Reviewed by the Editor of 'Play for Life' April 2006
ISBN 1 84310 291
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Paperback 224 pages £16.99/US$28.95
Paula Crimmens has pioneered
the use of drama therapy in special education in her adopted country
New Zealand where she has been resident since 1996. She has a
Masters of Arts in Creative Arts Therapies and is currently piloting
a project to provide drama therapy to groups of at-risk children in
primary schools in Auckland funded by the Ministry of Education. She
is the author of Storymaking and Creative Group-work with Older
People, also published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
My heart sank when the
publication of yet another book about storymaking was announced but I was
relieved when it became clear that the author places it within the context
of drama therapy. Many aspects of drama therapy make it an ideal technique
to use with students with special learning needs and the book covers a broad
spectrum of students attending special needs schools, including those with
attention deficit disorder, autism and Asperger syndrome, and students with
Above all this is a common sense
book that uses many practical examples from the author’s considerable
therapeutic experience. Ideal for students following a practice based
She shows how story sessions can
address issues of self-esteem and self-mastery, and how their use in groups
is invaluable for building social and communication skills.
The book includes about 30
traditional stories from around the world for use as session material. An
analysis of the stories quoted shows the sources to be:
This is fairly normal breakdown
of categories for this type of book and Paula does include guidance on how
to devise stories relevant to older students. However the majority of play
therapy clients are boys, so we do enter a big plea for stories from other
sources such as sport, war, machines and exploration in future books.
- Gods & Mythology 50%
- Nature/Environment/Animals 39%
- Others 11%
There is a very good introduction
providing several definitions and the application to special education. It’s
good to see the acknowledgement of the considerable contribution made by Sue
Jennings to drama therapy. This is followed by an excellent chapter on
getting started which includes: assessing the level of the group; working
within the classroom environment; teaching staff how to support the
sessions; creating the culture of the sessions and physical safety – one of
the best texts that I have read on this subject.
The bulk of the book is then
devoted to the application of drama therapy to a number of themes including:
the use of traditional stories; helping others;, dealing with change;
working as a team; trickery and stealing; unlikely heroes; competitiveness
and autism. These chapters use a very helpful framework: the story; themes
in the story; ideas in the story for use in the session; the use of props
and suggestions for drama actions. This makes the book a useful source of
reference for when the therapist is at a loss as to how to develop either a
dramatherapy approach or a therapeutic story for a client.
We also appreciate the way that
Paula integrates theory stemming from other play therapy tools. The first
example that we quote from the book is the six-stage story frame.
‘The action in the story is often
constellated around a challenge or task. A model I find very useful in
analysing stories is an assessment tool devised by Israeli drama therapist
Mooli Lahad (p. 150, cited in Jennings, 1992). It was originally formulated
for work with children in times of distress to help them articulate and
express their experience and was envisioned as a drawing exercise with pen
and paper. However, the six stages Lahad describes provide a very neat
outline of almost all of the stories I use in work with this client group.
The model takes as its starting point the reality of challenge as part of an
overall experience of life. What determines success is the balance between
obstacles and supports. With sufficient support, we can meet and achieve our
goals and move on. With too many obstacles we can flounder. The model has
similarities with what Vygotsky termed the proximal zone (1978). This is the
place between the students' level of competency and new learning, and
support that can help the student move from one to the other. The knack is
to set up goals that are attainable with effort. If the obstacles are too
great and the supports insufficient the student may feel discouraged. At the
same time, if the activity is too easy and requires little effort, the
student can become complacent and bored. The six stages of the story
structure are as follows:
1. Who is the character,
animal, creature or thing that this story is about?
2. What is his or her task or
3. What or who are his or her
supports? This can be external, as in the case of people or animals, or
internal, as in the case of personal attributes like courage or
4. What are the obstacles, the
things that stand in the way of achieving the goal?
5. How is the goal achieved?
6. What happens next? What is
the outcome? Is that the end of the story or does it carry on?’
Use of this model, is described
with the story of Maui and the sun, described earlier in the book. The
second example of integration with theory from other play therapy tools is
reference to Laban body shapes The four body shapes used are the wall, the
ball, the pin and the twist.. ‘The Children and the Thunder God’ story is
used by Paula to show how these they may be used to extend children’s
1. The wall shape is where we extend our bodies out as much as we can widthways. We make our legs and arms as wide as we can.
2. The ball shape involves making ourselves as small as we can with legs and arms tucked in and head down.
3. The pin shape is created when we stretch up with our arms as high as we can and make ourselves as narrow as possible. We stand on tiptoes to make ourselves as tall as we can.
4. The twist involves turning from the mid section, twisting the top half of the body.
In the story, the thunder god is
trapped inside the cage by the old man. He has to curl up small and maintain
that posture while pleading with the children for water. Once he has
regained his strength, he bursts out of the cage and becomes big and
powerful. You can practise with the students this movement from curled up,
confined shape to wide, expanded shape.’
There is a very useful list of
web sites (see panel), an author index and a subject index.
After so much excellent material
it is disappointing to arrive at what is In my view the weakest chapter.
This is based on a research study upon using drama therapy to engage the
attention of students with an intellectual disability. This was carried out
as a part of an MA in Creative Arts Therapies and so I blame the academic
environment and strictures in this case rather than the author.
As usual in this type of academic
research it is a descriptive case study. There is a good literature summary
and a lengthy (too long by far) description of the sessions. There is a hint
of originality in the topic but no statement of a hypothesis nor the
conditions for proof or non-proof.
The research is based on only
four cases over six sessions. The factor measured was attentiveness – good!
A pre-session measure was taken – good! Other measures were based on
observations of behaviour made by an independent observer in the middle of
the sessions, by the therapist taking notes after each session and by
interviewing the Teacher after each session. Hmmmn.! No quantitative data is
presented (bad), no measures were taken to assess the efficacy of the
intervention overall ie after the conclusion of the episode (poor). There
was no control group. Neither was an attempt made to link the outcomes with
an overall measure of the changes in the children’s total difficulties or
pro-social skills such as the Goodmans SDQ. Oh dear!
However don’t let this reviewer’s
hobby horse of the poor quality of academic research in creative therapies
emanating from some universities put you off buying ‘Drama Therapy and
Storymaking in Special Education’. This is a very good book and is a
recommended buy for all play therapy trainees and also for experienced Play