Psychodrama is a powerful modality often used in psychotherapy. Many clinicians use it under different terms such as drama, work, experiential, empty chair, gestalt etc…
Why Psychodrama may be useful…
Clients find this skill to be useful because it gets the client out of their “head.” Or often it allows clients to access both sides of their brain simultaneously rather than being stuck on one side or the other. Often clients use the coping mechanism of over-thinking, rationalizing, or being in denial in order to not be accountable or feel certain feelings. This skill often short circuits this dilemma.
Clients use this skill as a way to sort through the issues that are difficult to verbalize. Often a client will have a sense of something that is not yet thought through, and the psychodrama work can help give them access to what is not completed in their mind. Clients use this to understand deeper issues, see patterns, and gain motivation for a new plan.
Clients find this method to be fun and playful. They often leave a session feeling clearer and more energetic.
Below are several tools often used therapeutically in the office.
In the therapy office, we can use props such as cloths, pillows, and symbolic characters to help a client focus on an event. At times, we may set a scene to revisit a place of trauma, explore a dream, or imagine a vision or dream for one’s future. It often seems trivial or silly at first to create a scene out of fabrics and pillows as an adult; yet. when this is used, it takes the client to a different reality by accessing different parts of their brain via action and movement. Creativity and spontaneity are often the rewards of partaking in a new behavior in therapy too.
It is also very effective in helping clients to create a more positive aspect of self through creating a sculpt of who they want to become. Many times clients cannot put into words what they are striving for, yet a symbol or a color helps them to flesh out the words.
Psychodrama skills can be used to show the moments over time one has experienced. A client can quickly and easily see patterns as the client shares their story through an active timeline. Some timeline examples might be traumatic events, a journey through grief, significant moments throughout a relationship, career choices, or a timeline of one’s whole life. We may use pictures, props, or just walk the timeline through.
If you can imagine a group of chairs, with each chair being behind the next one. We would then have the client sit in the first chair and describe their feeling or thought about an issue. Then we would have the client move to the chair behind and go a step deeper into the feeling or thought. This could happen for several seats helping the client to gain further insight and understanding of themselves.
Chairback can also be done as a way to know another individual better. In this case, the chair would be seen as the projected reality of another individual. The client would then go as many chairs back as may be needed to gain insight and understanding.
You will find that the skill of reversing roles (imagine you are someone else) allows for much insight. We often see our issues and relationships under one viewpoint…our own. This can leave us at a disadvantage in seeing the issue clearly or finding a direction that is useful and effective.
This can often be used in a couples’ session to help one partner understand the position of the other partner. Sometimes one partner feels that they are not being heard or listened to, yet when the partner reverses roles with the other, they can hear if this is true or not. It can also help the couple to develop compassion for one another.
This skill is also quite effective in helping a client process grief and loss. When there has been a death or loss, having the client to sit in the chair (for example of their mom who has passed) the client can say things to the mom they many have never had the courage or the opportunity to say to the mom while the mom was alive.
Psychodrama is traditionally used in a group setting. This can be used in a multitude of ways. One way could be to use the spontaneity skills and the above tools as a way to express oneself, gain insight, and find new ways to function in the world.
To use psychodrama in its most classical form, the group would have one of the members share a need, desire, or request that is intended to further their growth. Some examples might be: to explore a trauma, to find new tools to better communicate in a relationship, to explore one’s addiction, to have closure over a loss, or to process a dream. As the person is sharing their focused goal, the group would help set scenes to allow the person to see their behavior, the incident, and new perspectives better. Typically, we would explore 3 or 4 scenes during one psychodrama. Often one scene would be connected to a core issue from childhood, while at other times, the scenes may be more about a reality the person has never considered.
Explaining psychodrama is a difficult task. It is often a skill best understood through trying it out. It is not for everyone, though sometimes, it is the client who least expects it to work that often has the most gain from it.