Psychodrama – an Introduction to the modality, by Julie Lacy

J L Moreno studied philosophy and medicine at Vienna University from 1909-17.  A director of a children’s hospital, and then a General Practitioner, he explored his theories about dramatic re-enactment and play with children in city parks and with local actors.  He also worked with socially disadvantaged people while formulating his pioneering ideas about groups.  Moreno immigrated to America in 1925, and while working in prisons, reform schools and hospitals, set about creating a new contribution to psychiatry, originating the term ‘group psychotherapy’. 

By 1936 he had developed a unique, creative therapeutic modality – psychodrama.   

Now practised on all continents by highly qualified practitioners, who are trained at accredited institutes in many countries, and who belong to professional registration bodies, psychodrama is found in diverse settings such as mental health, community, education, environment, corporate, justice, politics, law, arts and human rights.

Psychodrama employs guided dramatic action as an approach to understanding feelings and behavior, relationships, and the challenges and opportunities of living an authentic life.   Scenes from life, real or imagined, or from one’s inner world, or unconscious – past, present or future – are created in the present moment.  These enactments may also enable hidden stories to emerge, and so create opportunity for new choices to be made.  A psychodrama experience can lead to the creation of different perspectives and raised self awareness, and often builds a deeper appreciation of one’s self, others, and the environment.

Typically, a psychodrama group constitutes several particpants and a qualified psychodrama practitioner, who takes the role of director of the psychodramatic action.  The group engage in a warm up session that effectively warms them up to the themes of the group, which may have been explicit (eg Strengthing Partnerships) or may emerge from what is called the Group Concern.  This means there is a core theme the participants have brought with them, consciously or unconsciously, and are interested and warmed up to explore.

A protagonist – the person who is at the centre of the enactment – volunteers to explore their story.  The director co-creates a contract with the protagonist, so that all in the group are clear about the purpose of the exploration and what the protagonist aims to achieve.

The enactment can take many forms with the utilisation of a variety of action techniques.  Group members are chosen by the protagonist to take the role of others and the story is played out with the director working very closely and empathically alongside the protagonist.  A key technique is Role Reversal – where the protagonist reverses roles with others in the drama.  This technique has great potential to promote awareness for the protagonist, leading to action insight, catharsis, new perspectives and often a preparedness for change and/or cause to celebrate, and create new future paths.

Following the psychodrama, group members share with the protagonist, reflecting upon how the story resonated for them as individual members, and how, from their own life experience,  they related to the drama.

Psychodrama philosophy and creative action provides safe, fertile ground for stories to be witnessed and respected and for people to deepen their connection with themselves, others and the world around them.  It is often a profound experience for all and is akin to the act of ritual, as our ancestors have devised for eons, as a means to engage mind, body and spirit and to share with each other so that we can connect and heal.