaviors? How about pretending you’re that high school crush that broke your heart? Have you been called incompetent at work? Assume the role of Mr. Incompetence and let him speak for himself via your theater skills. Transpersonal drama therapy is a fresh approach to healing that offers transformation through 12 fundamental principles. But, first, it’s important to understand the basis of this thing called “transpersonal.”
Transpersonal theory asserts that practitioners should be aware of their own assumptions as well as the assumptions of their clients. These assumption sets become tools that are appropriate and effective in different circumstances, and it is no different with the use of drama as a therapeutic intervention, as the contributors in Saphira Barbara Linden’s book artfully demonstrate.
More specifically, transpersonalism includes an array of experiences in which one’s sense of identity extends beyond the personal to encompass wider, broader, higher, and/or deeper aspects of humankind, life, and the cosmos. These behaviors and experiences appear to transcend hypothetical constructs associated with individual identities and self-concepts and thereby, the theory goes, lead to healing.
Transpersonal psychology, as a practice, is viewed as an alternative approach in and of itself, and practitioners within this framework draw upon unique applications to encourage healing. The overall intent of transpersonal psychology, and by virtue transpersonal drama therapy, is to enable the client to realize her place within the world and to transcend physical attachment to become closer through a transcendent type of union.
Stanislav Grof, one of the founders of the field, suggests that the very nature of transpersonalism invites opportunities for altered states of consciousness, and that therapists who use transpersonalism in any of its variations should be versed in guiding a client toward an altered state.
That role — the clinician who guides clients toward that altered state — shines through in The Heart and Soul of Psychotherapy: A Transpersonal Approach through Theater Arts. Linden has compiled a volume of insightful, thoughtful, and compelling essays that demonstrate varied uses of drama therapy as a transpersonal healing tool.
Drama therapy as an intervention, after all, requires both client and therapist to transcend the present situation, often acting out hurtful situations from the past and, at times, assuming reversed roles. Through this approach, clients explore their feelings about and reactions to hurtful or challenging situations in a safe space where the therapist offers encouragement and reflection.
As Virgil guided Dante through the nine levels of inferno, the transpersonal drama therapist likewise serves as a figure of sagacious guidance from the present mental state to the altered dramatic state. The transpersonal therapist, in fact, serves both as a guide and as a participant — an actor, if you will — in the dramatic healing experience.
Linden provides a wonderful summary of transpersonal drama therapy in the introduction with an emphasis on Eastern and Jungian philosophical foundations. The essays that follow show an array of different approaches to transpersonal drama therapy, many of which go beyond the common dramatic intervention and integrate other altered-state healing tools.
At first, I was skeptical of this book: Transpersonal intervention techniques can often, and easily do, slip into the realm of the ephemeral and anomalous and encourage clients to embrace a brand of mysticism that isn’t always viewed favorably.
Given that the transpersonal mode here was drama therapy, I hoped that the book would at least provide a reasonable reconciliation between two alternative techniques. I was, admittedly, pleasantly surprised by not only the qualifications of the therapists who wrote the articles compiled here, but by the practical methods they use to introduce transpersonal drama therapy to their clients.
The range of writers extends from veterans in the field of drama therapy to life coaches who use the technique as a means to elicit greater understanding of everyday work issues. And throughout the compilation, practitioners write about using transpersonal drama therapy to deal with a wide array of problems, including bulimia, depression, troubled youth, and sexual abuse. The range and demonstrated flexibility of the approach is astounding.
Drama therapy, frequently termed psychodrama, is not a new clinical technique by any means, and that is ably addressed in Linden’s book. The difference in Linden’s book seems to lie in its Jungian and Eastern attributes. Most of the contributors, at least to some degree, allude to archetypes, and use their understanding of those archetypes as ways to build out their client sessions.
There is more to be said on this topic, and its effectiveness, given its relative newness as a transpersonal healing mode. While conventional psychodrama is considered a useful tool for some clients, the addition of the transpersonal aspect is something that I look forward to seeing more of, especially given how impressed I was by the discussion in this book.
Indeed, the field of transpersonalism is steadily growing. Given the array of personality styles we see within our clients as well as issues they present, transpersonal drama just may become the intervention du jour.
The Heart and Soul of Psychotherapy: A Transpersonal Approach through Theater Arts
Trafford, April, 2013
Paperback, 546 pages