Building Emotional Intelligence with Psychodrama

Psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy utilize various tools which are unequaled in their ability to teach emotional intelligence (EI) to individuals, groups and organization through the ability to help others “experience” the components of EI in themselves and in others, through the role reversal process. Role reversal exercises can be done in one-on-one settings using an empty chair and/or other object to represent the other, or in a group with people playing the role of the other (known as “auxiliaries”).

Role reversal, developed by J.L. Moreno, M.D., founder of psychodrama, sociometry and group therapy, is the key element in psychodrama. Role reversal is the act of and ability to change places with others, physically, attitudinally, and emotionally. Role reversal is used in psychodrama almost exclusively, as a therapeutic technique. During a role reversal, the enactor of personal action work (known as a “protagonist”) chooses someone in the group to play the role of a part of the self or another, and during the course of action, changes places with that “other”, which leads to an oftentimes powerful experience of relating to the other while in that other’s role.

Many insights can be generated while in the role of the other that oftentimes cannot be accessed while in the role of the self. While we are in the role of ourselves, we tend to view the world through our own set of attitudes, prejudices, fixed cultural conserves, and fears or wishes. When role reversing with the other, and actually being in the other’s shoes so to speak, we shed ourselves momentarily and try on the role of the other – and all that means for that other person. People in role reversal often actually take on the postures, behaviors and speech of the other, which further deepens the full experience of steeping in the role of the other person for a time. Oftentimes when in the role of other, or sometime after, the protagonist will experience a shift in belief about the other, and the self, along with accompanied emotional changes. While in the role of the other in a psychodrama, the protagonist will speak back to himself, while the role of self being played and held by another group member. Then, the protagonist moves back into his or her own role, and hears back what was revealed from the role of the other. Experiencing the other, and then speaking back to the self while in the role of another, is the ingenuity that Dr. Moreno developed to enable people to fully gain the learning from the other that needs to take place for themselves. “Aha. I think I can understand now how the other person sees me and my situation”, often is spoken by the protagonist once an encounter with the other is experienced. “And I understand and see the other differently now as well.” These experiences are the fundamental building blocks for increasing emotional intelligence.

Many variations on the role reversal can take place in psychodrama action. Role reversal is also used in sociodrama, which is action in a group that examines a social, business, or other societal issue. In these cases, personal work is not the focus, but rather, the group and the topical problem is examined. Role reversals take place with members of society or of a business community so that empathy and attunement to the emotional and systemic needs of the organization can be learned and understood. Emotional intelligence is then increased while people play various roles they choose, as well as by witnessing others play roles and through identification of the different roles among those in the audience.

Both psychodrama and sociodrama finish action sequences with sharing among group members, which is the opportunity for members to discuss learning and share feedback of identification of the roles from their own experience. This sharing experience assists members in integrating their intellectual and emotional learning and further deepens their attachment and empathy with one another, key components of EI. Personal identifications with group members and personal, social or business roles and struggles are made and deepened. Such social connectedness (called sociometry by Dr. Moreno) is the goal of action work, which according to Dr. Moreno, “should include no less than the whole of mankind.” As such, the tools of psychodrama, sociometry, sociodrama and group therapy can be endless in their teaching and healing possibilities, for individuals and societies. Emotional intelligence not only impacts the individual, but has myriad and immeasurable effects on organizations and societies as a whole.