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Shamans have used dramatic methods of healing for millennia: there is evidence of shamanic rituals going back over 30,000 years. Dramatherapy and psychodrama were developed during the 20th Century. They emerged from a cultural background that had acknowledged the therapeutic value of theatre since Aristotle wrote about catharsis as an effect of witnessing tragedy. Shakespeare also knew of the healing potential of drama. In King Lear Edgar uses a guided fantasy and enactment to help his suicidal father (Gloucester). He states:
“Why I do trifle thus with his despair is done to cure it.” King Lear 4.6.33

In about 1775 Goethe wrote Lila, about the healing, through dramatic action, of a woman suffering a psychotic grief reaction. Goethe met J. C. Reil, who coined the term psychiatry, in 1802 and the following year Reil published a book in which he proposed therapeutic theatres be established in psychiatric hospitals. During the 19th Century theatres were then built in Britain, France, Germany and Italy for patients’ benefit.

From the start of the 20th Century people were exploring the educational and therapeutic potential of drama in the USA and Europe. Dr. J.L. Moreno, a psychiatrist in Vienna, began to develop psychodrama from his observations of children playing and his spontaneity research with actors during the first two decades of the century. By 1936 he had opened the world’s first psychodrama theatre in his psychiatric clinic in New York state, USA.

Peter Slade, who coined the term dramatherapy, spoke at the British Medical Association on dramatherapy in 1939. He influenced many workers in the field including Dr. Sue Jennings, Marian Lindkvist, Dorothy Heathcote who developed dramatherapy through the 1960s and 70s.
For more information see Casson, 2002 and

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