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Psychodrama Therapy What Is It?

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Psychodrama is an active and creative therapeutic approach that uses guided drama and role playing to work through problems. Developed by Dr. Jacob Moreno, psychodrama can be effective individually or in a group (sociodrama), and is sometimes offered in mental health programs, schools and businesses.

During each psychodrama session, participants reenact specific scenes and experiences with guidance from a therapist. These scenes may include past situations, dreams and preparations for future events. In a group setting, other participants play the roles of significant others or the audience, offering support and bringing to the surface underlying beliefs and issues.

What is Psychodrama Therapy Like?

In this form of therapy, clients will often play out multiple scenarios that depict specific life events, fantasies, dreams, or mental states. These dramatic presentations represent a client’s perception of a situation or are creations of their emotional processing mechanism. The therapist may encourage the client to take on other roles or assign identities to objects to expand the scene. Psychodrama is a very effective tool when applied in a group setting. When psychodrama is conducted in front of an audience, the participation is sensory and reactive. The protagonist may even invite the audience to participate further through verbal or physical actions, therefore creating a larger field through which the therapeutic process can exist.

Each Psychodrama session Consists of Three Phases: Warm-up, Action and Sharing.

WARM-UP is designed to produce atmosphere of creative possibility. This phase is concerned with establishing sociometric connections, building cohesiveness and increasing spontaneity. At this phase issues and concerns central to the group emerge and a protagonists is chosen. The protagonist may be chosen by the group, by the leader or by oneself. The group becomes the safe container, the womb within which a child is warmed up to the ultimate spontaneous act of birth. ACTION: The protagonist steps on the stage to take action on his behalf, to make changes around the issue he/she identified as a difficulty in the warm-up phase. The protagonist holds the intent and shares it with the group and the director. The action is completely unscripted; unfolding as the protagonist moves from scene to scene, unblocking spontaneity, getting closer to his center to the truth, through trance and catharsis to new insights and creative, novel ways of being.

Throughout the whole process he experiences consistent support and guidance from the director who utilizes techniques such as role-reversal, doubling, mirroring, surplus reality, etc. to help the process. Other group members are involved by either playing auxiliary roles in the protagonist’s drama, or by doubling, or by holding the energy of the space for the protagonist and for thems’elves and by participating emotionally in the protagonist’s story. SHARING: After the enactment is complete the protagonist re-enters the group. He/she had given the generous gift of bravery and truth, and it is now his tum to rest and receive while other members of the group share with himlher their feelings and insights that were brought up by the protagonist’s drama. After taking a huge risk of exposing his inner struggles, the protagonist can hear other people share similar painful feelings and experiences, so he feels accepted, supported and understood for who he/she is. What used to be private shame becomes public victory for all involved as the real human experiences are revealed and shared.


PROTAGONIST: A group member in the center of a psychodrama enacting a theme from his/her personal life or a theme chosen by the group as a central concern. “The protagonist is asked to be himself on the stage, to portray his own private world. He is told to be himself, not an actor, as the actor is compelled to sacrifice his own private self to the role imposed upon him by a playwright … no one as much an authority on himself as himself’. (Moreno,1953) A protagonist takes action on his own behalf, and by doing that is instrumental in catalyzing changes not only for his own benefit but also for the benefit of the whole group. The group assists the protagonist in doing the work.

DIRECTOR: A therapist trained in psychodrama whose role is to stimulate spontaneity, to guide, structure, co-produce the psychodrama with/for the protagonist and for the group. “The protagonist holds the key to the inner and outer world. The director holds the door which opens and closes and the group provides the frame”.

AUDIENCE: The group watching the drama providing a safe container and supportive witnessing. Having your inner world, experiences, struggles and breakthroughs being witnessed by others dispels the protagonist’s shame and isolation. Private shame becomes a public victory; what used to be hidden in the shadow comes into the spotlight in positive, empowering ways. Members of the audience are available to play auxiliary roles in the protagonist’s drama, to double and to share their personal experiences/feelings/insights in response to the protagonist’s work in the sharing phase of the drama.

AUXILIARY: A group member who plays a role in the protagonist’s drama. Auxiliaries can be chosen for the role by the protagonist or by the director. In some cases trained auxiliaries may be used.

DOUBLE: A specialized auxiliary who takes on the part of the inner self of the protagonist. The function of the double is to provide the protagonist with the experience of being fully supported and understood, to assist the protagonist in deepening the feeling and insight. The more support and acceptance is experienced by the protagonist, the safer they feel, the more risks they are willing to take, the more spontaneous they are going to be, the more creative choices and solutions will become available to them. For group members practicing doubling allows for the experience of empathy and separating it from personal projections, it satisfies act hunger and increases relatedness. DOUBLING as a technique is used by the director for the purposes stated above. It is also a very useful technique to use in individual, couples and family therapy.

THE STAGE: The sacred space, the safe container of the psyche where the protagonist enacts his/her own perceptions of the world in which he/she lives. It is “the place of unpretending” where the truth is found and spoken.

THE MOMENT: Psychodramatic concept of time is that everything is happening in here and now. All action takes place in the present. As we center in our awareness of ourselves in the present we become indicative of our inner blockages, areas of tension in our lives. The enactment takes us back to the place and time where we got stuck in patterns of perceiving ourselves and the world that do not serve us anymore. By recreating that “present” which surrounded a past moment, we can uncover the dynamics of the moment; explore the relationships, the feelings in the context within they occurred. But this time around the “psychodrama tic cocoon” allows for new resolutions to emerge. Therefore the new experience replaces the old one overlaying our old memory of that moment, creating a “corrective emotional experience” that frees us up for the new ways of being. “Every true second living through the experience is the relief and release from the fITst” (Moreno).

ROLE REVERSAL: The staple of psychodrama techniques, which allows the protagonist to see themselves and the situation through the eyes other than our own.

MIRRORING: The technique that allows the protagonist to see his/her situation and him/herself from the outside.

SURPLUS REALITY: Removes the boundaries between what we consider our “reality” and imagination. In fact, whatever we can imagine can happen. If it could not happen, we would not be able to imagine it. I refer to it as a fact because I see again and again my clients’ wished for scenarios, concreticized and dramatized via psychodramatic enactments, then manifest in their lives. The same way the time collapses in psychodrama, so does the inner and outer world of a person. Our inner mind speaks in metaphors; so concreticized metaphors become part of the action as they represent an important part of the protagonist’s psyche. As we are co-creating our reality, anything is possible, whether it is projecting an ideal vision of one’s future or re-creating the missing experiences from the past. Often in psychodrama people in the protagonist’s life who died or were absent are brought into a dialogue, so that what was missing could be completed and healed. “There are certain invisible dimensions in the reality of living, not fully experienced or expressed …. and for those who failed to experience them, life is incomplete … that is why we have to use surplus operations and surplus instruments to bring them out in our therapeutic settings.” (Moreno, 1966)

Goals and Purpose of Psychodrama.

The primary goal of Psychodrama is to increase the impulsivity of our own emotions in a highly organized, yet creative and productive manner. It is intended to give an open forum for the discovery and exploration of internal and external conflicts and dysfunctions through dramatic play. Most sessions will last for up to two hours and revolve around the primary character, the protagonist. By engaging other characters, the protagonist can learn a great deal about their own interpersonal skills and formulate the proper techniques to construct positive and effective behavioral changes. This method of therapy challenges the client, and all of the characters involved, in a new and exciting way that expands their boundaries of experience.

Psychodrama is used to treat a variety of conditions, including:

• Addiction
• Trauma
• Autism
• Eating Disorders
• Adoption and Attachment Issues

Psychodrama can be a powerful experience. Because it is an active, “real-time” therapy, psychodrama can be an empowering alternative to
traditional talk therapy.

Psychodrama can help people:

• Improve their relationships and communication skills
• Overcome grief and loss
• Restore confidence and well-being
• Enhance learning and life skills
• Express their feelings in a safe, supportive environment
• Experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving

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