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The Guide to Psychodrama

As a child, you probably had intense sessions with your playmates where you played dress up, took on a character and pretended to be a different person entirely. This is known as role-playing. Role-playing is a major feature of psychodrama. Psychodrama is a creative form of therapy that digs deep through role play in a bid to explore the problems and difficulties that people might have in their daily lives. Basically, those in treatment explore issues through dramatic action. In this article, we explore the concept of Psychodrama, what it means, its origin, its benefits, and its limitations.

Psychodrama: What Is It?

Psychodrama is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Jacob Moreno. It uses guided dramatic action to examine problems raised by an individual. Problems and their solutions are acted out instead of just being talked about. It offers individuals the opportunity to take on new roles, view themselves from an outside perspective, gain deeper insight and effect change. Psychodrama can be used in group or individual therapy. It can also be used in family and couples therapy.

How Does Psychodrama Suggest The Mind Works?

Moreno described psychodrama as the “scientific exploration of truth through the dramatic method”. By acting out certain scenarios that represent issues going on in a person’s life, the therapist gains understanding into how the individual reacts in certain scenarios and can then suggest better ways the individual can approach similar situations in future. Ultimately, psychodramatic therapy’s goal is to come up with solutions for old unresolved problems and suggest appropriate solutions to new problems through role play.

How Does Psychodrama Cause Change?

According to Moreno & Moreno in their book titled, “Psychodrama: Vol 3: Action therapy and principles of practice”,  “Psychodrama enables the protagonist to build a bridge beyond the roles he plays in his daily existence, to surpass and transcend the reality of life as he lives it, to get into a deeper relationship with his existence, to come as close as possible to the highest form of encounter of which he is capable.”

What Happens In A Psychodrama Session

Psychodrama sessions are typically group therapy sessions with about 8-12 members. The sessions generally last 2 hours. In psychodrama, participants usually act out roles in the scenarios from other participant’s lives.  Each psychodrama ‘act’ focuses on the life situation of a particular individual with the other group members taking on necessary roles. Through this, the participants gain deep insight into their past issues, learn how to navigate present challenges and become aware of future possibilities.

Psychodrama sessions usually have three phases: the warm-up phase, the action phase, and the sharing phase.

The warm-up phase is the initial phase and it’s all about getting the participants to feel safe with each other and building trust based on mutual respect and an assurance of confidentiality. This helps participants share freely without fear of judgment. A handy technique used in warm up is role presentation where participants get to play around and use a role of their choice to introduce themselves. This helps to break the ice.

In the action phase, the protagonist is aided by the therapist to create a scene based on important events in their life. The therapist directs the session and other participants act as auxiliary egos i.e individuals from the protagonist’s life.  The rest of the participants act as an audience.

The final phase is the sharing phase where the therapist helps the protagonist process the scene. Talking through the meaning of the emotions that have been exposed is essential for transformation. In the sharing phase, there’s a general group discussion where participants discuss the events that took place in the action phase in depth.

Techniques Used In Psychodrama

Psychodrama uses a range of techniques to explore the interaction between the participants during the ‘action phase’ and enable the therapist to examine how that situation has made the protagonist feel and how it might have been handled differently.  Here are the four main techniques:

  1. Role reversal: The protagonist enacts the role of an important person in their life. This helps the protagonist understand the other person better be more empathetic towards them. It also helps the therapist fully appreciate the relationship dynamics. For example, a man who’s having communication problems in his relationship that result in frequent arguments with his significant other would act out a typical conversation as himself with one of the group members who assumes the role of his significant other. After this, the roles would be reversed and the group member will assume the role of the man, while the man assumes the role of his partner. In this way, the man is able to see things from his partner’s perspective.
  2. Mirroring- This technique involves the protagonist simply observing while other participants take up the role of the protagonist. To illustrate this, a woman experiencing conflict in her workplace watches another participant play her role in the same way that she originally demonstrated. She can then watch this person ‘mirror’ her and how she acts in specific situations. It can help her identify body language or patterns of speech that are problematic. This helps her learn to consciously communicate better in the future.
  3. Doubling- Here, the protagonist acts as themselves but have a participant shadowing them.  The ‘shadow’ acts in a way which reflects the signals that the protagonist is giving off. For example, if the protagonist is clenching their fist, the shadow might say something like ‘I’m really angry right now’. Usually, the therapist will stop the scene and ask the protagonist if that’s the emotion they were feeling. This helps the protagonist identify nonverbal cues that they give off and help them to be more conscious in future interactions.
  4. Soliloquy- The protagonist shares inner thoughts and feelings with the audience.


Does Psychodrama Therapy Work?

Psychodrama affords participants a safe, supportive environment in which to practice new and more effective roles and behaviors. It can be a very powerful and empowering experience. It is also a great alternative to traditional talk therapy and it has great benefits. Psychodrama can help people:

  • Improve their relationships and communication skills.
  • Gain emotional healing and overcome grief and loss.
  • Become more confident and self assured.
  • Learn new and more positive ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Express their feelings in a safe space without holding back.

What Kind Of Concerns Is Psychodrama Best For?

Anybody undergoing therapy can benefit from psychodrama as long as they’re willing to be vulnerable and present themselves before others. Psychodrama helps individuals express their feelings and emotions in the best way possible. It also provides them with tactics for containing their feelings. One study showed psychodrama to be effective in treating middle school-aged girls who had experienced trauma. The girls who participated in the study reported being less anxious, depressed and withdrawn after participating in a psychodrama group for 20 weeks.

Psychodrama is a great solution for a wide range of concerns including the following:

  • Relationship conflict
  • Trauma
  • Grief
  • Addiction
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Identity issues
  • Attachment issues

How Are Psychodrama Specialists Trained?

The American Board Of Examiners In Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Therapy is in charge of training and certification for psychodrama specialists. Those who intend to pursue a career in psychodrama must possess a master’s degree in a related field and complete at least 780 hours of training with supervisors certified by the board. They must also have 52 weeks of supervised and professional practice in sociometry, psychodrama and group therapy and take part in 40 supervised sessions that last 50 minutes each. In addition, they must participate in professional development exercises such as workshops and seminars during and after their certification.

Concerns/Limitations Of Psychodrama

One of the major criticisms of psychodrama is that there is little or no empirical evidence to support its impact.

Also, the warm-up phase can be very tricky because it’s quite difficult to establish trust among people who have never met each other and encourage them to share their secrets and flaws

Maintaining confidentiality is usually quite difficult. When a group format is used, the counselor usually emphasizes the need for confidentiality and members usually sign a contract of confidentiality. However, there are currently no legal implications for breaking confidentiality.  Also, a threat to confidentiality can hinder the effectiveness of psychodrama because participants become wary of expressing themselves.

Important Practitioners In Psychodrama

Jacob Moreno is the father of psychodrama. He was a 20th-century psychiatrist who developed psychodrama in the early 1900s, and he held the first session in 1921. He’s credited for coining the phrase ‘group therapy’ and he emphasized the importance and usefulness of group therapy. In the late 1930s, he founded the Beacon Hospital where psychodrama was practiced. In 1942, he established the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. When he died in 1974, his wife Zerka continued teaching people about psychodrama.

How To Find A Therapist

You can find a therapist who is a licensed psychodrama therapist on the American Board Of Examiners In Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Therapy registry.

What Should I Be Looking For In An LMHP?

You should be looking for a psychodrama specialist with proof of certification and a license to practice. You should also check to see how much experience the specialist has.

Questions To Ask A Potential Therapist

  • How long have you been practicing psychodrama?
  • Do you think group therapy is useful for me?
  • How do you think this form of treatment will be beneficial to me?
  • How much experience do you have in this field?
  • Do you consider yourself an expert in psychodrama?
  • Do you have any concerns about me using this technique?
  • How much do sessions cost and will this be covered by my insurance?
  • What is your cancellation policy?

Psychodrama enables the participant to see things from different perspectives. In doing so, it enables the participant to identify problems they may have been previously unaware of. Through discussions with the therapist and other participants, the participant learns healthier ways of handling situations.

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