What is Psychodrama Group Therapy?

One definition of psychodrama, which comes from Antonina Garcia and Dale Buchanan, is as follows:

Psychodrama is a deep action method developed by Jacob Levy Moreno (1889 – 1974), in which people enact scenes from their lives, dreams or fantasies in “an effort to express unexpressed feelings, gain new insights and understandings, and practice new and more satisfying behaviors.”

Another way to define Psychodrama is to look at the two root words.  “Psycho” comes from the Greek root psyche and means breath, spirit, soul and mind.  In the English language “psycho” refers to the “mind” and comes from the combination of the two words psycho-logical and psycho-analysis.  The word “drama” is more straight forward and means a story, play, movie or television or radio program.  Put together then, a psycho-drama is quite literally a “drama of the mind and soul.”

Psychodrama is most often conducted in groups, where group members join in the reenactment of an event from a single person’s life.  In this way psychodrama differs from sociodrama, which looks at a group issue, or a Bibliodrama, which reenacts a story from bible, a psychodrama focuses on a single individual, who is called the protagonist.

History of Psychodrama

The history of psychodrama can be traced back to the early 20th century, when J.L. Moreno, a psychiatrist and sociologist, began developing the approach in Vienna, Austria.

Moreno was interested in exploring the ways that theater and drama could be used for therapeutic purposes, and he began experimenting with improvisational theater exercises with groups of patients. He believed that these exercises could help individuals work through their emotions and problems in a way that traditional talk therapy could not.

In the 1920s, Moreno moved to the United States, where he continued to develop and refine his ideas about psychodrama. He founded the Sociometric Institute in New York City. This is where he conducted research and training in psychodrama and related approaches, such as sociometry and group psychotherapy.

Moreno’s early work involved improvisational theater exercises with groups of patients. He believed that the spontaneity and creativity of these exercises could help individuals work through their emotions and problems in a way that traditional talk therapy could not.

He also believed that the process of taking on different roles and exploring different perspectives could be a powerful tool for personal growth and self-discovery. Psychodrama therapy involves using dramatization, role-playing, and storytelling to explore emotions, behaviors, and experiences in a safe and supportive environment.

Psychodrama is similar to drama therapy, except that psychotherapy is rooted in a sophisticated philosophy, science and practice that includes sociometry. It is a form of group therapy, but can be utilized in individual therapy.

The aim of psychodrama is to help individuals develop a deeper understanding of themselves, others, and the world around them. It is an interactive type of therapy focused on the group process. Psychodrama encourages the individual to express themselves creatively and explore new perspectives and possibilities.

Philosophy of Psychodrama

The philosophy of psychodrama is rooted in the belief that individuals can benefit from exploring and expressing their emotions and experiences through dramatic action. Psychodrama emphasizes the importance of creativity, spontaneity, and the exploration of different roles and perspectives as a means of personal growth and self-discovery.

At the core of psychodrama is the concept of “role,” which refers to the ways in which individuals act out different parts in their lives, such as parent, friend, worker, and so on. In psychodrama, participants are encouraged to explore these roles through dramatic scenes, in which they can experiment with new ways of being and expressing themselves.

Another key concept in psychodrama is the idea of “spontaneity,” which refers to the ability to act freely and creatively in the moment, without being constrained by habitual patterns or expectations. Psychodrama is designed to help individuals tap into their natural spontaneity and creativity, and to overcome the fears and inhibitions that might be holding them back.

Psychodrama is also guided by the principles of group dynamics, with the therapist serving as a director or facilitator who helps participants work together in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. The group dynamic is seen as an important part of the process, as it allows individuals to learn from and support each other in their personal growth and self-discovery.

Overall, the philosophy of psychodrama is based on the belief that individuals can benefit from exploring and expressing their emotions and experiences through dramatic action, and that this process can help them develop greater self-awareness, creativity, and personal growth.

Practice of Psychodrama

Over time, Moreno developed a more structured approach to psychodrama that involved a director (the therapist) guiding participants through a series of exercises. These exercises might involve role-playing, using props and costumes, and exploring difficult emotions or experiences through dramatic scenes.

Moreno believed that the group dynamic was an important part of the process, as it allowed individuals to support and learn from each other.

The practice of psychodrama involves a variety of action methods including the use of dramatic representation and role-playing to explore emotions, behaviors, and experiences. Psychodrama therapists have achieved board certification in psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy. Becoming a certified practitioner of psychodrama is a difficult and time consuming endeavor.

A psychodrama session typically includes a warmup followed by an action phase followed by sharing. In psychodrama training groups, and additional step is added. This is called “processing.” During the processing phase the psychodrama student has an opportunity to learn the processes of the other three steps.

When conducted in a group, a trained psychodramatist leads the session, guiding the individuals through the process of dramatizing their experiences. Participants are encouraged to express themselves creatively and to explore new perspectives and possibilities.

The first step in psychodrama is the warm-up. This is where members of the group are guided through a variety of exercises with the goal of group formation. These “warm-ups” are designed to test and then modify the sociometry of the group. The psychodramatist seeks to create a safe group space to act as a container within which to do the work.

Next, the psychodramatist will move the group and ultimately a single individual toward exploration of the theme identified by group. This is sometimes called the action hunger, the open tension system or the central concern. This could be a particular emotion, behavior, or experience that the individual wants to explore.

The psychodrama then focuses on this group theme, while the psychodramatist helps the individual identify a dramatic representation of the theme. This could be a scene from their lives or possibly a dream or wished for experience.

The psychodramatist will then guide the individual, called the protagonist, through the process of enacting the dramatic representation. The protagonist may play the role of one or more characters in the scene through role reversal.

Other participants, called auxiliaries or auxiliary ego, may play the roles of supporting characters or bystanders. During the enactment, participants are encouraged to improvise, called roll expansion, and to explore new perspectives and possibilities.

After the enactment, the psychodramatist will lead a process of reflection. Called sharing, this is where participants are encouraged to reflect on their experiences and to share their insights and observations.

This is an opportunity for individuals to process the emotions and experiences that emerged during the dramatization. Also, to gain new insights and understanding. Sharing is also a chance to again adjust the group dynamics to re-assimilate the protagonist back into the group.

Benefits of Psychodrama

Over the years, psychodrama has continued to evolve and expand. Practitioners around the world continue to develop new techniques and approaches. Today, psychodrama is used in a variety of therapeutic settings, including individual and group therapy, family therapy, and addiction treatment.

The approach has also influenced many other forms of therapy. These include Gestalt therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Psychodrama has become a widely recognized and respected therapeutic modality.

It has been shown to effectively treat eating disorders, other kinds of addiction and compulsions and many other psychological issues and difficulties. Psychodrama is most often performed in a group setting but is effective in one on one therapy as well.

The effectiveness of psychodrama is well established. Some of the benefits of psychodrama include:

  1. Increased self-awareness. Through the process of acting out scenes from their lives, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This increased self-awareness can lead to greater self-acceptance and personal growth.
  2. Improved communication skills. In psychodrama therapy, individuals learn to express themselves more effectively, which can improve their communication skills in their personal and professional relationships.
  3. Enhanced empathy. By stepping into the shoes of another person during a psychodrama exercise, individuals can develop a greater sense of empathy for others and become more skilled at understanding their perspectives.
  4. Increased creativity. Psychodrama therapy encourages individuals to tap into their creativity and imagination, which can lead to greater insights and problem-solving abilities.
  5. Greater resilience. By confronting difficult situations and emotions in a supportive and safe environment, individuals can build greater resilience and coping skills, which can help them better manage life’s challenges.

Overall, psychodrama therapy can be a powerful tool for personal growth and healing, and can help individuals develop greater self-awareness, communication skills, empathy, creativity, and resilience.

A traditional psychodrama consists of three parts or phases, the warm up, the action and the sharing, in this order.  So, a psychodrama session begins with the warm up during which group members begin to think about or be “warmed up” to personal or group issues. From the warm a protagonist emerges, and it is this protagonist’s story or issue that is then put into action.  After the action stage has been completed, the group members share with the protagonist how their story is similar to the protagonist’s story.

During the action phase a trained psychodramatist will utilize a variety of techniques to assist the protagonist in reaching a catharsis of some kind.  These include scene setting, role-reversal, mirroring, doubling, soliloquy, aside and empty chair.

It is impossible to define “psychodrama” in a few words and the best way to answer the question “what is psychodrama” is by experiencing psychodrama.  In fact there really is no substitute for one’s own experience.