Mental Health Focus for Drama Teachers

The VIP Programme team represents several subject areas in the interdisciplinary field of school and mental health. One of these areas is drama and theatre. In the autumn of 2018, the VIP Programme, in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trøndelag Drama and Theatre Teachers Association, as well as Jessheim Upper Secondary School, arrange two tailor-made courses for drama teachers. But why is mental health especially relevant for drama?

Theatre Stage at Blakstad Hospital.
Steigum on her own stage at Blakstad Hospital where a cabaret group uses the theatre medium to convey their experience as patients.

She will readily take some advice from them to prepare for instructing drama teachers in autumn. The VIP School Programme (Guidance and Information on Mental Health in School) is aimed at Norwegian upper secondary schools. The programme is financed by the Norwegian Directorate of Health, owned by Vestre Viken, and operated through Blakstad Hospital in Asker.

You can read more about the VIP School Programme here

Jorid Bakken Steigum is a VIP Programme consultant who has a master’s degree in Drama and Theatre from NTNU. She has many years of experience teaching drama, including teaching various drama subjects at an upper secondary school. Steigum pioneered the course and is now one of the course instructors along with her colleague from the VIP Programme, Mia Iversen.

The subject of Drama is based on emotions and expression. Knowing what emotions are is a prerequisite for being able to express them in creative work.

Drama as an Emotional Subject

Steigum’s commitment to the topic of mental health in Drama is based on her own experience. She felt the lack of this topic in the curriculum when she was studying because she quickly saw that mental health is something you have to regularly deal with once you enter the drama classroom.

“The subject of Drama is based on emotions and expression. Knowing what emotions are is a prerequisite for being able to express them in creative work. Affect consciousness is not only an advantage to dealing with your everyday life, it is also a necessary condition for credible presentation of characters on stage,” she points out.

She has also seen many examples of how drama practice brings to life the experiences and emotions that neither students nor teachers fully know how to handle. She believes Drama and Theatre teachers need more tools at hand when facing situations like that. Some of these tools are brought directly from Steigum’s experience of being involved in “Cabaret for øyeblikket,” Blakstad Hospital's own theatre group. They have long experience working creatively with people who have various mental health challenges. Steigum believes that the skills and knowledge they have gained over the years can be valuable for other theatre ensembles, too, and particularly for instructors.


An Ever-Changing Subject

The VIP Programme works with hundreds of teachers every year. When Steigum is working at a school where Drama is a programme subject, she always tries to start a dialogue with programme subject teachers on the topic of mental health in the context of their subjects.

Steigum has received feedback from several Drama and Theatre teachers saying that they have noticed a change in the kind of students who apply for the subject. According to the teachers, there is an increase in the number of students who are struggling mentally, which in its turn presents some challenges for a subject that is primarily based on group work and long, demanding working sessions.

“Having to expose yourself, and being assessed based on your personal expression, can make you feel vulnerable when you experience problems in many different areas of your life. The teacher’s role here is to help the student set boundaries to protect themselves,” Steigum says.

Several Drama and Theatre teachers have come up with some suggestions for the VIP Programme regarding typical scenarios that arise during their drama classes. These cases will be discussed at the courses.


An Opportunity to See

The VIP Programme communicates the idea that young people with mental health problems who receive early help often recover faster. In order to get help, it is sometimes useful to be seen from the outside. Drama teachers are in a privileged position because they often communicate extensively and establish good contact with their students.

The unique experience that comes with practising Drama and Theatre allows people to get to know each other as individual human beings. This is why Steigum thinks that drama teachers have a wonderful opportunity to spot the students who are struggling with mental health problems and direct them to health services where they can get help when needed. This implies that the teacher knows what signs to look for and where to direct the students who need help, which is a topic that is also on the agenda for the autumn course.


Important Partners for Cooperation

Steigum is very pleased to have Associate Professor and Drama Therapist Ellen Foyn Bruun, who represents the NTNU Drama and Theatre Programme, and University Lecturer Marianne Nødtvedt Knudsen from DTP Trøndelag (Trøndelag Drama and Theatre Teachers Association) on board as cooperation partners. An upper secondary school with Drama as a programme subject also wants to facilitate such a course, which is very beneficial for the VIP Programme. Steigum believes that these three participants together represent the entire spectrum of the field of Drama education.

Ellen and Marianne.
Bruun (on the left) and Nødtvedt Knudsen both think that mental health is relevant for the subject of Drama.

Bruun and Nødtvedt Knudsen, who both teach at NTNU, were happy to cooperate. Nødtvedt Knudsen wanted to partner with DTP Trøndelag because she believes that teaching Drama and Theatre requires expertise in several subject areas. She strongly believes that drama teachers need to become more aware of how to work with young people today and understand the complexity of their everyday lives. Bruun thinks that this course is also important for those who teach at university level.

“We need to know more about the life experiences of young people and their own health perception so that we can offer them updated and relevant didactics in the subject of Drama and Theatre,” she says.

The course for drama teachers in Central Norway and the northern counties will be launched on 14 September in Trondheim. The rest of the country is welcome to participate in a corresponding course at Jessheim Upper Secondary School a week later. The courses are free for the employees of the VIP schools. Members of the Drama and Theatre Teachers Association in Central and Northern Norway can also take the course in Trondheim for free.

You will find course invitations with more details and registration information here: — Please note that the PDFs are in norwegian.


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