Role playing is a potentially valuable therapeutic intervention for use with children. These techniques are based on the assumption that individuals may gain greater understanding of their behavior if they act out various aspects of their lives (Newcomer, 1980). Warger (1985) and Warger and Weiner (1987) recommend creative drama for children whose play development may be slow as a consequence of a disability. It is an excellent method for enhancing skills critical to learning and developing social skills, and it can be readily individualized. According to Raths, Harmin, and Simons (1978), role playing can assist an individual in the clarification of feelings and emotions as they relate to existing reality in three ways:

  1. It can focus on real occurrences. An incident may be reenacted and the participants told to attend to the feelings aroused; or an incident may be reenacted with the participants changing roles and attending to the feelings aroused by these new roles. An individual may be directed to deliver a soliloquy to re-create an emotionally loaded event. Emphasis here is on expressing feelings that were hidden or held back when the event first occurred.
  2. It can focus on significant others. The individual may portray a significant person in his or her life about whom a great amount of conflict is felt.
  3. It can focus on processes and feelings occurring in new situations. Directions for this type of role playing may be very specific, with the participants provided with special characters and actions; or direction may be vague, allowing the participants to form their own characters.

Anderson (1992) recommends the use of selected theater rehearsal techniques with African American students identified as behaviorally disordered.

Role-playing techniques have been incorporated into several social skills and affective education programs concerned specifically with the learning of values and standards.


Thomas, a 15-year-old tenth-grader, was quite overweight. He was the class scapegoat. His classmates were constantly making fun of his size. They called him “porky,” “fatso,” “pig,” “slob,” “tubby,” and so on. Each day, someone came up with a new name to call him.

Thomas was a sensitive young man, and whenever he was called a name, he withdrew. Frequently, the teacher saw tears in his eyes.

Mrs. Minup was very concerned about Thomas’s mental well-being and his classmates’ lack of consideration and compassion for Thomas and other children who were different. She believed that role playing might be a method of helping the whole class, including Thomas, gain insight into their behavior.

Without including obesity, Mrs. Minup conducted a series of role-playing activities with the class. The students role-played their reactions and feelings to roles concerned with height, complexion, race, religion, and so on.

As the students began to empathize with the feelings of the characters they were role playing, Thomas became more accepted and less of a target of their hurtful behavior.

Drama, as a therapeutic technique, can be used with students for several purposes in the educational setting (Creekmore & Madan, 1981; Necco, Wilson, & Scheidmantel, 1982; Newcomer, 1980). Among these are the following:

  • to assist in finding solutions, making decisions, and assuming responsibility for personal social-emotional problems;
  • to assist in affective education, increasing feelings and emotions, and improving communication skills;
  • to assist in solving problems associated with normal child and adolescent development;
  • to facilitate group cohesiveness;
  • to facilitate experimentation with adult roles;
  • to aid in the conceptualization of abstracts in subject matter such as language and science;
  • to offer entertainment and recreation opportunities; and
  • to offer the teacher opportunities to observe students in various situations.

Newcomer (1980) cautions teachers to apply drama therapy with care. Student preparation includes a clear understanding of the purpose, objectives, and benefits of drama. Rules and regulations should be explained. Participation is always voluntary and devoid of personal criticism.