Dramatherapists use performance arts to provide a safe environment to help people explore, address and deal with a range of personal and social difficulties
As a dramatherapist, you'll work with clients of all ages who may have a range of difficulties including psychological or mental health issues, physical or learning disabilities, behavioural difficulties, addiction, or neurological or physical illnesses.
Working either on a one-to-one basis or with groups of clients, you'll use a range of interventions, including stories, puppetry, masks, role play, drama and movement, to allow them to explore their experiences and express themselves in a way that might be easier than directly talking about it.
Your aim is to open channels of communication for your clients, offering them a secure space to try out thinking and behaving in different ways to improve their self-awareness.
As a dramatherapist, you'll need to:
- undertake assessment visits or appointments to evaluate and make decisions about treatment options for your clients taking into account a range of factors including personal circumstances and history, as well as different therapeutic models
- plan and implement group and individual client dramatherapy treatments
- encourage and support your clients in creative drama and theatre work using techniques such as improvisation, storytelling, play, role play, masks, myth, ritual and script work
- encourage self-awareness, exploration and reflection on feelings and relationships
- initiate spontaneous exploration of personal issues
- enable your clients to experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving
- use appropriate equipment, materials and therapeutic props, such as puppets
- organise and present a performance resulting from working with a group, if appropriate
- take referrals from, and liaise with, other professionals such as psychologists, social workers, nurses, teachers and other therapist staff
- monitor and evaluate your clients' progress, writing reports on their progress and the activities that you've undertaken with them
- attend and contribute to team and multidisciplinary meetings where appropriate
- advise on art therapies development within a department
- carry out related administrative tasks
- attend regular supervision sessions.
If you're self-employed, you'll also need to carry out activities related to running a business such as marketing and accounting.
- Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates consisting of nine pay bands. Once qualified as a dramatherapist, you're likely to be employed on Band 6 (£33,706 rising to £40,588).
- Experienced or specialist dramatherapists can earn between £41,659 and £47,672 (Band 7), rising to between £48,526 and £65,262 (band 8a to 8b) for senior roles. Consultant and trust-wide head arts therapies posts, of which there are only a few, are banded at 8c to 8d (£67,064 to £91,787).
- Fees in private practice vary and are usually between £45 and £65 for a one-hour session. Group sessions are also possible, and the fee per person is usually lower since the costs are shared.
Salaries outside the NHS, for example in education or the third sector, may vary and will depend on the type of employer you work for, as well as your professional qualifications and experience.
It is possible to become self-employed where your income will depend on the price you charge per hour, the number of clients you see and your running costs and overheads. You may need to try to build your practice alongside employed work to supplement your income until your business is established.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
If you're employed by the NHS, you'll usually work a standard 37.5 hour week, possibly with some evening work, although many posts are part time. Outside the NHS, your working hours will depend on where you work. For example, you may work school hours in an education setting.
If you're self-employed, your hours of work will depend on your clients' needs and may include evenings or weekends.
What to expect
- Establishing a full-time career in dramatherapy can be challenging and you may work part time to begin with, building up to a full working week. If you're trying to set up as self-employed you may need a second job until your client base becomes large enough to sustain a regular income.
- You may work for a number of employers during the week, for example in schools or prisons or in the NHS.
- It is likely you'll need to work with other professionals such as medical professionals, healthcare staff, other therapists, social workers and teachers.
- The work can be emotionally challenging as you may be working with clients who are in distress.
- Jobs are available in most areas of the UK and it's possible to set up a practice virtually anywhere.
- You may need to travel locally during the day between client appointments, although you're not likely to stay away overnight.
Professional training is at Masters postgraduate level at one of the following institutions approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC):
- Anglia Ruskin University
- Queen Margaret University
- Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, University of London
- University of Derby
- University of Roehampton
On successful graduation from one of these courses, you're eligible to register with the HCPC and practise as a dramatherapist. You can also apply for full membership of the British Association of Dramatherapists (BADth).
To get a place on a course, you'll usually need a degree in drama, performing arts or a psychological health-related subject. Some institutions may also accept degrees in education, social work or allied health professions.
In addition to your qualifications, you'll typically need at least one year of full-time (or equivalent part-time) clinical/field work experience in a relevant setting. This can include working within teaching or social work or in areas of mental health, physical disabilities, learning disabilities or care work in the community. You should also be able to show some evidence of ongoing engagement with drama in different forms.
In some instances, you may be able to get onto a course through non-standard entry if you don't have a degree but do have at least two years of this type of experience. Check directly with course providers.
Courses last two years' full time and include a mix of lectures, practical workshops, case discussions and theory, alongside clinical placements under the supervision of a qualified dramatherapist. You'll also be required to undergo personal therapy, both group and individual, as part of the course.
You'll need to undertake a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check before starting the course.
A level 7 arts therapist apprenticeship is available, which covers dramatherapy, however availability is quite limited. You’ll need to apply for an apprenticeship position directly with a healthcare provider and they will advertise opportunities on the Find an apprenticeship and NHS Jobs website.
If you're interested in becoming a dramatherapist, you may want to take an introductory course to get some background into the career. Contact course providers for more information.
You'll need to have:
- a thorough knowledge of drama and theatre and good performance skills
- the ability to adapt to different clients or group members, locations and situations
- emotional strength and the ability to deal with challenging situations
- a commitment to your clients' wellbeing and to continually improving professional practice
- excellent communication skills for dealing with a range of people, including clients, carers, colleagues and other health and education workers and agencies
- analytical skills and the ability to use your judgement to make clear and effective decisions
- time management and organisation skills, particularly if working for more than one employer, and the ability to prioritise your workload
- self-awareness and an understanding of the significance of personal therapy
- tact and discretion
- administrative and report writing skills
- general IT skills
- active commitment to ongoing professional development
- business skills such as marketing and book keeping if running your own practice.
To get a place on a course, you'll typically need a minimum of one year's full-time (or part-time equivalent) experience working with children or adults in a caring capacity in a health or social care setting. Work can be paid or voluntary and could include working within mental health, special educational needs, learning or physical disabilities and with older people. You could look for roles such as nursing assistant, drama worker or support worker within these areas.
You'll also need to have evidence of current and sustained engagement in drama, for example through practical involvement in movement, theatre and performance. Seek out as many opportunities while at university as you can and then you can build on those after graduation.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Dramatherapists work in a variety of settings with a range of clients.
You may be employed by:
- educational establishments, including schools and training centres
- services for offenders, including prisons and probation services
- support services for individuals with substance misuse issues, such as drug/alcohol dependency units
- social services departments, including services for people with learning disabilities, behaviour support services and pupil referral units
- the voluntary and community sector, including community centres, charities, voluntary agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and overseas aid organisations
- the NHS, which includes psychiatric hospitals, mental health services, day centres, hospitals and disability units
- the private sector.
You could also become a self-employed dramatherapist, working freelance or in private practice. Your clients may come from a range of backgrounds and may be looking for different types of therapeutic support for specific or general issues.
Look for job vacancies at:
If you're working freelance or in private practice, you can include your details at BADth - Find a dramatherapist.
In order to stay registered with the HCPC and be able to practise as a dramatherapist, you must keep a record of your continuing professional development (CPD) activities and renew your registration every two years. To help with this you could become a member of the BADth as it provides access to a range of courses, conferences and seminars where you can network with colleagues and build on your skills. Find out more at BADth: Continuing Professional Development.
Opportunities for further training will depend, to a certain extent, on your employer. Large organisations such as the NHS are more likely to provide a range of funded options, whereas if you work for a small organisation or are self-employed you may have to fund your own development.
It's also a requirement to have regular clinical supervision throughout your career. Supervision provides ongoing support and the opportunity to reflect on the challenges and rewards of your work.
There are also opportunities to undertake research at PhD level with one of the approved training providers.
Dramatherapists work in a variety of settings with a range of clients and once you've gained experience it's possible to specialise in working with a particular type of patient (such as children, the elderly or offenders), or with a specific difficulty, such as dementia or mental health.
If working within the NHS, you can progress to senior or consultant level as you gain more experience and will manage the work of a team of therapists. This could be in the role of head of an arts therapy department where you'll be responsible for the work of therapists from a range of other disciplines, including music, art and dance movement psychotherapy.
There are also opportunities to work on a self-employed basis and set up your own private practice, although it's advised by the British Association of Dramatherapists that as a newly qualified therapist you work within an employed structure first to build your experience.
It's also possible to build a career in research or to train other dramatherapists at one of the institutions offering dramatherapy training, and supervise dramatherapists and other health professionals.