Musicka Williams, Amanda

No innovation without imitation: exploring adolescent ‘copying’ in special education

Amanda Musicka-Williams


The presentation will explore the process and outcomes resulting from a six-month doctoral research project undertaken with adolescents in a special education setting. The project utilized dramatherapy techniques and processes as data collection methods in a constructivist grounded theory study. 

Drawing on experiential and action-based learning theory to reflect specific use of dramatherapy in education to simultaneously achieve both therapeutic and learning outcomes, the study explored relational connection and interpersonal learning processes from the point of view of young people with intellectual disability. The use of constructivist grounded theory as a research method was further informed by both inclusive and arts-informed research. It aimed to prioritize the voice and perspective of the adolescents as experts of their own experiences, challenging assumptions about the capacity for insight of people who have intellectual disabilities.

Theory generated from participant responses to the group dramatherapy and reflection through creative interviewing identified the phenomenon of ‘copying’ as central to their experiences of relational connection and interpersonal learning. This phenomenon will be discussed through extracted vignettes of participants’ responses to a creative interviewing and member-checking process which explored their responses to emergent themes from the group process.

Participants’ reflections on the phenomenon of ‘copying’ will be presented through three different theoretical perspectives:

1. A dramatherapeutic perspective relating copying to Landy’s Role Theory and participant’s identification of copying as a tool to extend their role repertoire beyond a limited conception of themselves as outsiders.

2.  An experiential/action-based learning framework discusses copying as a tool for acquiring new skills and gaining access to embodied understanding.

3.  A developmental perspective reflects on participants’ identification of ‘copying’ as intrinsically linked to being a teenager and its potential to mask and protect an emerging but not fully formed sense of self and identity.

Implications of research findings for future dramatherapy practice with young people in special educational settings will be discussed. 



Amanda Musicka-Williams trained as a dramatherapist at the Central School of Speech and Drama, London. She has been a practicing dramatherapist in Australia since 2004. Amanda has worked with a variety of different client groups in community mental health, the justice system, educational settings and private practice.

She has a passion for using dramatherapy with young people with intellectual disability in both performative and process-driven work and for working collaboratively with creative arts specialists and educational staff.  Recently she has undertaken her doctoral research through Melbourne University’s Creative Arts Therapies Research Unit. Her research project focused on exploring relational connection and interpersonal learning processes through group dramatherapy with adolescents in special education.


Recent Presentations
2018: (December) ANZACATA, Perth, Australia. Same, same, different: Copying as a tool for relational connection.

2018: (July) Doing School Differently Conference, Gold Coast, Australia. Showing not Telling: Exploring relationships through group Dramatherapy.

2018: (May) Principals Association of Special School Conference, Melbourne, Australia. ‘Doing Relationships’.

2017: (September) ECArTE, Krakow, Poland: Innovations in Arts Education: Collaborative practice between teachers and Arts Therapists to address life skills and educational goals in a special school setting (Workshop).

2016: Critical Agendas, Melbourne, Australia. (Arts-based) Teaching strategies for boys with high functioning ASD.