In therapy, as in life, some level of drama can be necessary. Truth be told, drama is a nearly inevitable aspect of all our life experiences. This fact sheds some light on why drama has been used through the years both in theater and for emotional healing. Psychodrama has put an innovative spin on the approach of “talking it out”. Instead, with psychodrama, you become an actor portraying either yourself or another significant character in a short drama play about certain events in your life.
By taking to the stage along with other “actors”, you have the opportunity to consider your life from different points of view. Life will applaud your efforts and you may learn that there are more ways than one for a scenario to play out.
Psychodrama: What is it?
Psychodrama is a form of therapy in which people explore their issues by using role playing and dramatic self-presentation. The aim of this method is to help people gain insight into their lives. In other words, they are encouraged to gain perspective on their emotional concerns or conflicts in a safe and trusted environment.
In group therapy, psychodrama essentially uses action methods to delve into issues that are identified in the therapy group.
The theory of psychodrama was developed by the Psychiatrist J.L. Moreno in the early 1900’s and it came to be recognized as the first established method of group psychotherapy. Moreno observed the way in which role-playing exercises affected professional actors. He became intrigued by the idea of combining his interest in philosophy, the theater, and mysticism for therapeutic purposes.
As psychodrama took a more clinical form through the years, it was transformed into a more structured and specific method of psychotherapy.
The modern approach of psychodrama is based on the known fact that life is quite dramatic in itself. The theory is that drama can be used in an artistic manner to address psychological issues. Role-playing, enactment, impersonation, and improvisation are used for the purpose of assisting people in dealing with different aspects of their lives.
How Does Psychodrama Suggest the Mind Works?
Psychodrama is a strengths-based approach to psychotherapy through which people are helped to explore situations in their own lives through enactment. The past, present, and future can be used to gain perspective on certain life events.
Some key principles of the approach include spontaneity, creativity, group dynamics, and role-playing. People are guided to understand their roles in life, the ways in which they interact with other people and how certain things create challenges in their lives.
How Does Psychodrama Cause Change?
People in treatment under the psychodrama approach use action methods to look upon occurrences in the past, present or future. They gain a better perspective on life events and it allows for correction through re-experiencing and improvement is achieved through role rehearsal and expression.
Psychodrama helps people to see their lives from an outside perspective. A session is regarded as a safe place for the person to consider new solutions to their life challenges.
What Happens in a Psychodrama Session?
Psychodrama sessions are generally presented as group therapy sessions on a weekly basis. The groups are normally made up of 8 to 12 members and the sessions last anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours.
A psychodrama includes:
- The protagonist
- The auxiliary egos
- The audience
- The director
Each psychodrama is focused on one person’s life situation with the members of the group taking on different roles as needed. The protagonist is mostly the individual whose story is presented. Through role play and dramatic enactment, the group develops greater insight into the struggles of the person whose life is concerned and they have a chance to learn how to manage future events more effectively. All the participants gain knowledge and perspective from a group session as each person should be able to relate to the situation at some level.
A session is most often executed in three phases.
- Warm-up phase
- Action phase
- Sharing phase
The aim of the warm-up phase is to create a safe feeling among the members attending the session and to allow them to establish trust in each other. This is extremely important as the group members need to be comfortable enough to perform action methods and to explore the issues in question.
Role presentation is a technique used in the warm-up phase during which the group members introduce themselves and assume specific roles. One person may volunteer to be the protagonist of the psychodrama who will be the focal character of the enactment.
During the action phase, the therapist assists the protagonist to create a scene based on the significant event under evaluation. Other group members play auxiliary roles in the psychodrama while the session is directed by the therapist. The remaining participants act as the audience.
After the initial performance, the scene is acted out again with alternate endings. These endings would, typically, empower the protagonist or provide ways to correct the portrayal in some or other way.
In the sharing phase, the therapist abandons the role of director so as to assist in processing the played-out scene. The feelings and emotions that were at play need to be processed for transformation to take place. The sharing phase allows time for discussing the events that transpired during the action phase.
Techniques Used in Psychodrama
The following are fundamental techniques used in the action phase of a psychodrama session:
- Role reversal
This is a technique in which the protagonist steps out of character to assume the role of someone important in their life. Through this action, the protagonist is enabled to understand what role the other person plays and this also helps the therapist to get a better understanding of the relationship dynamics involved. Another benefit of role reversal is that it may increase empathy toward others.
In mirroring, the protagonist observes as others take over their role in the play and act out an event involving their life. The mirroring technique is helpful in a situation where the protagonist is feeling particularly disconnected from feelings or emotions. It may also help in cases where extremely negative feelings are a concern.
Doubling is a technique in which a member of the group adopts the movements and behaviors of the protagonist. The actor attempts to express their inner emotions and thoughts. In other words, they reveal what they believe the protagonist might have felt or thought in a specific situation.
With this technique, the protagonist shares their inner feelings and thoughts with the audience. This can be achieved by speaking to a double.
Does Psychodrama Work?
Psychodrama allows for correction by means of re-experiencing and active improvement brought about by role rehearsal and expression. Participants in psychodrama may discover the benefits it has for the development and enhancement of cognitive and behavioral skills and for boosting emotional well-being.
The psychodrama approach can facilitate the expression of emotions and feelings effectively. It can also help people who seek to exercise greater control over their emotions. As a holistic technique, psychodrama works with both the body and mind. It is regarded as a successful approach for various concerns.
What Kinds of Concerns is Psychodrama Best For?
Psychodrama may be a beneficial approach for people who are experiencing problems with their emotional functioning, social functioning and relationships. It may also help patients who have experienced a traumatic life event, the loss of a loved-one or people with addiction problems.
People in treatment for eating disorders or mood disorders may find the psychodrama approach worth-while as they can communicate their pain and the challenges they face in a safe space.
How Are Psychodrama Specialists Trained?
The American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama, Sociometry, and Group Psychotherapy governs the training and certification of professionals who use psychodrama in practice.
To become known as a practitioner who is certified to utilize psychodrama in treatment, an individual needs to complete training with Board-certified professionals and participate in supervised sessions. Furthermore, once certified and throughout the process of certification; professionals need to participate in continuing education workshops.
Concerns/Limitations of Psychodrama
Therapists who work with the psychodrama approach generally report the effectiveness of the treatment based on their experience of transformation within therapy groups. To date, little empirical research is available to support the effects of psychodrama. However, recently, psychodrama and its effects have been receiving more attention.
Seeing as trust and safety form an essential part of the psychodrama approach, group members who intend to part-take in a session need to be pre-screened and prepared beforehand. The therapist has to ensure that the group members are willing to work on sensitive issues. Any people who are not open to this should be referred for individual therapy. This process can be quite time-consuming for the therapist.
Another aspect of psychodrama that requires a lot of time and effort is the lengthy warm-up phase. The group members have to learn to trust one another to be comfortable enough to act out life events spontaneously.
Confidentiality is also an important concern in psychodrama. The therapist has to discuss confidentiality with the group members. This is to make sure that they understand the events involved in the psychodrama are meant to be kept in the group. At the beginning of the psychodrama session, every group member has to sign a confidentiality contract. There are, however, no legal implications for breaking this agreement. If someone did break the confidentiality, the therapist would hold a group meeting during which the group may democratically decide whether the person should be kept in the group. Trust within the group along with a feeling of safety is important to the psychodrama and a break in confidentiality can hinder its effectiveness.
Important Practitioners in Psychodrama
The method of Psychodrama was developed by J.L. Moreno and it continued to expand and grow as he predicted. Other notable names in the field include:
- Martin Haskell
- Eya Fechnin Branham
- Anne Ancelin Schutzenberger
- Gretel Leutz
- Marcia Karp
How to Find a Therapist
Online directories are available for your convenience to help you find a therapist. The ASGPP (American Society of Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama) website contains a link that guides you to such a directory.
What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?
A therapist who uses Psychodrama in treatment should ideally be certified with The American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama, Sociometry, and Group Psychotherapy. They should also be active participants in continuing education workshops or other professional activities.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
If you are curious about the psychodrama approach or if you want to find out if you or a loved one could benefit from this form of treatment; get in touch with a professional who can provide you with more information.
Psychodrama may hold the solution to the puzzles that you face in your life.
Find a therapist who can help to put the pieces back together!
The psychodrama approach allows people to safely express their inner feelings and it may also help those who need to keep their emotions in check. Participants have the opportunity to move from the “talk about it” approach to a more actionable approach. Through this, they have a chance to heal the past, see the present more clearly and imagine the future.
The world is a stage and maybe it is time for you to face your world and let the show begin!