Experiencing Neuro-Dramatic Play with Sue Jennings

Travelling with an international group of fellow dramatherapists, Lou Ghirlando worked with children at the Good Samaritan Home in Ghimbav, Romania. Maltese dramatherapist Lou Ghirlando participated in a workshop on Neuro Dramatic Play. She also work with young children stationed in the Good Samaritan home at Ghimbav.

Ghirlando describes the experience as being chiefly informed by the work – and participation – of Sue Jennings,”known as the grandmother of dramatherapy”. Jennings’s research touches upon how ‘play’ and creativity can help people – even children – psychologically, leading to “healthy development and attachment, and their relevance as a source of healing where such0 development has been stunted or ruptured”.

“I knew that annually she created a platform for experiential training in Romania; and each year I felt the pull inside of me to reach out to such an encounter. For personal reasons, I was unsure whether this year was yet the right time for me to go, but the knowledge that this would be the last year that Dr Jennings would be carrying out the training in this form in Romania, as well as confirmation of a mobility grant from the Malta Arts Fund for me to engage with this experience, supported me in taking a decisive step to make the journey this summer,” Ghirlando said.

Ghirlando described how her initial preconceptions about the home were quickly dispelled upon her arrival. Though its young residents were clearly there because they needed help of some kind, the atmosphere was hardly as intimidating as Ghirlando had initially envisioned. “Information on the home itself was scarce at first, thus shrouding my expectations in darkness. This also reinforced the darkness present to me from my images of Romanian orphanages steeped in the heritage of Ceausescu. It felt like a catch-22. The darker my expectations, the less I wanted to know…”

However, the home turned out to be flanked by idyllic surroundings and boast a “warm” atmosphere, where Ghirlando and her international colleagues – hailing from the UK, France, Ireland and America – could comfortably set about applying what they’d learnt from Sue Jennings to the young residents of the home.
The home currently houses 17 children, ranging between the ages of five and 20. Ghirlando explained that such a wide age margin is allowed so as to make it easier for the children to gradually transition into an independent, adult life.

Dramatherapy, in fact, can help these children reach an emotional balance that they may lack, especially in relation to the way they process the idea of family life, or project what it ‘should’ be like. “Their desire to live in a traditionally defined family is strong, and manifests in an almost idealisation of what normal life should be. They long for contact with primary family. “They show interest, joy and pain in daily activities that would permeate the lives of children and adolescents in their same developmental bracket. Emotional struggles manifest in the youngest, for example, as excesses of aggressive play or excessive hanging on. One of the elder ones is now so aware of the opportunity of being in the home that he dedicates himself wholesomely, if not excessively, to his education,” Ghirlando said.

Using a new technique devised by Sue Jennings – neuro-dramatic play – the children are aided in compensating for deficiencies in their developmental experience. Through the concept of neuro-dramatic play, Jennings speaks about the rhythmic synchronisation of a mother and child’s heartbeats, and the way in which children who have not had this early experience remain out of sync in their lives.

Ghirlando and the other dramatherapists focused on the use of these elements in the healing of children and adolescents whose early life experiences did not allow for such synchronisation. “We worked with sensorial and tactile ‘messy play’, such as working with gypsum to make masks, contact and story work. With the children we introduced many rhythm games, and also encouraged them to teach us ones they were familiar with. Sue Jennings herself also uses this work in pre-emptive healthy development by supporting pregnant mothers in their awareness and practice of such play,” Ghirlando said.

“The work can be applied also with adults who might have not healed from early life traumas,” she added, claiming that the experience inspired her to look further at the potential of dramatherapy as a tool for relational encounters “beyond defined borders and clinical boundaries”.

Article by Teodor Reljic as seen on Malta Today

Photo Credit: Sinead Ni Chonchubhair

Lou’s participation in this experience was made possible through the Mobility Support Grant of the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts in 2013.

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