Author – Eva Koumpli
Psychodrama is an action method of psychotherapy founded by Viennese J. L. Moreno, M.D. It is a scientific exploration of truth through dramatic method. It is an integrative psychotherapy that engages participants holistically, paying attention to behaviour, thoughts, emotion and body. It involves physical, cognitive and emotional movement of participants, rather than sitting and talking, as in more conventional therapies. Psychodrama is used to explore through action the worlds in which we live, both internal and external. It allows for the safe expression of strong feelings, a wider perspective on individual and social problems and an opportunity to try out desired behaviours.
Each psychodrama group includes:
- The protagonist: The person whose story or issue is presented through guided dramatic action.
- The auxiliary egos: Group members who assume the roles of significant others in the drama. This may include significant people, objects or even aspects of the self or a person’s internal world, e.g. ‘my optimistic self’, ‘my internal critic’, ‘my eating disorder’ or ‘my well voice’. A group member may or may not agree to play a role, depending on their willingness. No one is forced to participate. Each group member decides the level of participation. The role of the significant other is showed by the protagonist, in action, and the role is described.
- The audience: Group members who witness the drama and who may become involved in auxiliary roles.
- The stage: The physical space in which the drama is conducted.
- The director: The trained psychodrama therapist, who guides participants through each phase of the session.
“Tell me, and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”
Psychodrama is classically structured as follows:
Warm-up: the first phase of the group is when drama and other creative activities are used to warm-up participants’ spontaneity. Out of this phase one member of the group is chosen to become the protagonist, whose story is explored or who wishes to work on some difficulty.
Enactment: the group enacts scenes from the past, present and future of the protagonist under the direction of the therapist and according to the protagonist’s perception of the events.
Sharing: Group members share with the protagonist what they recognise from their own lives in the drama
The scenes all take place in the present, even though they may have happened in the past, or may occur in the future. The focus is on what doesn’t happen in life and what life doesn’t give participants the opportunity to express. It may free the person, to do in life, something different or alternative to what was expressed in the session. Spontaneity and creativity are the cornerstones of this method. There is always time available to discuss and share the process.
The use of psychodrama is especially helpful with the treatment of eating disorders and a range of difficulties with body image. Psychodrama can give a client the opportunity to experience her relationship with the eating disorder as well learn more about its role in her life. Experientially, clients are able to move out of their heads and into a fuller experience at which time they can experience problems and rehearse solutions in a new way. As clients employ creativity — with role play, art, movement, choice-making and imagery — they expand their sense of self and replace compulsion with creativity and internal safety.
Key is to allow the exploration of the roles that may have contributed to the role of the eating disorder, while also offering opportunities for healing the role the eating disorder serves. Role training offers the client opportunities to practice and integrate behaviours of true self care that substitutes for the coping value of the eating disorder. Participants do not have to be actors/actresses to participate and benefit from psychodrama.