Psychodrama is a form of group therapy created by J.L. Moreno. He was one of the founders of group psychotherapy and held the belief that therapy done in a group was the optimal way to help people heal. He believed that our families were our first groups where we were injured in childhood and felt another group would be the best vehicle for healing.
Psychodrama marries elements of theater with group psychotherapy to enact personal stories to facilitate healing in group members. Moreno was involved in improvisational theater and found that the actors were emotionally moved when they were acting out parts of their own personal lives on the stage. They were in effect having a catharsis (emotional expression or cleansing).
There are five elements to a psychodrama therapy group. You have a director, who is the group leader, a licensed therapist or psychologist who is also trained and certified in psychodrama. Then the audience, who are the other group members, a stage, usually the large open space in a group room. Then there is the protagonist, the member whose story is being enacted. Finally, there are the auxiliary egos, which are other group members who take on roles in the drama.
The director then leads the protagonist to set up scenes from their lives that are part of a stuck or difficult relationship and then has them interact with other group members who are enrolled to play other people in their lives. They give lines and then enact scenes. They may get coaching from the director or others to practice healthy skills such as boundaries or explore creative ways to respond to old patterns. There may be opportunities for other group members to step in and try our new kinds of ways of responding and dealing with family members, etc.
Psychodrama can be thought of as a low risk way to try our new behaviors, practice new skills and take on new roles in their lives. By going through the process of trying out different ways of responding to past situations clients can find new ways to deal with situations in their current lives. They can externalize parts of themselves, such as feel unlovable or shame based and interact with those parts and find new ways of understanding themselves. Through role reversing (a process where they change seats and become the part of themselves that feel unlovable they can explore how that belief came into being. Then they can work on having a relationship with that part and find ways to be more loving to themselves.
After the drama is ended the member who have played auxiliary roles end playing those parts by saying “I am no longer playing your unloveable self, I am Bob.” The group comes back together and they all share somethings about themselves related to the drama. Perhaps how they have a part in them that feels shameful or unloved and how they are working to be more compassionate with themselves. In this way the group processes the work and then be ready to do another drama.
Often the clients report feeling relief, insight into themselves and finding new tools to use in their personal or professional lives. Another by product is that it creates greater cohesion and connection between group members which enlivens their sense of belonging and being important to one another.
Many group therapist consider group therapy and psychodrama the optimal form of therapy and healing for clients.