History of Psychodrama and the Law

Psychodrama has been around a very long time.  It was originally devised and developed many decades ago by Jacob Levy Moreno (1889-1997).  Born in Austria, Moreno developed his theories around the turn of the 20th century; which was the same time Freud was “inventing” psychotherapy.

However, according to John Nolte, it was Gerry Spence who is largely credited with bringing psychodrama to law.  As he explains it: “Spence had experienced the human potential movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, and had been introduced to psychodrama through John Ackerman’s National College for Criminal Defense. Impressed by its power, he selected psychodrama to introduce TLC students to the business of personal growth and development work. (The Warrior Spring 2011).”

However, when Ackerman’s tenure as Dean ended in 1983, NCCD’s interest in psychodrama waned.  Gerry Spence then picked up the torch, and brought psychodrama to his Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC) in Wyoming in 1994.  The blending of psychodrama and law has been an ongoing process ever since. A few years after its inception, the TLC brought in psychodramatists John Nolte and Don Clarkson.  Since this time participating in other student’s psychodramas has been central to the methods taught at the TLC.

As the TLC continued to experiment with psychodrama, the faculty and students co-created a new way to think about trial, all based on one of the central tenants of psychodrama – role reversal.  A lawyer trained in psychodrama will role-reverse with a juror listening to the case.  The lawyer might also reverse roles with a witness prior and in preparation for cross-examination.  Creativity is the only bound, so a lawyer might role-reverse with an inanimate object so as to learn more about what really happened in the case being investigated.

Psychodrama’s basic concept of reenactment can also be brought into the courtroom.  In a psychodrama a “protagonist” (the person who is the subject of the psychodrama) might reenact a life scene of significance, and will do so for a therapeutic purpose.  In a trial, many of the same techniques can be used to reenact a scene of significance to a client’s case, and to do so before the judge and jury.

In this way the fact finders can more fully understand what really happened.  Not only will they hear the event described, they will see it and if done properly almost experience it themselves.  In this way psychodrama is not intended nor is it ever used to distort or manipulate, but instead it is intended to give the fact-finder a more accurate and honest portrayal of what happened.  In many ways it can be said that trial is really just a form of psychodrama, whether the participants realize it or not.

There are many ways for a lawyer wishing to learn more to obtain information about psychodrama and the law.  The best way is simply to experience psychodrama.  Another way is to attend a seminar such as those offered by the Trial Lawyer’s College.  Finally, there are many books on the subject.  Two great books, both of which were consulted for this blog, are:

  • Trial in Action, Garcia-Colson, Sison & Peckham
  • Twelve Hero’s One Voice, Bettinger

Both books are available from Trial Guides books.