Empowering Adults with Developmental Disabilities: A Creative Arts Therapies Approach
by Stephen Snow
Gain new tools for helping adults with developmental disabilities using creative arts therapies within Dr. Snow's unique ethnodramatherapy model.
While traditional talk therapy is key to helping clients process troubling emotional experiences, verbal methods have their limitations, particularly for adults with developmental disabilities. For clients warranting alternative means of communication, more creative interventions are needed—and resources for therapists who work with this challenging population are scarce. In this video, Stephen Snow of Concordia University’s Centre for the Arts in Human Development combines unique theatre and creative arts therapies approaches to demonstrate how a group of adults with developmental disabilities can access and transform their inner experience.

Over the course of a three-year project, Snow and his colleagues employ a range of therapeutic techniques to engage his group members, leveraging their talents to promote healing. Snow, with the aid of art therapists, guides the group through powerful mask-making and performance art, helping them publicly reject the stigma of childhood taunts and name-calling. A music therapist and a social worker help Puja and Cheryl describe the pain of not being allowed to ride city buses, and the dance therapy team encourages Matthew to express his dreams using dance and poetry. You’ll watch the project evolve over time, with commentary detailing the ways in which Snow incorporates playback theater, expressive arts, and performance to elicit the stories of the group members.

Using Snow’s development of a model called ethnodramatherapy—a dynamic combination of ethnodrama and drama therapy—all of the actors find ways to convey the challenges and joys of their lives. Not only does ethnodramatherapy support the expression and growth of the group, he maintains, but also it facilitates social change through direct contact with the experience of “people who don’t often get a chance to tell their own stories.”

If you’re working with people with developmental disabilities or are interested in learning more about creative arts therapies, you’ll be thrilled to add this heartwarming video to your library.

What therapists are saying…

"The expressive arts therapies can be of enormous benefit to people with developmental disabilities. In this excellent video, therapists build on group members’ strengths to put on a show, feel accepted, experience teamwork, and participate in the wider realms of poetry, music, dance-movement, and drama. Dr. Snow’s program at Concordia University is an incredible source of ideas and inspiration!”

-- Adam Blatner, MD, Author, Foundations of Psychodrama and Acting-In: Practical Applications of Psychodramatic Methods
"Dr. Snow's documentary profiles an outstanding program of process-oriented work leading to an 'informance' with special-needs adults. The first part presents a collage of scenes with the developmentally disabled participants, and the second half reviews the therapeutic foundations for the project. This is an excellent video for teacher education and drama therapy practitioners."

-- Johnny Saldaña, Evelyn Smith Professor of Theatre, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts' School of Theatre and Film, Arizona State University
"This is a strong video about a newly emerging method of performance and research in drama therapy. Professor Snow is a master and innovator of this form. I highly recommend the video to all those searching for models of therapeutic performance."

-- Robert J. Landy, PhD, Professor of Educational Theatre and Applied Psychology and Director of the Drama Therapy Program, NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
"A wonderful video! Dr. Snow's group of developmentally disabled young adults find liberation and voice through ethnodrama and other creative arts methods, revealing the social isolation, pain and shame they feel in a judgmental society. This excellent and accessible video can be used as a model for therapeutic work with other marginalized groups, giving them much-needed self-expression while transforming viewers."

-- Elizabeth Bauman, RDT
"This video is a powerful, moving, and extremely useful resource for those working with developmental disabilities and other marginalized populations, as well as a testament to the potential of theatre to transform societal ignorance into empathy and understanding. The innovative ethnographic methodology, beautifully articulated in the film by Dr. Stephen Snow, allows stigmatized cultures to find their voice and reveal their souls with dignity, creativity and support. A must-see for professionals in the social services and the arts who hold a vision for a world based on mutual respect!"

-- Armand Volkas, MFT, RDT/BCT, Associate Professor, California Institute of Integral Studies, Drama Therapy Program
"An excellent resource for current practitioners who are looking for more creative ways to work with adults with special needs. ... Counselor educators will find [the Epilogue] interesting when considering more creative ways to measure therapeutic outcomes and impact from a qualitative perspective. Overall, this video helps all audiences to remember what one participant boldly stated: 'Labels don’t belong to anyone. Labels belong on jars.'"

-- Jessica L. Martin, University of Central Florida, reviewed in The Professional Counselor
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Dr. Stephen Snow uses the term “emancipatory potential” to describe the impact of a unique therapeutic model on these actors with disablilites. As you watch the group develop, rehearse, and ultimately present their life histories onstage, you’ll learn how a model known as ethnodramatherapy builds on traditional drama and arts therapies techniques, along with Mienczakowski’s ethnodrama method, to bring expression to the challenges marginalized populations experience on a daily basis.

In this video, you’ll find educational commentary, personal interviews, and an epilogue by Snow, including ways to incorporate expressive arts, poetry, music, and dance into work with adults with developmental disabilities. You’ll be moved by the humorous, touching, and at times disturbing stories of Snow’s group, presented by the actors themselves. In addition, you’ll hear feedback from their receptive audiences, including young students, that illustrate both the show’s effectiveness and the attitudinal shifts that can occur as a result of seeing such a performance.

By watching this video, you will:
  • Understand the objectives and methodology of the ethnodramatherapy approach.
  • Identify ways to incorporate expressive and performance art into work with adults with developmental disabilities.
  • Learn tools for measuring the therapeutic impact of an ethnodramatherapy performance featuring marginalized populations.

Length of video: 00:42:28

Number of Discs: 1

English subtitles available on: Stream

This DVD plays in All Regions

Stephen Snow, PhD., RDT- BCT, is a registered drama therapist, board certified trainer in drama therapy, and a certified practitioner of Playback Theatre. Snow came to Concordia University (Montreal) in 1992 as an associate professor in the department of theatre, with the express purpose of founding a drama therapy graduate program. In 1996, he co-founded the Centre for the Arts in Human Development, an innovative research, clinical practice and training centre at the university. In 1997, he co-founded the drama therapy masters program in the department of creative arts therapies, where he is presently chair and professor of drama therapy. He is the originator of a unique approach to therapeutic theatre and has directed over 40 such productions in this genre; documentaries on this work have appeared on both NBC and CBC television. He has received foundation funding to produce this performance-based research, as well as two Social Science and Humanities Research Council grants for assessment and performance ethnography research, respectively.

Snow has been the recipient of research awards from the National Association for Drama Therapy and the American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. In 2001, he received the Gertrud Schattner Award for Distinguished Service to Drama Therapy from NADT. He is co-editor and co-author of Assessment in the Creative Arts Therapies (2009) and Assessment in Drama Therapy (2012). His present research integrates methods of drama therapy with ethnnodrama.

For information on workshops with Dr. Snow and his colleagues from the Centre for the Arts in Human Development at Concordia University in Montreal, click here.

CE credits: 1

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the objectives and methodology of the ethnodramatherapy approach.
  • Identify ways to incorporate expressive and performance art into work with developmentally disabled adults.
  • Learn tools for measuring the therapeutic impact of an ethnodramatherapy performance featuring marginalized populations.
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