Sri Lanka: Dr. Ravindra Ranasinha chronicles the history of modern dramatherapy on the island

In the picture: Dr. Ranasinha facilitating a group.

[Originally published in the February 2018 issue of Prompt, a newsletter by BADth]

It was in 2013 that ‘Dramatherapy in Sri Lanka’ was launched. It contained data from my practice during the period 2002–2010. I worked with war affected children who had post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), people affected by Tsunami, people with personality issues, people with developmental issues, children with anxiety issues and conduct issues, etc.

This document inspired many psychotherapists and counsellors to study dramather- apy. I received the first invitation from the King’s College London Resource Centre for

trauma, displacement, and mental health in Colombo, which is called Samutthana, to conduct a workshop on dramatherapy. That was in 2014. The participants were psychotherapists and counsellors. This programme made them demand a Certificate Course, and the above institution requested me to submit a course syllabus, which I did, and the course was conducted for six months.

‘Dramatherapy in a Counselling Context’ (in Sinhala – 2013) provided a Code of Ethics for the dramatherapists. This is a very vital thing, since there is no authority in Sri Lanka to give guidelines for the psychologists, psychotherapists, and counsellors. Therefore, none of these professionals are Registered practitioners in this island. In UK there is the HCPC, but in Sri Lanka, the mental health sector is yet to gain importance.

In 2014, Family Planning Association in Sri Lanka invited me to conduct a series of one day workshops. That was for 150 counsellors attached to the Ministry of Social Welfare and Social Empowerment. That led to begin a Certificate Course in Dramatherapy, and the Family Planning Association made all the arrangements for that. We commenced the programme in 2015 and by December 2017, four batches of students completed their dramatherapy studies. The greatest achievement was that the State (the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission) gave its approval to this Dramatherapy Certification programme on 20th December 2017. It validated our practice and the teaching. This is the one and only Dramatherapy Certification programme available in this island.

Previously, in January 2016, the National Institution for Mental Health invited me to train doctors and nurses on dramatherapy, to work with schizophrenic patients. This

took place in the Forensic Ward. I had no previous exposure in working with schizophrenic patients. I read research journals, learnt of John Christey-Casson's PhD study,

read his book on Drama, Psychotherapy and Psychosis, and met Stephen Snow in Sri Lanka, when he visited in 2015, and all that knowledge enabled me to try a method that suits Sri Lankan people. Amazingly, it worked. Let me say joining the client through mirroring, building a community around them, accepting and respecting them, giving self-worth for the client helped them to normalize, after some months of

work. I received the feedback from hospital staff regarding their success and draw- backs. Unfortunately, this programme stopped, as the psychiatrist in charge of the

ward migrated to Australia.

My teaching and practice inspired a large number of university students to research on dramatherapy. I was appointed to supervise an MA student (Kelaniya University – a university in the suburbs of Colombo) who is now conducting a research on the application of dramatherapy with children labelled as having conduct disorder. She does this research in a prison home for children. Also another student in Colombo university conducted a study on the efficacy of dramatherapy with school children experiencing examination stress. In this island, these are two incidences to show that State Universities are now in a process of recognizing dramatherapy.

A large amount of study was conducted by the four batches who studied dramather- apy, and their dissertations are valuable material for any future references. These

documents are under the custody of the Family Planning Association.

As in any other country, in this island too dramatherapy evolves slowly. I am sure it

will take another 100 years for a University in Sri Lanka to offer an MA on dramather- apy. I am sure some day somebody will work towards it, on the foundations we have

already laid. Right now my only task is to introduce dramatherapy to a larger audi- ence, develop clinical practice, and strengthen dramatherapy as scholarly discipline.

My doctoral research was on Meditation-Based Dramatherapy. It encompassed mindfulness, compassion, tranquillity, and equilibrium. The subjects were Down’s syndrome adults. The results were very positive, and it paved the way to have a dramatherapy programme for Special Needs populations, which I am conducting right now. My thesis will be published very soon as a book.

Another edited book entitled ‘Creative Arts Therapies for Autistic Children’ was a very strong eye-opener for caregivers and clinicians with regard to the efficacy of creative arts therapies in supporting people on the autism spectrum.

The Research Centre for Dramatherapy will be a resource centre for many who are keen on studying dramatherapy, as they can come in as volunteers and gain practical

knowledge. This Centre will also try to collaborate with foreign dramatherapists, asso- ciations, and institutions on dramatherapy, to develop the field of dramatherapy in

Sri Lanka. We also have brought in art therapists and music therapists, in number just three people, to collaborate with us. You can see that this island has very little resource people, and it is our effort to see that everyone is in a network where no one will be isolated.

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