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Arts Psychother. 2017 Feb;52:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.aip.2016.09.007. Epub 2016 Sep 30.

Development and Pilot Randomized Control Trial of a Drama Program to Enhance Well-being Among Older Adults.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive MC 0993, San Diego, CA 92103-0993 USA.
The Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive MC 0012, San Diego, CA 92103-0012 USA.
Veterans Administration San Diego Health Care System, San Diego, California, 3350 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego, CA 92161 USA.
California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University, San Diego, California, 10455 Pomerado Rd, San Diego, CA 92131 USA.
San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego, California, 9500 Gilman Drive MC 0993, San Diego, CA 92103-0993 USA.
Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive MC 0532, San Diego, CA 92103-0532 USA.
The Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, California, 39 S El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101 USA.



Develop a novel theatre-based program and test its feasibility, tolerability, and preliminary efficacy for improving empathy/compassion and well-being among older adults.


Thirteen older adults were randomized to a 6-week Drama Workshop (DW) program or time-equivalent Backstage Pass (BP) control condition. Pre- and post-treatment measures included empathy, compassion, and mood scales. Additional post-treatment measures included self-rated change in empathy/compassion, confidence, and affect. Participants also rated their mood/affect after each session.


The program was successfully completed and well-liked. No pre-to-post-treatment changes in empathy/compassion or mood symptoms were found in either group. Compared to BP, DW weekly ratings indicated higher levels of anxiety and lower happiness; however, the DW program had higher self-ratings of positive change in self-esteem, confidence, and happiness post-treatment.


While the DW may not promote empathy/compassion and was personally challenging during the program, engagement in dramatic exercises and rehearsing and performing a dramatic piece was seen by participants as a positive growth experience, as indicated by the post-treatment ratings of enhanced self-esteem, confidence and happiness. Thus, such a program might be useful for counteracting some of the potential negative aspects of aging, including reduced self-efficacy due to physical limitations and negative affect due to losses.


community engagement; drama instruction; positive psychological traits; randomized controlled trial; successful aging

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