What Happens in a Psychodrama?

Psychodrama is an action method often used in a group therapy setting. Aspects of it can be used in the workplace, churches or other social gatherings. Psychodrama has three stages.

Part A: The Warm Up


In a psychodrama workshop the leader, or in psychodrama terminology, the director, leads the group first in a series of warm up exercises. The purpose of the warm up is to have attendees get to know one another, start building trust and feel more connected.  The group then becomes a supportive place for the work to come. The warm ups help attendees leave the “there and then” for the “here and now”. That is, to leave behind the concerns and focus on what is going on at home, etc. and give their focus to what is going on in the workshop and with their emotions and wants.

Often the director will have members pair up in dyads. He/she will give them criteria on what to talk about. Such as: finding five things they have in common, who has loved them with their whole heart, a place where they felt at peace, etc. These dyads work for the general to the specific and from low risk, or low intensity towards higher intensity. It is a way to take incremental higher risks to reveal themselves as they build connections to others.

Other techniques employed including spectrograms where participants line up by criteria like height, hair color, distance traveled to get here today, etc. There are ways of seeing each other and where there is divergence and similarities in their experiences.

Included in these warm ups are some ritual around honoring confidentiality. A way that each person affirms they will not share other people’s identities outside the workshop.

Part B: The psychodrama:

Next a protagonist is chosen. Protagonist is the term for the group member whose story or drama is being enacted. They can be chosen by the director, by the group, or by talking with others who are warmed up to work.

The director explores with the protagonist what they want to work on and what they want to get from the drama. The talking part is usually kept brief that long as getting their energy channeled into action is more helpful.

An opening scene is chosen, and group members are picked by the protagonist to play the various characters in the scene. The location of the drama is defined and perhaps concretized by have scarves represent walls or other objects of the room.  This process also helps warm up the protagonist to the emotions or experience from the past they want to explore.

Then the scene is put into action with the protagonist role reversing (stepping into the role of the other person in their drama) and saying what was said or done to the protagonist. Then the group member playing the role steps in and says that line to the protagonist.

Getting to the catharsis they perhaps get to express their feelings to their abusive parent and protect their child self from harm. Often a flood of anger or sadness comes to the fore.

This usually leads to a catharsis: a release of feelings or insight into their life that helps them make sense of what they are struggling with now.

The drama ends with group members de-roling. They do this by saying, “I am no longer playing the role of your mother, I am Jennifer.”

Part C: Sharing:

The group sits in a circle and the protagonist is encouraged to “stay in a bubble” where they focus on their own thought and feelings after doing their work.  The director then gives the group a criterion about how to share about the drama. It can be “What did this work piece bring up for you?”

The sharing is not about the protagonist or any critique or comment about them but is about each person’s sharing some part of their own life struggle. It is an opportunity for the group members to be venerable and honest just as the protagonist has been.

 Psychodrama is a powerful method that uses aspects of the theater arts that helps the participant find new meaning for past events, express long buried feelings and find new hope.