Expressing through Expressive Activities
by Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

The activity professional utilizes engagement in the creative arts in day to day programming. Involvement and positive responses to art projects, music programs and movement groups are noted daily. The use of drama and expressive activities could expand the creative arts approach in many programs. Drama therapy or Psychodrama is a technique created by Dr. Jacob Moreno in the 1920’s. Dr. Moreno introduced his work in the Theater of Spontanety which was based on improvisational impulses. A common session would re-enact situations of conflict, allowing the individual to re-write a negative script that occurred. This method of re-enacting has evolved into the creative arts therapy of Drama Therapy. Formal drama therapy, conducted by trained drama therapists, utilizes the dramatic process to solve a problem or act as a catharsis. Drama Therapy sessions can be conducted by a Registered Drama Therapist (RDT) which is obtained through undergraduate and graduate work.
The activity professional cannot conduct Drama Therapy sessions but can utilize some of the techniques to promote expression of feelings and discussion. There is a play and pretend aspect to creative expression which allows individuals to “let loose”, saying and doing things that they may not do in a typical situation. This expressive act in a safe venue is freeing and energizing. How many of us have re-enacted a negative encounter while driving in our car or other private place? We say out loud what we wish we would have said and the re-enacting brings us some release. When conducting creative expressive groups, the activity professional should keep it positive. If it is noted that serious emotional issues are being expressed, they should be discussed with the elder on a 1-1 basis and additional support should be offered through licensed professionals.
The following is a listing of some easy, non-threatening ways to introduce creative expression. Potential group goals would be to generate discussion and reminiscense, cathartic expression of feelings and orientation.
1. Start a Story – With the use of props (hats, scarves, items from the home, random sound effects), the first line of a story is introduced. Members of the group add to the story with spontaneous comments or actions related to their props or response to the props.
2. Action or Emotion Exercises – Index cards with the action (making a cup of tea, rocking a baby) or emotion (angry, happy, scared) noted are created. The actual word can be noted or an image can be used. The individual will pull the card at random and then act out what the card says. The rest of the group has to guess what the action is. Discussion should follow.
3. Telegram Game – Getting a telegram in the old days usually meant big news. Using a telegram template from the internet can add to the fun. Group members act a response to receiving the various telegrams. Typical telegram messages may be “you won a million dollars”, “you’re a father”, “you got the job”, and other positive life events.
4. Mystery Trip – The elders should be seated in rows as if on a bus or plane. A boarding pass to a specific destination (zoo, downtown, out to sea) will be given to each participant as they enter the program. The driver (activity leader) can act like a stewardess or bus driver – telling everyone to remain seated, etc. Once the bus or plane takes off, elders are encouraged to look out the “windows” and share what they see. An adaptation would be to place images in the window provoke some response and discussion.
5. Magic Box or Bag – An empty decorative box or bag is utilized for individuals to place something they would like to get rid of. The bag/box is passed around and the elder is encouraged to think of something they would like to discard (heartburn, bad eyesight, annoying person) and place it in the bag. A positive approach would be to pass the bag around and take something they need or want out of the bag. The discussion aspect is the major point of this task – helping skills to deal with discarded items and what they may do to work toward items they want.
6. Name Game – Each person is asked to introduce themselves and demonstrate their name with an action of something they like to do. For example, Bob would introduce himself as Bob who likes to golf and he would swing his arms like a golf swing. This leads to discussion of everyone’s preferences and shared preferences.
7. Plays and skits – Rehearsing and following a prepared script is a ambitious project but achievable with adaptation. Introducing a general plot and one that is familiar allows for the elders to adopt familiar roles and improvise script rather than memorize lines.

“With mirth and laughter, let old wrinkles come.”
William Shakespeare

Check out the 6 Hour NCCAP Approved Independent Study Program
Re-Creating Life’s Drama: Understanding the Use of Drama Therapy with the Elderly