What Is Psychodrama Therapy And What Does It Help With?

Updated October 10, 2022 by ReGain Editorial Team

Psychodrama therapy is a creative therapeutic approach developed by Jacob Levy Moreno, who also coined “group therapy” and “group psychotherapy. “Psychodrama therapy may be used with individuals or groups. In this type of therapy, therapists use guided drama and role-playing to work through problems. With psychodrama therapy, the goal is to bring new insight, resolve issues, and practice new life skills and behaviors. Psychodrama therapy can complement cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or a good alternative to other therapies. This type of therapy works especially well for trauma victims or those who struggle with substance abuse or alcoholism.

What Happens In Psychodrama Therapy?

Wondering If Psychodrama Therapy May Be Right For You?

During a psychodrama therapy appointment, participants in the group are asked to reenact specific scenes or past experiences as the therapist guides them. The therapist uses deep action methods and asks the group to identify issues for the group to explore – other therapeutic methods to help the group learn how to correct issues.

The scenes that they act out maybe along with past situations, dreams, or preparation for a future event. The therapist begins by guiding the group through some warm-up exercises. When they’re ready to begin the main exercise, the therapist chooses a protagonist that will represent the main elements or problems of the group. The others in the group enhance the scene by playing the roles of significant others or the audience. Their role is to offer support, bring out underlying beliefs, and bring issues to the surface.

After the scene has been played out, it gives all participants the chance to recognize and express feelings that they couldn’t express during a previous time of trauma or distress. At this time, the group discusses what their true emotions and responses would have been if they’d been able to express them at the time.

For example, if a small child was a victim of abuse or neglect, his or her young body was incapable of processing feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, and trauma. Such children feared that they wouldn’t have food to eat, a bed to sleep in and that they wouldn’t be safe. They lacked the closeness and nurturing that they’re entitled to from loving parents. The child may have been frozen in fear and too afraid to scream or cry. Fear turned into disassociation rendering the child unable to express any emotion.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

As the child grew, the unresolved feelings of the trauma harbored in the child’s body and exploded in aggressive behavior when the child reached puberty.

After the warm-up exercises, the child victim, who is now an adult, would re-enact the scene when they were too little and too frozen to express their emotions. When the scene is over, all participants have the opportunity to discuss and process the feelings and emotions the child victim would have experienced if there were able to at the time.

The group would then do the scene again with alternate endings. The overall process would empower the client or clients to correct the scene in some way so that it ended better.

Psychodrama therapists use the following techniques to guide the group.

  1. Mirror-a person in the group acts as a stand-in for the protagonist to see the situation from a more objective, outside perspective. It provides a better chance for the person to see themselves as others do.
  2. Double-a person speaks for another person in the group using a supportive tone. This is helpful when the person isn’t able or willing to speak for themselves.
  3. Role reversal participants get to reenact the scene multiple times, playing various roles each time so that they can experience the situation in a fresh, new way.
  4. Future projection-many of the scenes are around issues and experiences that the participants have already lived through. A future projection scene is one that a participant will soon experience or will experience in the future. This approach gives participants the chance to demonstrate how they will act when the situation occurs.
  5. Playback Theater-the group spontaneously acts out one person’s particular life story or life experience. The therapist allows the drama to unfold in unpredictable ways. This process allows the group to understand that situations may be different, but they still have patterns. The previous experiences we’ve had have created us into the individuals that we are. Current problems and issues often stem from things that happened during childhood.

Benefits Of Psychodrama

Psychodrama can be a very powerful therapy because it allows the participants in the group to experience thoughts, feelings, and emotions in an active, real-time environment. This type of therapy can help them improve their relationships and communication skills.

Participants in psychodrama will learn how to improve their communication skills to improve their current situations and relationships. Members of the group will also learn how to overcome grief and loss while restoring their confidence and well-being. A therapeutic group setting provides a safe, supportive environment for participants to express their feelings and emotions. In addition to enhancing their learning and life skills, members of the group will have a chance to experiment with new ways of thinking, acting, and responding.

Conditions That Are Suited For Psychodrama Therapy

Therapists may choose psychodrama as a stand-alone therapy for dealing with addiction, trauma, autism, eating disorder, adoption, or attachment issues or make it part of an overall treatment protocol.

Psychodrama Therapy For People Dealing With Traumatic Experiences

Psychodrama therapy is sometimes a good therapy for a small group of people who have experienced a similar type of trauma. This may be women victims of violent acts, natural disasters, school shootings, or other terrifying experiences.

The body disassociates and becomes numb. The passages to the brain are interrupted, making it impossible for the brain to process thoughts and emotions. Because these thoughts get harbored in the body with no way to process them, the body becomes overly attentive to superficial threats when experiencing some trigger.

Trauma affects the entire body, and memories remain in the body on a sensorimotor level. During the role-playing, participants re-experience the event’s thoughts, emotions, and memories without allowing their bodies to shut down. Acting the scene out allows participants to tap into their sensorimotor level and release pent-up emotions.

Psychodrama speaks through actions and isn’t overly dependent on verbal communication. With the help of a therapist, clients can bring past experiences into the present and process them.

This type of therapy is especially helpful when done in conjunction with individual treatment. It can be helpful when done in a group with others that have experienced a similar trauma where they learn to identify their trauma triggers and form connections with each other. It helps to know they aren’t alone.

Trauma is a condition that affects the mind and the body, which is why psychodrama is suited for this condition. Clients can reframe their experiences and weave together formerly disconnected parts of themselves.

Psychodrama Therapy For People Dealing With Addiction

Psychodrama therapy helps people dealing with addictions to learn more about themselves and their emotions, deal better with problems, express genuine feelings, and enhance their social skills. It also helps them improve group interactions and unite better with people.

Group sessions explore similar experiences for people with addictions, such as the types of situations that could send them into a relapse or where the effects of their addictions led to social and behavioral problems. Psychodrama therapy helps them handle past and future situations better by teaching them how to deal with triggers and stresses and giving them practice with them.

Studies have shown that psychodrama sessions successfully helped people struggling with heroin addictions. The intervention strategies that worked best were doubling and role reversal. Clients improved communication, life skills, and social dynamics.

The Role Of Families In Psychodrama Therapy

Wondering If Psychodrama Therapy May Be Right For You?

Family members don’t usually participate in psychodrama therapy, but they play an important support role. Clients develop a greater sense of self-awareness and perspective, which helps them reconnect with family members they’ve hurt. Psychodrama therapy teaches people how to express their needs healthily and fosters emotional, spiritual, and psychological growth.

Research in psychodrama therapy is still fairly new. Much of the current research has focused on women and traumatic experiences, such as victims of violent acts. The research on women and psychodrama is promising enough that researchers are motivated to explore the benefits of the treatment for veterans and men. Psychodrama therapists have also had success using psychodrama with adolescents because of its similarity to the language of a child’s play.

Regardless of your age or gender and what issue you may be struggling with, if you feel that psychodrama may be a good fit for you, ReGain is ready to match you with a therapist that can help you get started with this type of treatment or find one that is better suited to your needs.

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