Trauma Drama

Changing the script: moving past trauma and into the spotlight: Headspace published this article on how partaking in drama and other expressive arts can be especially helpful for those suffering from the fallouts of trauma and who struggle with many forms of mental illness, including OCD. Click here to read news story.

Trauma Drama Program Featured: Teens work through trauma using theater as therapy. Click here to read news story.

What is Trauma Drama? Trauma Drama is an evidence-informed, innovative approach to tertiary prevention and clinical intervention for vulnerable youth exposed with histories of exposure to familial and community violence; school bullying, intolerance and hate crimes; maltreatment or neglect; and disrupted caregiving and other chronic life adversity. Trauma Drama uniquely synthesizes elements of improvisational theater and cooperative play into a therapeutic framework grounded in the six core components of complex trauma intervention: promotion of safety; self-regulation; healthy attachments; identity-development; self-worth, esteem and competency; and integration of trauma and adversity experiences into a meaningful and forward-looking life narrative. Guiding by the principle of transformative action, Trauma Drama immerses youth in vivid and poignant “as-if” activities and theatrical skits with peers and adult troupe members that seek to provide an optimal balance of challenge and opportunity to promote self-expression, cognitive flexibility, creative problem solving, “in vivo” conflict resolution skills, and above all, an embodied sense of personal agency and mastery.

What is the Structure of Trauma Drama? Trauma Drama is a group-based therapeutic program for youth and young adults aged 12-22 that can be delivered in school and after settings as well as outpatient clinic, community-based or residential treatment settings. The intervention is conducted by dynamic and highly trained teams of therapists, actors and educators all cross-trained to deliver this fully experiential curriculum. The standard Trauma Drama sequence consists of 18 to 24 sessions that take youth on a healing, three-phase arc that begins with the establishment of trust, self-regulation, social rhythm and interpersonal attunement skills. Upon this foundation the curriculum next moves into the examination of challenging themes related to violence and trauma. The final phase of the curriculum invites participants to transcend life adversity and embrace themes of personal mastery, future vision and community. Shorter introductory versions of the model include a 6-session self-regulation, teamwork and competency building sequence and a 1-session introductory assembly. The ideal group size varies depending on the age, developmental stage, vulnerabilities and talents of participating youth, but typically ranges from 12-25 students. Smaller group adaptations (6-8 youth) in clinical settings (residential programs, clinics) are also possible.

Who is Trauma Drama For? Trauma Drama was specifically designed for youth exposed to chronic trauma life adversity, youth at high-risk for familial, community or school-based violence, and youth exhibited moderate to severe emotional and behavioral problems associated with the legacy of complex adaptation to trauma. Trauma Drama was developed for youth of all genders and has primarily been implemented in mixed groups (male, female, transgender) but can be administered with single sex groups. Trauma Drama was specifically developed for use with ethnically diverse, urban youth as well as youth in clinical treatment settings, but has also been successful implemented with youth in rural settings. When implemented in the context of school or afterschool-based programs, it is intended for implementation with youth grouped by similar age/grade range (middle school youth; high school youth). However, in clinical settings (residential treatment facilities) it has been successfully administered with vulnerable groups of youth and young adults spanning a wider age range (e.g. youth ranging from 14-21 in the same sequence).

How was Trauma Drama Developed? The Trauma Drama intervention model was created by Dr. Joseph Spinazzola, in partnership with several colleagues from the Trauma Center and Urban Improv, Incorporated. It evolved from the Trauma Center’s intensive work over a period of 6 years conducting two randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness of the Urban Improv school-based youth violence prevention model. That research demonstrated the benefits of Urban Improv in halting the progression of aggression and enhancing prosocial skills development (cooperation, problem-solving, self-control) and scholastic engagement with pre-trauma exposed, at-risk urban elementary school students. Importantly, however, those studies revealed that by middle school the youth was already trauma and violence-exposed and non-responsive to this prevention-based curriculum. Accordingly, led by Dr. Spinazzola, the Trauma Center underwent and intensive year-long period of adapting the evidence-base Urban Improv curriculum into a complex-trauma-focused therapeutic intervention that still retained a compelling and multifaceted improvisational theater format.

Where is Trauma Drama Happening? Trauma Drama was initially piloted and evaluated beginning in 2005 in the Boston Public Schools through a multiyear grant funded by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Currently JRI’s Trauma Drama intervention team is offering two full sequences of the intervention per year in Northeast and Southeast Massachusetts for youth drawn from our residential treatment centers, group homes and transitional living facilities. Participating programs include the following : Northeast/Central MA: Walden Street School, Pelham Academy, the van der Kolk Center at Glenhaven Academy, Rediscovery, Littleton Group Home, the JRI GRIP program. Southeast MA/Northeast CT: Meadowridge Academy, the Swansea Wood School, the Susan Wayne Center of Excellence, Lindencroft, Journey Home and the Chesterfield Road Group Home. Trauma Drama is also currently being offered in the Calgary Public School System in Alberta, Canada implemented by the Act Out! Trauma Drama intervention team of Calgary Family Services established by Dr. Spinazzola and his senior Trauma Drama trainers from the Trauma Center and Urban Improv.

How Can I Get Trained in the Trauma Drama model? The Trauma Center at JRI periodically offers open-registration trainings in the Trauma Drama model. Upcoming trainings include a one-day overview training in the model to be offered as a Pre-Meeting Institute at the Trauma Center’s 27th Annual Psychological Trauma Conference on June 1st at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, MA. For more information click here.

How Can I Establish the Trauma Drama Intervention at my Center, Program or Agency? The Training Program of the Trauma Center offers one-day overview trainings as well as intensive training (3-day Trauma Drama curriculum and intervention team setup training + extended follow-up consultation on model implementation and fidelity) for scholastic, behavioral health, child welfare, juvenile justice and social service institutions and programs locally, nationally, and internationally. For more information, contact the Trauma Center’s Director of Training & Education, Dr. Margaret Blaustein.

Can the JRI Trauma Drama Intervention Team Come to Us? The Trauma Drama senior training faculty are available to offer on-site assemblies locally and nationally. Additionally, our intervention troupe is able to deliver a limited number of on-location overview (6-session) and full curriculum (18-24 session) intervention sequences for mental health, scholastic and social service agencies and programs in Southeastern New England (Metropolitan Boston commuting region from Southern NH, Greater Boston, Worcester, Cape Cod, Rhode Island, and Northeastern CT). For more information, contact Dave Dorvilier.


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