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 create channels of communication through theatre, story-telling and performance arts. 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.

You can work with clients of all ages with a range of difficulties, including psychological and/or mental health issues, physical or learning disabilities or behavioural difficulties, addiction, and neurological or physical illnesses.

Responsibilities

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 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.

Salary

  • Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates consisting of nine pay bands. Once qualified, you're likely to be employed on Band 6 (£31,365 rising to £37,890).
  • Experienced or specialist dramatherapists can earn between £38,890 and £44,503 (Band 7), rising to between £45,753 and £62,001 (band 8a - 8b) for senior roles. Consultant and trust-wide head arts therapies posts, of which there are only a few, are banded at 8c - 8d (63,751 to £73,664).
  • 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.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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.
  • You may work for a number of employers during the week, for example in schools or prisons or in the NHS.
  • The work can be emotionally challenging as you may be working with clients who are in distress.
  • You may need to travel locally during the day between client appointments, although you're not likely to stay away overnight.

Qualifications

Professional training is at Masters postgraduate level at one of the following institutions approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC):

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. Alternatively, you could have a relevant professional qualification such as social work, probation, nursing, teaching or occupational therapy, and current evidence of theatre experience.

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. Check with individual course providers for specific entry requirements and their approach to dramatherapy.

You'll need to undertake a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check before starting the course.

A level 7 apprenticeship has been approved for delivery, combining paid work with part-time study, although courses for the apprenticeship are not yet available. Search the Find an apprenticeship or NHS Jobs websites for opportunities.

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.

Skills

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.

Work experience

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 work as a graduate mental health worker, nurse or nursing assistant, social worker or teacher in areas such as mental health, special educational needs, learning or physical disabilities, and older people.

You'll also need to have evidence of current and sustained engagement in drama, for example through practical involvement in movement, theatre and performance.

Employers

Dramatherapists work in a variety of settings with a range of clients. Education is a big employer, often through third sector organisations. However, dramatherapists are moving into a variety of settings and, by applying for funding, are approaching third sector organisations, the NHS and private sector services to find and create new work opportunities.

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.

Some dramatherapists are self-employed, 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.

Professional development

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. Membership of the BADth provides access to a range of courses, conferences and seminars where you can network with colleagues and build on your skills.

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.

Career prospects

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 psychotherapy 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.

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