Many adolescents and children struggle with worries, anxiety in social situations or depression and would benefit from therapy services, but do not have access to providers or are reluctant to pursue services due to stigma about therapy.
Through a collaboration between faculty in Case Western Reserve University’s theater and psychological sciences departments, we are offering Project DRAMA, a unique program that combines evidence-based strategies for anxiety and depressed mood with improvisation, the theatrical art of performance and storytelling without a script.
Project DRAMA stands for Developing Resilience & Anxiety Management in Adolescents and children. The program is for youth ages 8-17 years of age who struggle with worries, social anxiety or depression.
Improv involves being spontaneous and in-the-moment and interacting with others, experiences that youth with social anxiety, worries, and depression struggle with. Improv is a way to practice situations that cause anxiety in those with social anxiety, such as interacting with a store clerk, having a telephone conversation, or starting and maintaining a conversation. Improv also combines seamlessly with evidence-based techniques to address anxiety and depression.
The theater arts have been shown to help youth to learn about emotions (Hansen, Larson, & Dworkin, 2003; Larson, Hansen, & Moneta, 2006), increase emotional awareness and expression (Lewis & Banerjee, 2013), and reduce behavioral problems (McArdle et al., 2011). The theater arts have also led to an improvement in social skills in those with autism (Lewis & Banerjee, 2013). Improv has also led to improvements in anxiety, depression, and self-esteem in anxious in adults (Krueger, Murphy, & Bink, 2019).
Evidence-based techniques to address anxiety and depression in youth are drawn from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques including relaxation, facing fears, mindfulness, and recognizing one’s negative thoughts, evaluating their accuracy, and modifying them to be more accurate.
Is this therapy?
The purpose of this research is to learn about whether an Improvisation Course could help youth manage their anxiety. This improvisation course will be implemented by undergraduate students, not licensed therapists or psychologists. As such, it is important to note that this should not be considered “therapy” or an “intervention.” It should not replace intensive treatment for youth who require a higher level of treatment. Rather, it can be considered a supplementary or preventative group that can help youth manage feelings of anxiety or depression.