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K-State offers one of few drama therapy concentrations in nation, lets undergraduates try on for size

By Erinn Barcomb-Peterson


Theater and drama may conjure images that are more Manhattan, N.Y., than Manhattan, Kan. But Kansas State University associate professor Sally Bailey finds Kansans openly embrace drama therapy.

"In Washington, D.C., people didn't want to hear about it," Bailey said of her experience in the profession before coming to K-State. "People here in Kansas have always been, 'Tell me more about that.' People in Kansas are very interested and open to the idea of drama therapy. They don't shut you out."drama therapy

K-State is home to a drama therapy concentration in its speech communication, theater and dance department. The concentration is offered to students seeking a master's degree in theater and is one of the few places in the country where undergraduate students can take drama therapy courses to see if the field is a match with their talents and career goals.

Several other schools offer master's programs in drama therapy, but such programs are few and far between. Bailey said that is in part because drama therapy is an interdisciplinary field that makes it just as at home in the theater department, as at K-State, as it is in other schools' education and psychology departments.

"It takes a department with great vision to see that it works, to be excited about it being interdisciplinary, and to understand that it would be a positive addition to its curriculum," she said.

Bailey said she thinks more students are becoming aware not only of the drama therapy discipline but of K-State's place in the field.

"I have more and more students coming to study here because they know there is drama therapy training here and they want to be in the Midwest — they don't want to go to New York or San Francisco, where the other programs are," she said.

Drama therapy uses techniques that range from dramatic games and improvisation exercises to creating and producing a play to help people deal with a variety of problems.

Bailey, her students and the concentration's graduates use drama therapy with populations including Alzheimer's patients, prison inmates, recovering addicts and children with emotional problems. It also is used with developmentally disabled adults in the Barrier Free Theater, which Bailey organizes in Manhattan.

Through performing and producing dramatic work, participants can learn social skills and responsibility. Participants also can assess situations and solve problems through drama, which might be more comfortable than talking about issues directly, Bailey said.

"In drama therapy, you're using metaphor play and pretend, and you still get to the issue without putting people on the spot," Bailey said. "It's more distanced from you, so you see it better."

At K-State, students complete their graduate concentration by taking such classes as Principles of Drama Therapy, Drama Therapy with Special Populations and Creative Dramatics. Most graduate students take the extended interdisciplinary courses necessary to become a registered drama therapist by the National Association for Drama Therapy.

Students in the concentration also complete internships at places like schools, prisons, residential treatment facilities and senior housing groups. Such places welcome drama therapy with open arms, Bailey said.

"We're really on the growing edge here," she said. "More and more students want to come, and they're high quality students. I believe Kansas is a place that could become a drama therapy center for the country."


Image: Drama therapy activities can include using elements such as fake leaves in the fall.


Winter 2005