All of you having played intensely with a puppet – or for that reason an object – have touched the true empowering essence of play. It is a dialogue in which we participate naturally as children, but in fact continue to take part in the whole life through. It vitalizes our beings; we become alive, as does the object in our hand. This can be more or less obvious. We might not recognize the parts of self that are externalized, since it has been so well hidden from our conscious selves. This is the core of therapeutic puppetry - as other arts therapies - the object, the puppet or the artwork is seen as an extension of the self. Here lies its healing powers. The English psychoanalyst D.W Winnicott called this area transitional space. It is an area in-between, a bridge between inner and outer reality, subjective and objective experience. An area where transition takes place.
Implications for using puppetry as a therapeutic tool
The diverse ways in which puppets can be used in therapeutic settings are quite unique, it is one of the main advantages. The client interested in constructing can focus on making puppets, clothes or props; the ”writer” can work with the story/manuscript; the ”performer” can work with the role playing; the technically interested can work with sound, light e.t.c. Still, it is my conviction, that the full process from creation to play should be included as far as possible, at least giving a taste of it. Also, you can vary materials a lot, or use different types of puppets such as glove puppets, shadow puppets, rod puppets and marionettes. And these all have their different benefits. A bonus here is that it is a very playful method that can tempt introvert clients out of isolation. Animal puppets are said to be especially good for that. The indirect work with puppets creates a safe space for self exploration, lessening its eventual threatening impact. It is not me, but instead the puppet that is doing things, things I might never dare to do myself. Therefore, after having projected on the puppet, I am not to be blamed any more.
A child psychotherapist named Hedi Perriard Maire (Switzerland) talks about the puppet as identificational, compensational or protectional. In the safe space, the client can develop the ability for symbolization, the nonverbal can become verbal as the stories unfold. The client is helped by feeling a sense of self-control; he/she is in many ways in charge of the puppets. Since the puppet making and playing requires working with different degrees of control and frustration tolerance, he/she can also get some training in this. Advantages with high therapeutic value, is except for creating a safe space the method´s rehearsing potential. When role-playing you can rehearse for real life; you can play, get input from the therapist or the group and replay differently. The concrete way of working is excellent, also since you can look back at puppets made earlier in the therapeutic process and adjust them with new materials or create a different dialogue. Healing is possible working likewise, starting at the concrete level. Dissociated parts of self can be put together and become whole, for example, when working with anorexic clients.
Therapeutic approaches and beyond
In the therapeutic process, the therapist can work client-centered and follow in the steps of the client, or, be more structured framing the play. He/she can take on a role as an observer or alter ego. How depends on aim and theoretical background. Examples of theoretical approaches in this area are psychoanalytical, psychodynamic, Jungian, existential, cognitive, narrative, and Gestalt. These can be integrated and mixed with different arts therapy approaches such as drama therapy, play therapy, art therapy, expressive arts, psychodrama, etc. Therapists with different backgrounds use puppets in therapy around the world today, but very few work as full-time puppet therapists. Examples of practitioners ranging from using puppets for social change to psychotherapy are Gary Friedman (Australia; HIV- and prison projects etc worldwide), Diana Chiles (USA; children in hospital), Karrie Marshall (Scotland, staff coaching) ,Gudrun Gauda (Germany, "the dreier method") and Joanne F. Vizzini (USA; private practise, courses etc). See tab "Practitioners" for more examples.