Dramatherapy Approaches for People with Profound or Severe Multiple Disabilities – An Interview with Mary Booker
Mary Booker, MEd is a dramatherapist with over 25 years of experience working with a wide variety of client groups. She has been involved in the education of dramatherapists for 21 years and is currently the dramatherapy trainer on the University of Worcester’s MA in Dramatherapy in Exeter. Alongside this work she has spent 12 years teaching at a school for children and young people with visual impairment and complex needs.
Here, Mary answers some questions about her new book, Developmental Drama: Dramatherapy Approaches for People with Profound or Severe Multiple Disabilities, Including Sensory Impairment.
Why did you enter the field of dramatherapy?
During the 1970s in London, I was involved simultaneously in theatre (at the Questors Theatre, Ealing) and personal development / therapy (encounter groups, bioenergetics, natural dance, etc.). I sensed then that the acting I was engaging in was also supporting my personal process, but never went anywhere with it. My encounter therapist at the time encouraged me to consider training as a therapist myself, and I was attracted to the idea – but also very questioning about what my motivation might be. It just didn’t feel right at the time. I was already a practicing teacher, working in mainstream middle schools. I decided to give it all a rest when I knew I was pregnant, and I became a full-time mother until my two children were school age. By that time we were living in Devon. One of my first forays into work, following the birth of my children, was as a weekend care assistant in a home for the elderly near-by. One lunchtime someone came in to see the manager, saying he was a dramatherapist. It was like a light going on – two earlier passions of my life coming together! I enquired where he had trained and, voila! I got a place on the Devon dramatherapy training course. I have felt totally inspired by my dramatherapy work ever since.
How did you come to specialise in special education?
As I mentioned, I worked in mainstream education in the 1970s in London. I remember one specific little boy, who really didn’t fit within the classroom. He clearly needed special help, emotionally and educationally, and I decided to keep a diary on everything I observed in him, as well as trying to create new ways to connect with and support him. This diary eventually enabled him to get a place at a special school where his needs could be catered for in a more individual and focused way. The unique relationship we managed to create together has stayed with me and I have often wondered how life worked out for him.
After training as a dramatherapist, I worked for 10 years with many different client groups. I especially enjoyed the work with learning disabled people, including those with profound disabilities. I met some other inspiring dramatherapy practitioners who had created their own unique ways of relating creatively with profound clients. When I decided to return, part-time, to education, I got a job at the school described in the introduction to my book. The young people there just really drew me in and held my interest and attention.
What is Developmental Drama?
Developmental Drama is the focused use of drama to specifically promote development in people who have profound or severe global developmental delay. Development is considered holistically, and the different kinds of development (communication, social, emotional, cognitive, etc.) are all an integrated part of the process of sessions.
I have so many memorable experiences of using Developmental Drama. They all are amazing and important to me: Someone’s face full of laughter and sheer joy when their name is “drummed” to a climax in the warm-up. The concentration on another as they focus for all they are worth on something happening in the circle. The sudden, unexpected and totally right response to a new event in the story. The first time a young man, who has always said he is “happy”, tells me that he is “angry” – and means it too! A whole group of children with multi-sensory impairment huddled together, looking upwards in wonder at a new and bright “hole in the sky!” It goes on and on. I am a very lucky person.
How quickly can you expect to see positive results in a client? Is there any way of measuring outcomes?
As I described in the book, there are observable, positive changes in behaviour and responses that can happen quite quickly. This is usually because the environment of Developmental Drama allows people to demonstrate abilities they actually already have that have not been observed by others, due to a lack of appropriate opportunity, support and motivation. Genuine moves forward in development will occur, and I feel it is very important to specifically work towards this. Moves forward will be small, and they will be specific to the individual, considering the barriers to development that are unique to them. There are a number of developmental measures that are used in special education. I had wanted to try to adapt aspects of them to the Developmental Drama process. It is a job for someone still to do. It is also important for new skills that are worked on within sessions to be picked up and worked with by others involved with the clients in their lives outside of sessions. This can be hard to make happen, but attention should be given to it. The most important outcome is a happier, more communicative person – a qualitative outcome that relies on feedback from parents, carers and other professionals that might be involved. Bringing parents and other professionals sensitively into sessions, so they can see for themselves what is happening and what is possible, is important.
What prompted you to write this book?
I have recently retired from special education, although I am still involved in the training and supervision of dramatherapists. I was encouraged strongly by the dramatherapy students I took on placement, by other professionals including the teachers and TAs I worked alongside and by dramatherapists who also work with this client group to share what I had learned in a more far-reaching way. It was also a way of honouring the many young people who took part in my Developmental Drama sessions over the years.
My main hope is that the book will inspire more practitioners to work with these clients. I also hope that the ways in which I have worked will be developed & changed – and that those new ways of working will be shared with others as well. It is, potentially, such an exciting and creative area of work, that can make real differences to the lives of people with profound and severe disabilities. I have worked hard, but there is so much more to do!
In the book you stress the importance of support actors in Developmental Drama, but he idea of ‘acting’ may be intimidating to staff without a theatrical background. How can this be overcome?
I think I describe this in detail in the book. Basically, just like the clients, they need to be accepted as they are and helped to feel safe and respected. Then they need structures to support them to carry out their role within the sessions. It is usually when they really see the difference in the people they support that you begin to get them on board. It does not happen “over night”!
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.