ISBN 1 84310 291
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Paperback 224 pages £16.99/US$28.95
Reviewed by the Editor of 'Play for Life' April 2006
Paula Crimmens has pioneered the use of drama therapy in
special education in her adopted country New Zealand where she has been
resident since 1996. She has a Masters of Arts in Creative Arts Therapies and
is currently piloting a project to provide drama therapy to groups of at-risk
children in primary schools in Auckland funded by the Ministry of Education.
She is the author of Storymaking and Creative Group-work with Older People,
also published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
My heart sank when the publication of yet another book about
story making was announced but I was relieved when it became clear that the
author places it within the context of drama therapy.
Many aspects of drama
therapy make it an ideal technique to use with students with special learning
needs and the book covers a broad spectrum of students attending special needs
schools, including those with attention deficit disorder, autism and Asperger
syndrome, and students with multiple disabilities.
Above all this is a common sense book that uses many
practical examples from the author’s considerable therapeutic experience. Ideal
for students following a practice based course.
She shows how story sessions can address issues of
self-esteem and self-mastery, and how their use in groups is invaluable for
building social and communication skills.
The book includes about 30 traditional stories from around
the world for use as session material. An analysis of the stories quoted shows
the sources to be:
Gods & Mythology 50%
This is fairly normal breakdown of categories for this type
of book and Paula does include guidance on how to devise stories relevant to
older students. However the majority of play therapy clients are boys, so we do
enter a big plea for stories from other sources such as sport, war, machines
and exploration in future books.
There is a very good introduction providing several
definitions and the application to special education. It’s good to see the
acknowledgement of the considerable contribution made by Sue Jennings to drama
therapy. This is followed by an excellent chapter on getting started which
includes: assessing the level of the group, working within the classroom
environment, teaching staff how to support the sessions, creating the culture
of the sessions and physical safety – one of the best texts that I have read on
The bulk of the book is then devoted to the application of
drama therapy to a number of themes including: the use of traditional stories,
helping others, dealing with change, working as a team, trickery and stealing,
unlikely heroes, competitiveness and autism. These chapters use a very helpful
framework: the story, themes in the story; ideas in the story for use in the
session, the use of props and suggestions for drama actions. This makes the
book a useful source of reference for when the therapist is at a loss as to how
to develop either a drama therapy approach or a therapeutic story for a client.
We also appreciate the way that Paula integrates theory
stemming from other play therapy tools. The first example that we quote from
the book is the six-stage story frame.
The action in the story is often constellated around a
challenge or task. A model I find very useful in analysing stories is an
assessment tool devised by Israeli drama therapist Mooli Lahad (p. 150, cited
in Jennings, 1992). It was originally formulated for work with children in
times of distress to help them articulate and express their experience and was
envisioned as a drawing exercise with pen and paper. However, the six stages
Lahad describes provide a very neat outline of almost all of the stories I use
in work with this client group.
The model takes as its starting point the reality of
challenge as part of an overall experience of life. What determines success is
the balance between obstacles and supports. With sufficient support, we can
meet and achieve our goals and move on. With too many obstacles we can
flounder. The model has similarities with what Vygotsky termed the proximal
zone (1978). This is the place between the students' level of competency and
new learning, and support that can help the student move from one to the other.
The knack is to set up goals that are attainable with effort. If the obstacles
are too great and the supports insufficient the student may feel discouraged.
At the same time, if the activity is too easy and requires little effort, the
student can become complacent and bored. The six stages of the story structure
are as follows:
Who is the character, animal, creature or thing that this
story is about?
What is his or her task or goal?
What or who are his or her supports? This can be
external, as in the case of people or animals, or internal, as in the case of
personal attributes like courage or steadfastness.
What are the obstacles, the things that stand in the way
of achieving the goal?
How is the goal achieved?
What happens next? What is the outcome? Is that the end
of the story or does it carry on?
Use of this model, is described with the story of Maui and
the sun, described earlier in the book. The second example of integration with
theory from other play therapy tools is reference to Laban body shapes The four
body shapes used are the wall, the ball, the pin and the twist. The Children
and the Thunder God story is used by Paula to show how these they may be used
to extend children’s physical experience.
- The wall shape is where we extend our bodies out as much
as we can widthways. We make our legs and arms as wide as we can.
The ball shape involves making ourselves as small as we
can with legs and arms tucked in and head down.
The pin shape is created when we stretch up with our arms
as high as we can and make ourselves as narrow as possible. We stand on tiptoes
to make ourselves as tall as we can.
The twist involves turning from the mid section, twisting
the top half of the body.
In the story, the thunder god is trapped inside the cage by
the old man. He has to curl up small and maintain that posture while pleading
with the children for water. Once he has regained his strength, he bursts out
of the cage and becomes big and powerful. You can practise with the students
this movement from curled up, confined shape to wide, expanded shape.
There is a very useful list of web sites (see panel), an
author index and a subject index.
After so much excellent material it is disappointing to
arrive at what is in my view the weakest chapter. This is based on a research
study upon using drama therapy to engage the attention of students with an
intellectual disability. This was carried out as a part of an MA in Creative
Arts Therapies and so I blame the academic environment and strictures in this
case rather than the author.
As usual in this type of academic research it is a
descriptive case study. There is a good literature summary and a lengthy (too
long by far) description of the sessions. There is a hint of originality in the
topic but no statement of a hypothesis nor the conditions for proof or non-proof.
The research is based on only four cases over six sessions.
The factor measured was attentiveness – good! A pre-session measure was taken –
good! Other measures were based on observations of behaviour made by an
independent observer in the middle of the sessions, by the therapist taking
notes after each session and by interviewing the Teacher after each session.
Hmmmn! No quantitative data is presented (bad), no measures were taken to
assess the efficacy of the intervention overall i.e. after the conclusion of
the episode (poor). There was no control group. Neither was an attempt made to
link the outcomes with an overall measure of the changes in the children’s
total difficulties or pro-social skills such as the Goodmans SDQ. Oh dear!
However don’t let this reviewer’s hobby horse of the poor
quality of academic research in creative therapies emanating from some
universities put you off buying Drama Therapy and Storymaking in Special
Education. This is a very good book and is a recommended buy for all play
therapy trainees and also for experienced Play Therapists.