At Unexpected Places, we believe in theatre's confidence-boosting power, but its other benefits can be even more potent for some. Drama therapy is a recognised form of creative art therapy; it entails the use of theatre techniques to facilitate personal growth and promote mental health. Drama therapy is used in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, mental health centres, and businesses.
Juli Richards has taught and run a number of theatre schools for more than twenty-five years. She offers private tutoring and LAMDA teaching as well as teaching at our youth theatre, Light UP. Before teaching drama, Juli was a qualified nurse. She has experience leading drama therapy workshops for patients from a variety of backgrounds, with a particular focus on those struggling with dementia. We had a chance to interview Juli to find out more about her career, drama therapy, and the mental health benefits that theatre provides.
What attracted you to teaching drama as a career?
Teaching was a natural progression from performing, directing, and running performing arts workshops for adults and children. I thought that anything that awakens emotion, enjoyment and movement in children was of great value - and drama did all of that.
I was offered a job teaching for Stagecoach, part-time childrens’ performing arts schools, and taught for a number of years before opening my own schools and running them for twelve years.
When did you start gaining experience in drama therapy?
I was a qualified nurse and nursed my mother with dementia for eight years before working in nursing homes with dementia and Alzheimers patients. I introduced drama to them to help improve their quality of life. I found that I very much wanted to change attitudes to how these patients were treated. A number of the children in my schools also had behavioural or learning problems, so I was working with a range of ages providing drama therapy.
While employed as a full time activities coordinator, I managed to attend a large number of courses to improve my knowledge of drama therapy.
What are the main benefits of drama therapy?
Drama is a cloak of many colours and the benefits will vary depending on the client’s starting position and capability. All of them gain so much from the gradual mental and physical stimulation of drama therapy.
What have been the most memorable moments from your drama therapy sessions?
One patient I dealt with spent days and nights screaming “Help me!" non-stop; her family were at their wits' end. I worked with her in group SONAS sessions, which combine sensory stimuli, such as taste, movement, singing, stories and drama, and are very repetitive to help the worst sufferers. After a few sessions she calmed down and lapsed into silence - then gradually, over a few weeks, joined in all the activities. This was not a cure, of course, but it helped both her and her family get more enjoyment out of life.
What would you say are the main mental health benefits that theatre can provide?
The benefits are very variable, but mainly, theatre helps people to live life and get enjoyment out of it. It can also improve the lives of attendees families and carers, especially those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
To find out more about UP Stagers, Juli's upcoming series of weekly drama activities and games for participants aged 55+, click here.