Psychodrama is a form of group psychotherapy developed by J L Moreno (from the 1920s onwards). This therapy provides an opportunity to explore life situations from the perspectives of the present, past and future.
The psychodrama therapist will draw on the group’s energy and spontaneity to explore the protagonist’s situation. This can include how past experiences have influenced thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the present, which in turn shapes the future.
By working in this creative way, the significance and meaning of events becomes clearer. Using imagination and the support of the group, the past can be reviewed and understood from a broader perspective while any unexpressed thoughts and emotions are released.
From this more complete understanding, it is hoped that a different possible future can be both imagined and experienced. New responses can then be identified and practiced, giving the possibility of greater well-being in the future.
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How does psychodrama help?
Moreno described psychodrama as "the scientific exploration of truth through dramatic method.” Using creativity combined with group dynamics and role theory, its aim is to help clients gain a new perspective through better understanding of their own roles in life.
This approach offers clients a safe space to explore their past, present or future. As clients gain a unique perspective, they are free to explore new solutions to challenges they’re facing.
Within a psychodrama session there will typically be a director, a stage area and participants. The director (psychodrama therapist) will facilitate the session and encourage participants to share how they related to the session and what they learnt.
Sessions usually comprise of three phases, a warm-up activity, the ‘action phase’ and then time for reflecting and sharing. A session will normally focus on one individual’s life situation with members of the group taking on roles as and when needed.
While psychodrama therapists may differ in their specific methods, the following techniques are often used:
- Role reversal - The protagonist acts out the role of someone other than themselves, someone important in their life. This can improve empathy and help the protagonist understand the other person’s role.
- Doubling - A group member will replicate the behaviour and actions of the protagonist, expressing out loud what they believe the protagonist is thinking/feeling. This can challenge the protagonist in a non-aggressive way.
- Mirroring - The protagonist takes a step back while group members act out the protagonist’s event. This can help those feeling distanced from their feelings about the scene gain a different perspective.
- Soliloquy - The protagonist relates his/her inner thoughts to the audience (other group members).
Once the action phase is finished, the sharing phase begins. This is when the director shifts back into a counsellor role, talking to the group about feelings that were provoked during the session. This offers space for group discussion and reflection.
What can psychodrama help with?
Most mental health concerns can be addressed using psychodrama. The following are common examples:
- post-traumatic stress syndrome
- eating disorders
- alcohol and drug abuse
- relationship issues
- family difficulties
What is the difference between psychodrama and dramatherapy?
Both psychodrama and dramatherapy utilise drama and theatre techniques and can work in individual and group settings. There are however a few notable differences:
How it works
Psychodrama identifies a protagonist with a specific issue. The therapist works directly with the protagonist, maintaining them focus on this problem throughout the psychodrama, while utilising group energies and creativity.
Dramatherapy can work in a direct way when it is appropriate and helpful for the client, but it also offers distance from the dilemma. This aims to make it easier for clients to perceive their concern from a different angle.
Psychodrama works directly with the protagonist's story and uses distancing techniques when required.
Dramatherapy often uses metaphor, a myth or story (distancing techniques) to identify a universal theme, which helps the client be more playful and to explore their issue with less shame.
Psychodrama aims to have a resolution, or potential solution, by the end of the session.
Dramatherapy often leaves the client with new information and a different view of the dilemma at the end of the session, which they can go on to consider and reflect further in their own time.
Psychodrama is not legally protected, however it is recognised as a form of psychotherapy and is registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
Dramatherapy is legally protected by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), meaning that dramatherapists need to be registered with the HCPC to be called a drama therapist.
What qualifications does a psychodrama therapist need?
Even though the title psychodrama therapist is not legally protected by the HCPC, it is recognised as a form of psychotherapy and is registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). In order to become a UKCP accredited psychodrama therapist, professionals must undertake an in-depth four-year course in psychodrama.