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What Is Psychodrama and Can It Help Me?

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

           Widely considered to be one the first forms of group therapy, psychodrama is an experiential based treatment that uses action to explore and correct issues that have been identified in the group.  Jacob Levy Moreno, the individual who developed psychodrama as a therapeutic tool, established this tool in the treatment of trauma, substance use, and family issues.  Often one person, the protagonist, is chosen as their issue may represent the main elements of a group.  The protagonist brings forward their experience of the issue and other members of the group aid in the reenactment of the scene. 

           An example of where psychodrama could be helpful would be where the protagonist discusses concerns regarding childhood trauma due to exposure to constant and intense arguments between their parents.  Living in this environment might lead the protagonist to shut down or even “people please” in the face of any disagreement as to avoid the discomfort associated with their history of growing up in a chaotic household.  

           With the support of the group the protagonist may choose to reenact their experience growing up as they recall.  Members of the group would play different roles in the protagonist’s experience.  Reflecting on the emotional response of the protagonist is an important aspect of the reenactment, as it allows the protagonist to begin to reflect upon and unexpressed feelings, fears, or concerns during the original scene.  Towards the end of the exercise the scene may be done with an alternate ending, one in which the protagonist feels empowered to correct the scene in some way.  This would assist in the processing and reframing of the protagonist’s experience. 

           Once the exercise is concluded it is necessary for all members of the scene to debrief and discuss their experience.  This group debrief not only allows all members of the group to process their emotions related to the scene, but also helps to strengthen the group’s bond and dynamic.           

Therapists who utilize psychodrama in their practice to guide the group.  These could include:

1)      The Mirror – where a person in the group acts as a stand in for the protagonist which allows the protagonist to view the scene from an outside perspective.

2)      The Double – where a person speaks for another in a supportive tone, where the protagonist might not be able or ready to speak for themselves.

3)      Role Reversal – where participants reenact the scene multiple times in various roles.

4)      Future Projection – this is a scene that the protagonist expects to experience sometime soon and engages in the scene as preparation for the actual event. 

5)      Playback Theater – the group acts our out a person’s life story or experience and the therapist allows the drama to unfold in an unpredictable way.  This allows the group to understand the differences in situations while allowing them to still see the patterns that exist.  

While psychodrama takes a skilled hand on the part of the therapist to safely guide participants through troubling experiences, it can be a powerful clinical tool.  It can allow the group to experience feelings and emotions in an active environment, which can lead to improved communication and relationship skills.  [i]

Members of the group can learn to move through loss, grief, and trauma in a way that is restorative to well-being.  In a safe group environment, members of the group will have a chance to experiment in new ways of acting, responding, and thinking.  If you feel that you would like to engage with someone in a safe and supportive environment to process past or present concerns reach out to one of the licensed therapists with Symmetry Counseling.  You can reach out to us online at symmetrycounseling.com, or by calling us at (312) 578-9990 to set up an appointment. 

[i] Hoy, T. (2019, August 24). What is psychodrama therapy and what does it help with? Retrieved March 06, 2021, from https://www.regain.us/advice/therapist/what-is-psychodrama-therapy-and-what-does-it-help-with/

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