A Brief Description of Psychodrama

Psychodrama is a role playing method of therapy developed by J.L. Moreno in turn of the century Vienna. Moreno is considered to be the father of group psychotherapy and his work represents the first attempts to treat people in groups rather than exclusively in a one to one setting, as was the standard set by Freud during this period.

Psychodrama allows complexes and conflicts to be concretized by casting group members to play roles from the life of the protagonist. It allows the protagonist to have a physical “encounter” with the self; to see and experience what he carries within his mind and body, so that it can be made explicit, concrete and can be dealt with in the here and now. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The purpose of psychodramatic role plays is to resolve through action insight rather than talk alone. Through role play, thinking, feeling and behavior emerge simultaneously to allow for a fuller picture of what is being carried in the psyche to come into view. The “double” acts as an inner voice putting words on interior thoughts, sensations and emotions that may be less than conscious. This “doubling” from others helps to enhance awareness of self and provide the protagonist with a feeling of being seen, supported and understood. “Role reversal” allows the protagonist to actually stand in the shoes of other persons in the role play in order to see the self from the position of the other and to actually experience being “in the skin” someone else.

The Basic Elements

The Stage: The designated area where the enactment is occurring

The Protagonist: The person whose issues are being explored

The Director: The facilitator or therapist; the director follows the lead of the protagonist

The Auxiliary Egos: The role players in the protagonist’s drama, chosen by the protagonist

The Audience: The “group” who witnesses the action and from which roles are selected

The Format

Warm Up: When the group “warms up” to their own issues and those present within the group

Enactment: The actual role play or “action” part of the psychodramatic process

Sharing: The group sharing, processing, closure and identifying with elements of the role play

Dynamics and Techniques

Doubling: When the director or group members stand behind the protagonist and act as an “inner voice” articulating what is not being said but may be being experienced unconsciously

Role Reversal: Physically “reversing roles” and playing the part of another person, place or thing within the drama in order to gain a fuller, richer perspective on the self. Role reversal also allows the protagonist to gain insight into what might be driving the behavior of another person.

Theoretical Underpinnings

Catharsis: The expulsion of deep emotion be in grief, anger, sadness, confusion, laughter or joy.

ACT Hunger: A hunger for or towards action of some kind.

Act completion: Bringing an act hunger into a state of closure, satisfaction or completion.

Action insight: Insight that occurs as a result of or during enactments

Concretization: The act of externalizing in service of healing; giving shape and form to the intrapsychic world of the protagonist.

Open tensions: Areas within the psyche or self system that feel unfinished, incomplete or left in a state of anxious, unfinished closure.

Role-playing: The acting out of an aspect of self, surplus reality or a significant person in the protagonist’s life.

Surplus reality: The intra psychic reality and dynamics of a person, what shapes, drives and defines their inner world and their thinking feeling and behavior.