What is Role Reversal?

Zerka Moreno, a co-founder of psychodrama, is famous for, among other things, saying that “role reversal is the sine qua non”, or indispensable factor, of psychodrama. So what is role reversal?

As the name implies, role reversal means an exchange of roles, an exchange of positions; conceptually, role reversal means transcendence of self or self-component; in practice, role reversal is a gradual, cautious technique of outsight training.[i]

Simply stated, role reversal means taking or “playing” the role of another.  In psychodrama when you “role reverse” you attempt to “become” another person.  This can happen in many different ways depending on the needs of the individual and the needs of the group.

Early on in the group work, simple role-reversals may be encouraged by the psychodrama director as a way of “warming up” a group to each other or to a particular issue.  A person may role reverse with another person who may or may not be present, with an object of significance, with a feeling, a part of the body or with an animal.  Role reversal is limited only by the needs of the individual and group and the imagination of the participants.

One specific type of role-reversal takes place during an encounter.  According to Moreno, encounter is a meeting whereby both persons begin to become known to each other through the reciprocal process of role reversal.[ii]  Encounters can be used to resolve conflict within a group or so that participants can gain a greater understanding of another person.

As a process, role reversal usually includes (1) the simulation of a person’s appearance, “body language,” facial expressions and movements; (2) repetition of the words spoken using the same approximate rhythm and intonations; (3) attempting to incorporate the other’s feelings into your own experience.

The process of role-reversal is also used to help a person gain insight to themselves or another, to deepen their emotional experience, to cool down a person’s emotional process, or to help a person who is the focus of the psychodrama (called the protagonist) get “unstuck.”

[i] Hale, Conducting Clinical Socometric Explorations; A Manual for Psychodramatists and Sociometrists, First Workbook Edition, pg. 93 (1985), internal citations omitted.

[ii] Id.

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Patrick T. Barone is a Michigan criminal defense trial lawyer and co-founder of the Michigan Psychodrama Center. He is a Board Certified Trainer, Educator and Practitioner of Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy. He is also a Board Certified Psychodrama Trainer. Patrick has applied his psychodrama training in his criminal law practice and when teaching law and trial skills. He also has used sociodrama, an adjunct form of psychodrama in the business environment and Bibliodrama in the faith setting. He is the author of a chapter entitled Bringing Scripture to Life with Bibliodrama for Adam Blatner’s book entitled Action Explorations: Using Psychodramatic Methods in Non-Therapeutic Settings , (Paralax Productions, February 23, 2019). In his capacity as a business consultant, Mr. Barone has worked with business owners and executives in businesses of all sizes throughout Michigan. Additionally, Mr. Barone continues to practice law and is the founding partner and CEO at the Barone Defense Firm.