What is psychodrama therapy?

Psychodrama is an experiential therapeutic approach developed by Jacob L. Moreno. Psychodrama is a creative and active therapy type that utilises dramatic action and role play to address problems raised by an individual. Psychodrama can be used individually though it is much more commonly used in a group; it is considered by some to be the original form of group therapy. It may also be employed in schools and businesses. Psychodrama techniques can also be applied to couples and family therapy. Sessions are usually once-weekly and last between 90-minutes and 2-hours.

With guidance from a trained psychodrama therapist, participants will reenact experiences during psychodrama sessions. These experiences may be real past experiences, inner conflicts, or dreams or fears for the future. Issues or problems and their possible solutions are enacted rather than just talked about. When used in a group setting, other participants play the roles of significant others featured in the experience, or become audience members to offer support. 

Moreno believed that spontaneity was the key to individual creativity. This idea is central to psychodrama theory. He believed that encouraging individuals to respond in spontaneous ways offered unique opportunity for finding new perspectives and potential solutions to old problems. Moreno even founded an improvisational troupe and directed his Theatre of Spontaneity in Vienna in the early 1920s. 

What are the benefits of psychodrama?

Psychodrama differs from many more traditional therapies as it is an active, real-time experience. Psychodrama can help people:

  • Express themselves in a safe environment
  • Learn to trust others
  • Improve communication skills and relationships
  • Overcome trauma, grief or loss
  • Improve confidence and self-esteem
  • Satisfy creative needs
  • Experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving 

Psychodrama sessions involve 'Action Methods'; these are used to explore past and present difficulties, or future hopes and fears of the protagonist. The director (the psychodrama therapist) supports the group to explore new solutions to problems and find new perspectives. Group members take on the roles that the individual needs them to. At the end of the session, the group members will reflect back how they can personally relate to the issue that has been explored.  

Techniques and exercises used in psychodrama

Psychodrama makes use of various experiential methods, sociometry (the study of social relationships between people), role theory, and group dynamics. Some of the key methods used include:

Mirroring: The client protagonist is asked to act out an experience. After this, the client steps out of the scene and watches as another actor steps into their role and portrays them in the scene. This can help the protagonist gain new perspectives. 

Doubling: The job of the “double” is to make conscious any thoughts or feelings that another person is unable to express whether it is because of shyness, guilt, inhibition, politeness, fear, anger, etc. In many cases the person is unaware of these thoughts or at least is unable to form the words to express how they are feeling. Therefore, the “Double” attempts to make conscious and give form to the unconscious and/or under expressed material. The person being doubled has the full right to disown any of the “Double’s” statements and to correct them as necessary. In this way, doubling itself can never be wrong.

Role playing: The client protagonist portrays a person or object that is in some way problematic in their life. 

Soliloquy: The client protagonist speaks their inner thoughts aloud to the other group members in order to build self-knowledge and gain clarity.

Role reversal: The client protagonist is asked to portray another person while a second actor portrays the client in the particular scene. This not only prompts the client to think as the other person, but also has some of the benefits of mirroring, as the client sees him- or herself as portrayed by the second actor

Who benefits from psychodrama therapy?

In the non-clinical field, psychodrama is used in business, education, and professional training. In the clinical field, psychodrama may be used to alleviate the effects of emotional trauma and PTSD. One specific application in clinical situations is for people suffering from dysfunctional attachments. For this reason, it is often utilised in the treatment of children who have suffered emotional trauma and abuse. Using role-play and story telling, children may be able to express themselves emotionally and reveal truths about their experience they are not able to openly discuss with their therapist, and rehearse new ways of behaviour.

Psychodrama can be used to mend family difficulties, interpersonal problems, communication problems, self-harming behaviours and substance abuse issues. Psychodrama is also worth considering by anyone who would like to engage in a creative therapeutic technique – it can encourage personal growth through new insight and can boost overall wellbeing through enhancement of confidence and learning new skills. 

Relevant associations

British Psychodrama Association

Last updated on 13 March 2020