Bergman, John

Envisioning Drama Therapy in a Mere 50 years.


John Bergman


John Casson's history of drama therapy, really a history of theatre as therapy, is instructive. From the earliest moments in euro-caucasian history theatre was seen to have a special place in the healing medical arts - from Aristotle's famous katharsis to the UK parliamentary acceptance of drama therapy as a legitimate healing agent.  Yet social critique has always dogged theatre, (see The Anti-Theatrical Prejudice) and even informed psychologists still look askance at drama as therapy's claims to legitimacy.

Perhaps because of this drama therapy seems to have stood still. Unable quite to work with the latest brain/body science such as neurobiology, it has instead mostly opted either for the ‘magic’ of mirror neurones or, in the USA, an older model, a composite of techniques with minimal lip service to the theatre and a confusion of theories. There is no gesamtkunst theorem here.

Drama therapists do not know WHAT they are doing - only that something ‘works’ that we rarely measure. Yet, tantalizingly, there are analogues for theatre to a neuroscientific approach. What we have not done is convert them to measures and re-tests. This paper is a suggestion of how one might use hard neuroscience-based theatre data to precisely heal. Let’s imagine, at the best, a world in which working with clients includes intensive pre-treatment analyses and information: OT, biological, neurofeedback, biofeedback, MRI scans, sensory data etc. Could this all be matched towards a course of treatment that included  a precise  menu of drama therapy options - some focused on new neural networks, some on physiological rehearsals with imagery, some on whatever the brain/body analogue testing eventually tells us about the different theatre products and their effectiveness? 

Using the most recent neuroscientific information, and presenting this in the form of a two person script, this proposal will try to imagine and highlight the old paradigms of drama therapy and what they might look like in a neuro-scientific world.



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John Bergman MA,RDT,BCT  is a UK born drama therapist/theatre director with over 36 years experience with prisoners and prison officers, and men women and children in all types of criminal justice settings. He is the founder and Director of Geese Theatre Company USA, founder/teacher of Geese Company UK, and a Board member of Transcena in Romania. He has also worked in prisons in Brazil, Romania, New Zealand, Australia, Bulgaria and Croatia. He has presented internationally at over 500 professional conferences. He is the recipient of the NADTA 2005 Research Award. John was the clinical supervisor and program creator of a therapeutic neurological program for adolescents in Melbourne, and is currently Visiting Associate Professor at Hollins University MFA program teaching applied theatre. He is the author of: Challenging Experience, An Experiential Approach to the Treatment of Serious Offenders, and co-edited Current Perspectives & Applications in Neurobiology: Working with Young Persons who are Victims and Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse.


Recent Publications

2016 (May): European Federation of Dramatherapy, Bucharest: If you can't see me you can't know me.

2016 (Sept) International Association for Treatment of Sex Offenders, Copenhagen: What we know about the effectiveness of the expressive arts therapies

2016 (Oct): National Association of Drama Therapy in America, Seattle: A neurobiological and experiential analysis of story-telling and role play in multiple cultures as a subset of dramatic play.

Bergman, J. (2013) The theatre of meeting: the history of drama and other experiential therapies as neurological analogs.  In: Longo R, et al (eds) Current Perspectives and Applications in Neurobiology: Working With Young Persons who are Victims and Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse. MA: Neari Press