by Karen Steadman, Drama Development Worker.
Over a period of two years I have been running drama sessions for patients in Caswell Clinic, a medium-secure unit in Glanrhyd Hospital in Bridgend. The facility provides specialist healthcare for patients with mental health problems who are offenders or who have a potential to offend. The participants have a wide range of conditions and issues and are at different stages of rehabilitation. Some patients have been recently admitted and may be institutionalised for some time, while others are ready to move on to a low-secure unit or supervised accommodation.
Because of the varying abilities and issues in the room, workshops need to be flexible and patient-led up to a point. The aim is to give patients some time away from the ward, which may be a stressful environment at times. Working as part of a group is essential in the rehabilitation process as it develops tolerance and understanding of the needs of others. We do not work towards specific goals, performances or skills. The main aim is to create a safe, supportive environment in which to have fun, develop confidence and try out social skills.
I have found that the patients respond best to improvisation games. We usually play silly word games or more physical chase-based games to start, just to get everyone laughing and relaxed. Then we often work in pairs or teams to develop collaboration between patients. One of the most popular exercises is that of “Status” which deals with confidence levels. Using a pack of cards, I explain that Ace is low status (lacking confidence), all the following cards represent increasing levels of confidence up to a King, which is the highest status (very confident). Cards are then distributed and the actor plays the status on their card i.e. they behave with that level of confidence. This is a technique that works with children and adults alike as everyone can relate to feeling shy or feeling confident. We set up different scenarios to explore the idea of status and then improvise around the theme, often swapping status as we go and guessing what status each actor is playing.
I am always pleasantly surprised by the creativity shown by the patients at Caswell clinic. Because the group is so supportive, participants are happy to throw themselves into improvisations and games without fear of failing. There is a great sense of camaraderie within the group and everybody looks forward to the sessions, which are always full of laughter. It certainly cheers me up to visit every week!