PLAYFUL HEALING – Too much drama in your life? Act it out with dramatherapy!


The first fully qualified dramatherapist in Gibraltar, Nyree Turnock Robinson is introducing the local community to a novel mental hygiene method applied in schools, day centres, hospitals and prisons worldwide. In her open evening to be held this month, Nyree will promote its benefits as a tool of relaxation and positive interaction, with a distinct fun edge.

Increasingly popular in the United States, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Israel and Malaysia, this therapy is mainly based on role playing and acting to confront one’s phobias, grievances, short and long-term conditions like personality disorders, autism, depression, stress and social anxiety. But it is much more than acting a part you are assigned: you can choose;  write or even improvise your script, and the action can also involve puppets, marionettes, toys and games, drawing or crafting when projection and transfer is in order, which is most common, but not exclusive to, children’s therapy.

In dramatherapy, a group session may perform ad lib or follow a script with assigned or self-appointed characters, fixed or interchangeable roles; what counts isn’t working towards the staged perfection of a premiere for the audience, but to build on the progress achieved each time in acting out own issues or sometimes solving conflict. It is irrelevant whether the script is followed to the letter or if there is one at all, as long as the characters and their interrelating actions are therapeutic to the patient or the group involved.

“The word ‘drama’ in the job description doesn’t make justice to the variety of activities we can explore during any given session: as part of my job, I can be whomever and whatever the client wants me to be,” says Nyree, who has a diploma in performing arts and is an accomplished amateur actor and singer. “I behave as playfully, as interactively or as quietly as necessary, should they need an antagonist in their performance, or an audience instead. So I may be asked to participate, direct and inspire the action, or simply just watch, and perhaps offer feedback. I may be leading the group with sprightly attitude, for example working with children or youngsters, or in a calm and soothing manner with excitable or easily confusable patients like dementia sufferers or persons with learning disabilities. A lot of my work focuses on building self-esteem, self-confidence, self-expression and creativity, conflict resolution or counteracting the damage caused by bullying or abusive relationships. Externalising one’s fears or trauma by acting it out directly or with the help of disguise and props can indeed help to feel it more tangible and manageable.”

The mood is set after a short assessment of the new client, or clients for group therapy, to figure out what treatment could work best for their issues, as well as their personal response to verbal and non-verbal communication. Stimuli can be varied, using props, pictures, dolls, scents, shapes and sounds similar to sensory rooms, and own initiative is welcome when it can be channelled towards constructively venting and possibly cleansing one’s system from subconscious ballast like anger or guilt, or at least coming to terms with issues like disability or loss, and even dealing with depression or body image disorders.

“When I first meet someone set to undergo dramatherapy, I look past their issue, disorder, illness and find the healthy side of the person, in order to help them bring that health to the fore and thus identify and rationalise the problem,” Nyree explains. Sessions can be long and intense or short and casual: “In America, for instance, dramatherapists go around schools and remove the most active children from the classroom and deliver ten-fifteen-minute sessions of ‘rough-and-tumble play’, to blow off some steam in a safe controlled environment.” This system works wonders with autistic and ADHD children, she assures, but it can also be a welcome perk to sedentary classes as an outlet to bottled physical energy. In fact, Nyree hopes to start collective sessions for the autism spectrum as soon as this September, to top up her current individual ones with the added bonus of peer interaction.

Nyree says that intuitivism is an advantage in her job, but she is extensively and continuously trained to professionally facilitate any sessions and she is supervised by a senior dramatherapist in UK, especially with sessions that may see her doubling up as a ‘psychological punching ball’, which could in its turn take its toll on her own sanity: “I am indeed a therapist, but I am first and foremost a performer who encourages others to perform. I am like a blank canvas on which the clients can freely express their feelings in an active and pro-active manner, and this may have an impact on me as a human being, whether with empathy or negative emotions. I am constantly supervised and counselled, and when I get too involved in issues that resonate with my private life, I do attend therapy to untangle my own from the others. Also, I hold video conferences with colleagues from all over the world and we exchange ideas and experiences for what is still a developing practice. It is a profession that entails continuous education and research; in fact, I am soon travelling to Belgium for further training about trauma work.”

When she was a little girl, Nyree wanted to become an actress and she pursued that career with a B Tech in performing arts, the usual triad of singing, dancing and drama, as well as light and sound, but she realised she wanted to apply her talent and expertise to helping others: “My younger brother has cerebral palsy and the discovery of dramatherapy at the age of 19 allowed me to marry my passion with my vocation. I obtained a degree in Dramatherapy at Derby University and returned to Gibraltar to work in a nursery and gain experience in child development before returning to the UK for my Master and being registered with the Health & Care Professions Council and the local Medical Board.” She worked in Plymouth until a few weeks ago updating her skills after maternity, when she returned to Gibraltar; there she worked with Syrian children and as part of the training in a mental health hospital attending to paranoia, depression and personality disorders.

An experiential interactive introduction to Dramatherapy will take place on 10th and 11th July at 7:30pm at the John Mackintosh Hall. The event is free of charge and everyone is welcome. For further information, like NyreeDramatherapy on Fb.