Psychodrama: An Introduction

drama-an-introI have been incorporating psychodrama into my therapy sessions for the past twenty-one years. I utilize it primarily in group sessions but there are some helpful applications in individual sessions as well. Psychodrama can be defined as follows: a method of group psychotherapy in which participants take roles in improvisational dramatizations of emotionally charged life situations. The extemporized dramatization is designed to afford catharsis and social relearning for one or more of the participants from whose life history the plot is abstracted.

The following is a general overview of the general purpose and typical structure of psychodrama. In this powerful therapeutic technique, clients more or less spontaneously dramatize their personal trauma before an audience of fellow group members and their therapist. Some of the group members are chosen to participate in the dramatization. The lead therapist functions in the role of director, and encourages and supports participants to project as much as possible into their roles. He or she also occasionally modifies the parts of the players. The subject matter of the drama is typically an emotionally charged traumatic event common to the group participants or more specifically from the client’s life experiences.

The desired goal of psychodrama is to help the client gain some emotional release and control over existential anxiety that is provoked in similar situations or triggers in their present life. They also learn new, healthier ways to respond to their emotional triggers in the future. Sometimes the therapist will have an auxiliary character switch roles with the protagonist, so that the participant(s) may observe and react to themselves as others see them. All dramatizations are followed by discussion between participants and therapists.

First Stages of Group Process

I will now unpack some of what has been presented. In clinical vernacular, psychodrama can be conceptualized as a process of externalizing the internalized processes of the primary participant. One person is thus chosen to share their traumatic events with the group. It is important for the therapist to consider possible time frames for the ensuing work. Because closure is so imperative when doing deeper psychodynamic work, it is important to err in the direction of having time left over rather than running out of time. This is one of the reasons that my groups typically are scheduled to run for three hours. In working with trauma victims I personally commit to staying over if and when someone’s process is not complete.

Once chosen to do work, the client then provides information to their group about who the primary people were that were involved in the dynamics of the trauma in their lives. The client is then asked to intuitively choose people to play the various roles that are discussed. Group members can then agree or choose not to play the requested role. Most group members will agree to attempt the role assigned, as they realize the potential opportunity to help the participant heal and get free from their past trauma. Occasionally a requested role closely resembles a similar event in the group member’s past and they are not comfortable in playing that particular role at the present time. Since groups are carefully screened in advance and most have been working groups for a period of time, it is understood by all group members that they are empowered to speak up about their needs in regard to whether they play the role or not. Since most things that happen in therapy are to some extent a projection of inner dynamics, it becomes noteworthy as to who is asked to participate. I will elaborate more on that next month.

© Copyright 2010 by Bill Mason. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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  • Hollis

    Hollis

    March 2nd, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    Does this seem to meet the same kind of success rate that play therapy will often have when working with children with emotional problems? I am likening it to play therapy per se but it seems to be along the same lines.

  • Eliza Jane

    Eliza Jane

    March 3rd, 2010 at 4:01 PM

    This sounds like a very good way to go about things because while in the same situation again as they were that actually started their trauma, the person may actually find or may happen to show the therapist what actually went wrong…it is like a video of the incident has been archived and is now being played to the therapist, which will enable the professional to take more specific measures and provide a beter treatment overall.

  • Bill Mason

    Bill Mason

    April 1st, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    Hollis- The emotions that come to the surface are similar to the uncovering of trauma in play therapy. Because the process is designed to externalize the internalized process the success rate is consistently high. The simple truth is it is easier to recover and move forward when the individual gets a good view of what they are truly dealing with internally.

  • Bill Mason

    Bill Mason

    April 1st, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    Eliza- You are correct about the snapshot that is presented not only to the therapist(s)but also to the other group participants and of course the client revealing the past traumatic event. By allowing their original work to be seen and worked through, the consequences of the trauma become apparent. It is not unusual for the client to make strong connections with the original pain and subsequent acting out behavior(s). One family sculpting session can reveal enough information to work on for many future sessions.

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