Psychodrama uses guided drama exercises to explore and review individual issues. Used in psychotherapy, it enables clients to spontaneously dramatize and role-play. These actions help people access inner challenges and give them applicable insights to drive change. It may be used during alcohol or drug rehab.
Dr. Jacob Levy Moreno first pioneered psychodrama in the 1920s by exploring the technique on a theater stage. A psychodrama therapy group reenacts real-life past events (or thoughts and decisions) or future expected activities by acting them out. Participants may then evaluate their actions, examine and reflect on how past incidents influence the present, and more acutely understand particular episodes or circumstances in their lives.
A core principle in psychodrama is the theory of spontaneity-creativity. Moreno said that we need to be spontaneous in order to create new paths for our lives and find ways to approach our past. The ability to improvise in the moment is crucial in creating new solutions. The process encourages spontaneous reactions to spur creative problem-solving.
By solving problems, participants discover new solutions and learn new ways to adapt. Moreno focused on spontaneous action by directing the Theatre of Spontaneity. He was unsatisfied with conventional, scripted theater, so he founded an improvisational ensemble in the 1920s that allowed him to experiment and improvise. This theater helped advance his psychodramatic theory.
Not intended to be a form of group therapy, psychodrama is actually individual psychotherapy within a group setting. There are often incidental benefits for group members who may benefit from the insights they gain from protagonists and apply them to their own lives.
Today, psychodrama has evolved into a creative holistic therapy for individuals or groups (sociodrama) to explore and solve personal problems. It has also found a variety of clinical applications, including addiction therapy. The use of psychodrama in group addiction recovery programs, involving the inclusion of other group members to become therapeutic agents (stand-ins) to populate the scene, may help the whole group connect and learn.
Components of Psychodrama
A psychodrama session often includes:
- The warm-up: The director or a trained therapist guides the group to a theme and selects a protagonist. An ice-breaker may be used to help members of the group discuss how to view the session from creative and open-minded perspectives. The director encourages participants to enter a frame of mind that encourages creative and spontaneous feedback and learning.
- The action: The part of the session when the actual acting occurs. The acting is open and fluid and reflects reality as much as possible. There are no predetermined outcomes and there is room for expression and reactions. Within the action session, the director uses several techniques to highlight and amplify the insights and responses that flow from the various reactions and reflections of the protagonist.
- Mirroring: The protagonist steps out of the scene after acting out an activity. Another actor in the group replaces the protagonist to act in that scene. This process allows the protagonist to see from an external viewpoint how others interpret his or her behavior. It may create a group bond between actors who accurately mimic each other. Improvisation is encouraged during the action session. People may create alternative endings and suggest optional solutions. Creative alternatives enable the protagonist to see and explore different possible solutions to the problems.
- Doubling: The goal of doubling is to reveal what the protagonist may be experiencing but is unable to verbalize. This double may be either be the director or another member. The double normally stands behind the protagonist and verbalizes thoughts or feelings that the protagonist may be unable or unwilling to say due to shyness, guilt, fear, anger, or politeness. Protagonists may be unaware of these thoughts or unable to verbalize them, so their doubles seek to make them conscious to all. Doubles try to create a link between the inner state and the external reality of the protagonist. The protagonist has the option to refute or modify any comments made by the double. This way, doubling cannot be wrong and creates an opportunity to express inner feelings.
- Role-playing: The protagonist plays the role of someone who is problematic to him or her. This reveals inner feelings and conflicts clearly and enables protagonists to see the root cause of their problems and the effects they have.
- Soliloquy: The protagonist speaking his or her thoughts out loud in order to express hidden emotions and create self-knowledge and awareness.
- Role reversal: The protagonist is asked to act the role of another actor, while a second actor takes over as the protagonist. This allows the protagonist to think as another person and see the scene from a different perspective. It also has the benefit of mirroring, since the protagonist sees someone else acting in his or her place.
- Future projection: The protagonist often takes scenes from the past in other aspects of psychodrama. But with future projection scenes, the protagonist is able to anticipate what may happen in situations in the future.
- Post-discussion: The protagonist and the other actors openly comment on the session’s scenes, actions, and responses from their own individual viewpoints. These commentaries are not critiques but a way to empathize with the protagonist and share experiences. The group members may relate how they connect with the experience of the protagonist. Seeing unexpected issues that arise may teach members how to work through them to change future decisions and outcomes. In a nonjudgmental environment, members may share stories, new ideas, and new approaches to move forward.
In a psychodrama session, one member of the group plays the protagonist and focuses on a personally and emotionally problematic situation by role-playing. A variety of scenes may be enacted. They may depict happenings from the past, emotions or circumstances that cause inner turmoil, or preparations for future decisions.
Such scenes often mirror real-life circumstances or are externalizations of inner mental pictures. Other members of the group often play auxiliary roles. They may support the protagonist by acting out roles in the scene or may serve as doubles who fill in the roles of the protagonists.
Application to addiction therapy
Sociodrama is focused on enhanced application that targets not just the individual protagonist (as with psychodrama) but the whole group. Focusing on the group provides a holistic therapy for all. Sociodrama and psychodrama have many applications in the field of behavioral and mental health, including addiction treatment.
Psychodrama and sociodrama methods may be used to help individuals and groups practice better stress management, improve communication skills, connect better in social situations, and learn healthy coping mechanisms through group sessions. The technique may help people explore previous emotional trauma and individuals may learn how to improve daily life decisions and choices.
Some initial but limited studies on the effectiveness of psychodrama indicate that role reversal and doubling produced significant improvement rates. Individuals who practiced the techniques seemed to gain insight into who they were. They faced their problems and expressed their feelings better while they were improving their group unity and interaction.
Through sociodrama, actors learn ways to handle the past, situations that may lead to relapse, and potentially harmful situations in the future. They may do this by learning coping methods to overcome stressors and triggers. Participants also experienced improved communication with family and enhanced life skills.
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Psychodrama gives a direct methodology that may give clients useful insights about their own emotions and themselves through acting and role-playing while they are observing others who are doing the same. As a holistic therapy method, it may encourage confidence and improve clients’ ability to relate to the world around them.
Individuals and clients who better understand themselves may find it easier to deal with close family members, friends, and other groups in society. When utilized as part of the addiction recovery plan, psychodrama may be a beneficial tool to sustain a long, healthy recovery.
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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