As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Sports Psychology Consultant, I often use Psychodrama with individual clients as well as in the groups that I facilitate. Psychodrama is an action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives. Developed by Jacob L. Moreno, M.D. (1889–1974) psychodrama closely recreates real-life situations, and acting them out in the present, clients have the opportunity to evaluate their behavior and more deeply understand a particular situation in their lives.
Psychodrama is most often utilized in a group scenario, in which each person in the group can become therapeutic agents for one another’s scenes. Psychodrama is not, however, a form of group therapy, and is instead an individual psychotherapy that is executed from within a group. A psychodrama is best conducted and produced by a person trained in the method, called a psychodrama director.
In a session of psychodrama, one client of the group becomes the protagonist, and focuses on a particular situation to enact among the group. A variety of scenes may be enacted, depicting, for example, memories of specific happenings in the client’s past, unfinished situations, inner dramas, fantasies, dreams, preparations for future risk-taking situations, or unrehearsed expressions of mental and emotional states in the here and now. These scenes either approximate real-life situations or are externalizations of inner mental processes. Other members of the group may become auxiliaries, and support the protagonist by playing other significant roles in the scene for an individual to respond creatively to a situation through spontaneity, that is, through a readiness to improvise and respond in the moment. By encouraging an individual to address a problem in a creative way, reacting spontaneously and based on impulse, they may begin to discover new solutions to problems in their lives and learn new roles they can inhabit within it.
In psychodrama, participants also explore internal conflicts by acting out their emotions and interpersonal interactions on stage. A psychodrama session focuses principally on a single participant, known as the protagonist. Protagonists examine their relationships by interacting with the other actors and the leader, known as the director. This is done using specific techniques, including mirroring, doubling , soliloquy, and role reversal.
During a typical psychodrama session, a number of clients gather together. One of these clients is chosen as the protagonist, and the director calls on the other clients to assist the protagonist’s “performance,” either by portraying other characters, or by utilizing mirroring, doubling, or role reversal. The clients act out a number of scenes in order to allow the protagonist to work through certain scenarios. This is obviously beneficial for the protagonist, but also is helpful to the other actors, allowing them to assume the role of another person and apply that experience to their own life. The focus during the session is on the acting out of different scenarios, rather than simply talking through them. All of the different elements of the session (group participants that hold the energy and remind the protagonist of someone in their past or present, props, lighting, etc.) are used to heighten the reality of the scene.
The three sections of a typical session are the warm-up, the action, and the sharing. During the warm-up, the actors are encouraged to enter into a state of mind where they can be present in and aware of the current moment and are free to be creative.
Next, the action section of the psychodrama session is the time in which the actual scenes themselves take place. During the action section of the psychodrama, the protagonist has an opportunity to give or receive love to or from someone that he never had a chance to in the past, give or receive forgiveness, slay old dragons (someone who may have been abusive to him or her, for example), empower him or herself in the presence of someone who belittled or emasculated them in some way, express angry thoughts and feelings, etc. During the action sequence of the psychodrama, the protagonist has a chance to have a “corrective emotional experience”; he or she can experience themselves differently, re-write an old script that no longer serves them, and literally superimpose new memories on top of an old ones. After all, our unconscious mind cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, so what’s taken place in the protagonist’s reenactment profoundly heals and transforms their relationships with themselves, others, and the world at large.
Finally, in the post-discussion, the different actors (group members) are able to comment on the action that just took place and share their empathy and experiences with the protagonist of the scene. In addition, the protagonist can share with the group members what his or her experience was like, what new insights and awareness have come up, and what positive shifts they notice in terms of how they feel in the scene’s aftermath.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve found that there are several techniques that are used in psychodrama to make it an enlightening, transformational experience for everyone involved. Mirroring, for example, is an important technique in that the protagonist is first asked to act out an experience. After this, the client steps out of the scene and watches as another actor steps into their role and portrays the client. Afterwards, the client is asked to comment on the action and/or reenter the scene.
Doubling is another psycho-dramatic technique, in which the client is joined by another actor in his or her portrayal of him- or herself. The second actor assumes the role of an “auxiliary ego,” which reveals hidden parts of the protagonist’s behavior, by acting as him or her. Role playing is another method, in which the client portrays a person or object that is problematic to him or her. In soliloquy, another technique, the client speaks his or her thoughts aloud in order to build self-knowledge. Finally, role reversal is a technique in which a client is asked to portray another person while a second actor portrays the client in the particular scene. This not only prompts the client to think as the other person, but also has some of the benefits of mirroring, as the client sees him- or herself as portrayed by the second actor.
In conclusion, I’ve found that using Psychodrama in the groups that I facilitate in my Marriage and Family Therapy Practice has been a powerful interactive tool in fostering growth and transformation among my clients. If you’re interested in having corrective emotional experiences and superimposing new, more empowering memories onto old ones that still limit you, I invite you to be in touch with me and ask to join one of my groups.
If you’d prefer to do some psychodrama in an individual session with me, no problem!! EMDR, NLP, and Gestalt therapy are all therapeutic technologies that I use with individual clients that incorporate the very same psychodrama tools and techniques that I use effectively in groups.
To reach me, please call my office number at (619) 280-8099 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this article. I sincerely hope that you found it enlightening.
John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist