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Drag as Therapy | Can drag help you with coping up with Mental Health?

We are all in Drag every day. Whether or not you realize it, you’re in Drag right now. Drag is simply a way to express one’s self through appearance, action and dress. Drag Therapy is an interactive, mixed medium psychotherapy for individuals and groups allowing participants, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, to identify, explore and embody different parts or “Drags” of themselves through costume, mask making, storytelling, performance, makeup, verbal and nonverbal communication, scent, play, visualization, and more. Mixed medium therapies use elements of many different expressive and visual art therapies.

Drag Therapy uses art therapy, sand tray therapy, drama therapy, dance and movement therapy, and music therapy. You can also participate by dressing and using a mannequin to represent or express parts of yourself if you choose not to dress yourself. The possibilities of Drags to create and embody are endless- they can be real or imagined characters, animals, superheroes, villains, expressions or versions of yourself, drag kings or queens, and any cosplay creation.

Often times we become stuck in the same roles or interpersonal/intrapersonal dynamics, and have difficulty changing them and living more authentically. We tend to think small, our Drag Repertoire is small, and we keep taking out and using the same ole Drag in our everyday lives. We may also find it difficult to express or stand up for ourselves, set boundaries, and feel good about ourselves. This happens to many of us, and is often fueled by fear, shame, guilt, insecurities, mental health issues and social and familial pressures and norms. Life stops being fun and we stop playing. This is problematic because research has shown that the less playful we are, the more depressed and anxious we feel. In Drag Therapy, we create and/or embody different Drags to help work through these barriers to mental health and increase emotional flexibility, creativity, spontaneity, and joy. Getting to know different Drags increases your Drag Repertoire which allows for a greater range of emotional well-being and self expression.

Drag Therapy is inspired by several different theoretical orientations in the field of psychology and psychotherapy and is based entirely on trauma theories. They include Psychodynamic/Psychoanalytic Therapy, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Drama Therapy, Psychodrama, Somatic Therapies, and Play Therapy.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) theory believes that we do not have one personality, but rather, we are comprised of many different parts. You have probably thought at some point, “a part of me thinks this and a part of me thinks that.” This is because different parts of you have different thoughts and feelings about a particular thing.

One of the most groundbreaking concepts of IFS, in my opinion, is the idea of “The Self.” The Self is essentially your “higher self.” It’s your inner wisdom. It is the “you” that is Calm, Caring, Compassionate, Creative, Curious, Courageous, Clear, and/or Confident. When we are able to access our “Self energy” we can then better get to know all of our other parts and the manner in which they have produced or influenced our thoughts, fears and behavior.

In Drag Therapy, we can identify, embody, and get to know your parts and/or an aspect of “Self”. For instance, many people struggle feeling confident. By creating and embodying “Confident Drag” we can experiential know what that looks like, feels like, moves like, sounds like, smells like. It can allow you to fully experience and embody that part of yourself and be able to integrate that part into your life. It becomes an accessible piece in your Drag Repertoire.

 Exploring Gender Drag Therapy provides a space where you can explore and experiment with your gender. We are taught in utero that gender is binary: male or female. But in reality, gender identity is on a matrix and most people don’t fit on a binary continuum. In addition, we each possess certain characteristics and qualities that are embodied in all genders. Exploring gender can bring up and help you address feelings of shame, anxiety, fear, isolation, and self-loathing, some of which may be buried and not readily realized.  Having a safe space to experiment with gender identity and gender expression can help alleviate those feelings. Sometimes “playing dress up” alone is therapeutic and during that process, deep and meaningful work happens. 

Drag Thought Experiment: Where are you on the gender matrix? What Drag could you add on or take off to explore your gender expression? What Drag could help you get access both your masculine and feminine parts?

Character Drag/Cosplay Drag allows you to try on different or similar parts of yourself. Many fictional characters are archetypes, which makes it easier to access their respective qualities. Harry Potter Drag, for instance, might allow you to feel courageous, mischievous, loyal, and/or connected. Darth Vader Drag can help you access emotions that are difficult for you to feel, such as anger and rage. Although these feelings might be exaggerated and “dramatic,” allowing yourself to feel them can be empowering and show that you can tolerate a range of emotions.

Character/Cosplay Drag allows you to access and feel multiple parts or feelings simultaneously. As opposed to embodying “Sad Drag” which is one feeling, Character Drag can allow you to feel many qualities and feelings at once and experience more depth of emotion. Characters tend to be complex and multifaceted, thus allowing you grapple with and experience those feelings yourself. It might be hard for you to feel both lonely and connected, but playing Harry Potter, it might be easier to access HIS simultaneous feelings of loneliness and conceitedness.

Drag Thought Experiment: What traits and abilities does your superhero possess? How might you use those traits in your life? What would that do to your current narrative of yourself and your life? What element could you add to your Drag today to help you embody your inner superhero? Different color lipstick? Colorful socks? A fun ring?

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