Classroom uses drama therapy to help students open up in a safe environment

Barrett Scroggs, a graduate student from Kansas State University, is a drama therapist intern in the secondary therapeutic classroom at Bert Nash.

Barrett Scroggs, a graduate student from Kansas State University, is a drama therapist intern in the secondary therapeutic classroom at Bert Nash. by Jeff Burkhead

In some instances, drama can have a negative connotation.

That certainly isn’t the case with what Barrett Scroggs does. He uses drama to encourage creative growth and mental health.

Scroggs, a graduate student at Kansas State University, uses drama therapy every week when working with high school and middle school students in the secondary therapeutic classroom at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence. The classroom, a partnership between Bert Nash and USD 497, provides a structured, therapeutic environment for secondary students who struggle with social-emotional issues and need a setting that offers specialized instruction.

“The class I do here is really about exploring and being able to have fun and be creative,” Scroggs said. “The thing I like about it is this is a safe place. The students know they can be creative within the group. It’s fun to be able to be a part of that.”

Scroggs, who is working on his master’s degree in drama therapy, teaches once a week in the therapeutic classroom. He met the students for the first time last August.

“It’s been great,” he said. “I think there have really been some advances. I truly look forward to coming here every week.”

Based on their comments, so do the students.

“I love drama group. There are so many fun and creative games.”

“Barrett has the best characters and the games are really fun and they get your mind going. His style is unique.”

“He encourages us to think positively and get outside our comfort zone. He always brings out the best in each one of us.”

“It's really cool how he incorporates everyone no matter their skill level.”

Scroggs learned about the internship opportunity at Bert Nash from Sally Bailey, director of the K-State drama therapy program.

“Being able to send students to intern in the therapeutic classroom at Bert Nash under Lanell Finneran has been an invaluable opportunity for my master’s students in drama therapy,” Bailey said. “In addition to working with a population they would not otherwise be able to experience, they are able to learn about a unique structure for assisting young people who are not able to be in a traditional classroom. They have the added benefit of being supervised by Lanell, who is an expert in the fields of special education and drama therapy.”

Finneran, who has been a part of the therapeutic classroom since 1994 and is retiring at the end of the school year, is a drama therapist herself, as well as a board certified trainer. She is the special education teacher in the therapeutic classroom.

“She’s a phenomenal drama therapist to be working under,” Scroggs said. “The entire staff is phenomenal.”

Scroggs is the latest in a long line of drama therapy students from K-State to intern in the therapeutic classroom.

“Barrett’s been great,” Finneran said. “He understands how to work with teenagers. He knows how to push a little bit and when to back off. He’s good at being able to monitor the group.”

Finneran has been doing drama therapy as far back as high school.

“I volunteered at an elementary school and used drama therapy with kids who had developmental disabilities,” she said. “That’s how I got started.”

Finneran, who had a double major in psychology and theater at Kansas State and has a master's degree in special education, has seen over and over how using drama therapy techniques can help students open up.

“They come out of their shell a little more and they get to play,” Finneran said. “Sometimes mental health issues cripple kids’ ability to play. Using drama therapy, or any of the creative arts, can help kids work through their mental health issues. The results can be amazing.”

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