Updated -February 2004

Diary of a Drama Therapist

Sometimes all people really need is a nudge - a different way of falling out of their place of control. Crying is really hard-if you don't do it very much it's even harder. If your immediate culture - prison - frowns at it, then it's even harder than that. If you believe that crying is not part of treatment, that treatment is just a question of learning, controlling, getting new and better friends then crying is even harder.
Sometimes crying can only be done to the stranger, the one less involved. We have lots of experiences where people open up to us BECAUSE we aren't staying. We strongly recommend that you find the occasional stranger to bring to treatment who is sensible, sensate, and sympathetic.

A recent experience -- a friend of mine was working doing some very focused work with very "spikey" offenders. He had gained their confidence and he has a loose, honest, and lively style. He's certainly not a Rogerian listener, or the type of therapist afraid to challenge for fear that he might "offend".
My job was merely to keep up my end, watch, and come in only if there was a legitimate place to do so. Working without the usual tools is hard for me - one gets dependent on them even if you don't use them. But I had only a few of the masks and toys I usually use. This left the most powerful one - their bodies. As my friend worked I watched an intense, long-termer engage densely with the work. He peered into his loss, the loss of the one person who might have alleviated his lonely shame - his mother and then his family. But the reality is that they are gone. One could see his straining to keep the reality at bay - the tears stopped up just behind his eyes.
Close to the end, I asked him to take a walk with me, a walk where we could begin a quick intimate dialogue. It is sometimes like jumping - Nigel Latta calls it the road. For me it is that moment you see when it is time - the way will come, the material will come if you don't interfere with it. But what must be obeyed is the time to jump. I needed the clients connected attention - it is a dialogue just for him - I agreed with him, "everyone is gone, that is the shame, it is the truth. You are right". Then I asked him to lean on me, put his hands on my shoulders - I needed him to have that sensation - giving up, letting go the control - not having to be in charge forever-
Then he cried. Van der Kolk entitled his seminal chapter "The Body Keeps The Score". Look at the extraordinary work of the drama therapists - when you are working with clients look at the body, hear the metaphor - too many of us cannot cry until we lean on someone. When we incarcerate and isolate, we reduce the possibility of change, shut down the alleyways that lead to feeling.

Books -- two books that have come out -- first our friend Nigel Latta's book "Into the Darkness". For those of you who work with men and kids who sexually offend this is a terrific book. Nigel writes so clearly about the real battle - the battle to connect, to find a way in, to find a way to talk with clients about their untalkeable talk. Its irreverent, simple and NO jargon. Nigel takes a dispassionate look, on the way, at the SCIENCE that is so de rigueur and puts it back in place. As the cognitive approach plays itself out, it looks as if the primacy of the work is perhaps on its way back.

About our new book Challenging Experience - Saul Hewish and I are grateful for all of you who have already bought the book- and we are working on ways to get it to you in Australia and New Zealand.

Books about mind and movement.

Fosha, Diana. (2000). The Transforming Power of Affect. Basic Books, New York: NY.

Greenberg, Leslie S. (2002). Emotion- Focused Therapy. American Psychological Association, Washington: DC.

Pert, Candace. (2000). Your Body is your Subconscious Mind. Sounds True, Boulder: Colorado. (A cassette book)

Rothchild , Babette . (2000). The Body Remembers- The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment. W. W. Norton and Company, New York: NY.

Schore, Allan. (1994). Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, New Jersey.

Siegel, Daniel. (1999). The Developing Mind. The Guilford Press, New York: NY.



We want to make this a web page that truly stands out because of its material. As you well know these pages take time, and time to assemble. But we have this wonderful cyber web mistress .....
So...... We are looking to make this particular page a praxis page-- its a page for people who are already in the field. We are going to use the format of a living diary of a working therapist-a sort of warts and thoughts approach to the living world of doing the work.
This is a page open to anyone who sends material to
If you're a working clinician, dramatherapist, theatre for special audiences practitioner, hunting for exercises, comparing anxiety notes- hopefully this will be a page for you.


I am a social worker from North Carolina, and I have had the remarkable professional opportunity of traveling with John as he works, on several occasions in the last couple of years. My name is Debra Tatum, and the following are journal excerpts from those times.

John poses the question to the group. Can a man of God rape? Immediately the answer resounds. Yes. How can that be? Because being a man of God doesn't mean you've done all of it right. You have parts of yourself. Where does that man put the reality of what he has done? Bring it to the light. Use God's tools. First understand it in his head, and then his spirituality can help him get past it.

One well groomed man smiles a lot. He shook his baby to death. When John is walking a picture group through the steps of growing a healthy child, he stands to the side, and his smile does not change.

One man speaks to John., He informs that he has been in prison around the world. "When I am in, I get a Bible. When I am out, I get a gun."

Thursday-- working with 19-23 year old men mostly from big city life- the staff want to prepare them for role play but I suspect that its the staff that need to be prepared for role play---they walk in in role already-swagger, some presentation of violence or threats etc. -- reminds me of asylum -- by E. Goffman they are very super sensitive- going to have to create an instant mood of respect-- the damn word is so open to misuse, it can be a wall to keep us all out-shake hands with all of them- connect-eye connection- remember they are very young-

LATER--setting up for physical exercises first- stay away from heavy warm-ups--use supple muscle exercises- two people do a balance lift, now three- going to five-wow they did six- they look excited - they're connected now-use the old exercise cos they're still skittish, what time is it, where am I----aha they're setting everything late on the street- they're responding now-switch to role work about disagreements- ask what they're thinking -

FOCUSED- use the masks to represent phases of the cycle-- yes- they feel comfortable-can they do victimstance--one of the guys is sleeping- do a connection exercise--conga line blindfold and try to get as close to the centre of the room-

CLOSE-be direct-- talking to them about the splitting they did but also talking about the focus they brought to the session- exhausted

Monday. Conference for folk who work with adolescent sex offenders. But it's only three hours with them. 53 people signed up. The room's way too small. Experiential work means you've got to have a large room, large enough for moving in. With that many, if we get a really strong session going they'll have no room to escape, calm themselves down. Better make sure that they are well warned, well warmed. Must remember to get them all to introduce themselves. I bet they're all really skilled and don't need people talking down to them.. That's the trouble with these patriarchal conferences--too many white men teaching the obvious and hiding it all behind their importance. And then people get bored. Open Space Technology conferences.

Remember Bergy! Keep it experiential-- less talk, more active learning. The chair is my enemy! Experiential therapists sit in chairs when they're nervous! Exercise. Perhaps the conga line. All in one line, arms on each others shoulders, eyes closed, except for the front person. Then walk right out of the room. It's always a strong exercise because it's a big group exercise, and it's also slightly anti-social--lots of noise, breaking the rule-space of the conference. All institutions need the sense of rule-breaking.

I need a a theme--. Just read this book by incest victims who are all artists or using art to work everything through. " She Who Was Lost Is Remembered". It's edited by Louise Wisechild. I want to help the conferees to use their imagination to create. There's a line from one of the women's poem that's something like "He used me like a candy bar". That image is sticking in my mind. Exercise. Set up the trust circle. Blind walk across the circle ,when you reach the other side allow yourself to be moved. Then do it with three, four people. Now what if we do it, but when you go across the circle the person who guides you-treats you like a candy bar instead.

The groups are becoming very cohesive very quickly. But still in their heads. How do I get them to see through the eyes of the clients? All the exercises in the world won't teach them how to do this work. They have to get in touch with what it's like to live in the very mind world/experience of the clients.

-Exercise-make parallel lines, people in both lines. One side tries to get the attention of the other side who ignore them. It's instant affect. Some of the people are getting angry, some seem to be trying to seduce each other, some are laughing it off as if it's not happening. That's much closer. Now we stop-they're getting to the danger zone- the empty place of the sexually offending young man.

Arnie Mindell -- switch channels repeatedly until the client and the therapist connect. Always be prepared for the connection to change.

Make a diagonal line. Most violent, least violent. Put yourself where you think you fit. Let everyone organise the line as they see it.


I am Karon Donnellon and I have been doing an internship with John for the last 3 months.

My work has been with juveniles in detention in Melbourne Australia for four years. I belong to the Sisters of Mercy of Ballarat, Australia (translated that means I am a Catholic nun)! There are many moments over the last months that have reflected the power of dramatherapy in the lives of very pained people. I would like to share just one.

A young man who has been in a civil commitment institution for 15 years has recently decided to work in therapy. He came to the session wanting to work but very sure that victim empathy was not possible.

John began with some small warm ups. Then the work began. John sets him up with masks and props for all the things that are in his head preventing him from connection with his victims.

The first of the blocks use people from the group. As he gets closer on the continuum to victim empathy he switches to masks and dolls. John asks him to silence each of the blocks and the struggle begins. With each block the young man moves with uncertainty and fear. It is obvious that something is still hidden. John asks him to move from the blocks to the unamed fear The affect increases. Punishment had been a violent part of his upbringing. It brings pain. His stepfather did it.

The young man faces an empty chair " containing" his step father. The dialogue begins. Then come the tears and from there the realisation that to empathise with his victims will mean he must experience his own pain. There we sit and this young man cries for the first time in many, many years.. The process is simple, and clear. Both this young man and I shall remember this for a long time.


Diary-- December,1999--- Australia

Engagement-- engaging the clients in every way that you can. Eye contact can be as potent a link to making connection as any smile. For instance working with some young clients in Australia- young, skittish, anxious, angry, fearful and depressed. We decided to make a newsletter with these adolescents. Each client worked alone with me.

I told them each that I wanted to make a newsletter- something of their own words- no special subject only what they developed. I would simply record what they said and clean it up for sense.

We sat together by the door of the unit of the prison looking out at the view to the sky, the roads and to freedom. Without any censorship I simply wrote down every thing that each of the clients said , without missing out anything. Periodically I stopped them and replayed what they said- asked them if that was what they wanted the world to know they meant to tell them. As each piece grew, ads they saw their words on the computer screen they puffed up- trusted, believed. Remember belief is the very core of the battle. Gradually we went from staring out the window together but separately to looking at each other, confirming, temporarily connecting.

This is what one young man said:-

Looking Out The Window And thinking about what you're going to do with your future--

when I look out the window when the sun starts to go down or half way down and I see this beautiful long strip of pink and I wonder what am I doing here-

if I do get out Id like to go to Jordan for 6 months , and to Israel and go around all those countries and just explore them.

Then I think about being up there and seeing all my cousins who I've never met cos I was born here--

the reason I really do want to go to Jordan is to break the cycle , using heroin and doing crime, abusing my body abusing other people and being locked up-- IM sick of it and then you don't know where you stand--

A beautiful long pink strip it makes you think if its that beautiful why cant my life be that beautiful.

IM proud of being a Muslim and not. I hope that Mahomet would see that I can change,that I respect my culture because I talk in positive ways about it.


For more information on the cutting edge of Theatre and Drama Therapy, contact Artistic Director

John Bergman at: Macflap@aol.com or macflap@optusnet.com.au